Dead Space 2
Isaac Clarke is not a very lucky man. After spending a long time on the Ishimura trying to escape from the clutches of the Necromorphs and destroy the Aegis Marker that helped create them he almost didn't make it. He may have survived his time on the Ishimura but sometimes survival isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Now, in Dead Space 2 he wakes up on the Titan space station known as the Sprawl after an intense programme of interrogation and stasis trying to get him to remember exactly what happened to the Ishimura, to find the Sprawl is overrun with Necromorphs and his nightmare is happening all over again. To make matters worse, the Marker is talking to him through horrific visions of his dead girlfriend Nicole who was a medical officer on the Ishimura. Nicole's voice can also be heard frequently as Isaac makes his way through the darkness taunting him and testing his resolve.
Here is where Dead Space 2 begins. While Isaac has been imprisoned the it appears that, Teidemann, the man in charge of the Sprawl has rebuild the Marker and unwittingly unleashed the Necromorphs onto the vast civilian population with similar results to what happened to the Ishimura. Anyone not enraptured by the Marker and turned into a Necromorph has been slaughtered leaving the station almost a derelict wreck. Isaac has to work with the few survivors that are left to destroy the new Marker before the Necromorphs engulf humanity.
This is a much more brutal and protracted affair than Dead Space. Isaac has the same tools at his disposal but despite his mental state he is faster, sharper and better at fighting the Necromorphs through his bitter experiences on the Ishimura. It's not long before he dons his familiar engineering suit, picks up a plasma cutter and begins dismembering his way through the swathes of various Necromorph monsters that have consumed the Sprawl.
Part of this brutality is in the increased variety of the Necromorph creatures that Isaac encounters. The Ishimura was a ship with a full compliment of adults. The Sprawl is the home to a vast population and the Marker has corrupted all human life from infants all the way up to full grown adults. The result is quite terrifying, especially when Isaac is forced to take a detour through and elementary school. It is a terrifying experience to have Necromorphs that used to be children and even babies screaming and swarming out of vents, hungry for Isaac's blood.
There is a kind of visceral beauty to Dead Space 2 that we caught glimpses of in the first game. When Isaac gets near a window or ventures outside the station the views are breathtaking. The station is laid out all around Isaac in a spectacular fashion. Visceral has taken the time to create a very plausible and impressive setting for the story to unfold in. In the two and a half years since the first game came out Visceral has really sharpened up the visuals in the game so that even the darkest corners of the Sprawl are alive with details telling the story of what happened while Isaac was being interrogated.
The combat too is well refined making the weapons more responsive, aiming a bit tighter and even making Kinesis more effective for dealing with Necromorphs when you run out of ammunition. The arsenal that is available to Isaac has grown, as you would expect given that he is now in a major human installation. There are plenty of options for upgrading his gear too and all the old familiar weapons are there including the Line Gun and the very entertaining Ripper.
A new system has been introduced to deal with bypassing switches. Isaac will remove a panel and try to hot-wire the mechanism via a visual display system. Simply rotating the left thumbstick until the panel goes blue and pressing the cross button and repeating the action three times will bypass the circuitry allowing Isaac to proceed. This is nice touch that adds to the immersiveness of the experience very effectively.
Dead Space 2 also makes much more use of the zero-gravity and low atmosphere sections. At one point Isaac needs to extinguish a fire to pass through a doorway and the only way to do it is to disable the oxygen supply in the area to suffocate the fire. This is also a zero-gravity section and one of the oxygen generators is on the roof. This is only just the beginning as Isaac's journey will take him through some of the most inhospitable sections of the station and even outside to help him get where he needs to go. The zero-gravity sections of the game are some of the most impressive pieces of level design that have appeared in a survival horror game in a while. There is one section where Isaac has to fire up and realign the solar arrays to return power to part of the Sprawl and is then fired by a rocket ejector seat back down to the station far below.
Occasionally the refinements in the game do become slightly annoying. Save points and oxygen refill points can often require a fair bit of fine tuning of alignment in order to activate. In the case of the oxygen points this could mean the difference between life and death. Isaac's suit does have plentiful oxygen supply and it can be upgraded through the same power node system used in Dead Space but the last thing you want to do is run out of air after traversing some of the more dangerous parts outside the station.
Dead Space felt slightly patchwork in sections and had a distinct feeling that it was drawing on an array of influences including System Shock, Event Horizon and the Alien series. Dead Space 2 still has these influences running through it but feels much more like its own experience thanks to the refined visuals and clever level design. Isaac has grown into a much more rounded character. We hear him speak and even see his face frequently helping to build a better connection between him and the player.
It almost seems a shame that Dead Space 2 didn't make it out in time for Christmas but the wait has been truly worth it. This is a brutally gory and entirely oppressive survival horror title. Dead Space 2 is a truly terrifying and claustrophobic experience and it sets a high bar for all the subsequent triple-A releases due out in 2011.