With Resident Evil aspiring to be a Michael Bay blockbuster and the Silent Hill series becoming more like a Benny Hill series in recent years, the survival horror genre has become a frightened little girl. Back in 2008, EA took a chance on a brand new IP, which at the time was the exact opposite of what the world expected from EA, who happily churned out sequel after sequel. But this new intellectual property proved to be a massive hit, spawning a Blu-ray anime movie, a Wii spin-off, novels, comics and iPhone games. It woke the survival-horror genre up. But as good as massaging the brand into new areas proved to be, a true sequel to Dead Space is what we’ve really been waiting for.
Following the events on the USG Ishimura, engineer Isaac Clarke has awoken from a three-year coma in a hospital aboard a mighty space station called the Sprawl. He’s disorientated, confused and still prone to seeing things. But it doesn’t take long for the action to be turned up to full blast as the Necromorphs soon start climbing out of the vents, trying to peel the skin off Clarke’s face.
The sequel is a lot more plot-driven than the original, with the whole subject of Markers and Unitology (a direct pop at Scientology, if you believe internet conspiracy theorists) being fleshed out around every corner of the campaign. Depending on who you believe, Clarke is the only one who can destroy the Markers (which bring the Necromorphs), or he’s the only one who can create more.
Gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who played the original, and obviously anyone who downloaded the playable demo over the holidays. The HUD-less, over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective is back as you set off creeping around the Sprawl, trying to make as little noise as possible as you prepare to chop the limbs off anything that moves. But it won’t matter, because when something’s ready to jump out at you, it will. And it’ll shit you up.
Developer Visceral Games uses sound, or rather the lack of sound, to keep you gripped to the screen better than ever before. As scary as it is when something jumps out at you to the sound of bellowing trumpets and cymbal splashes, it’s the silence before and after that’ll give you nightmares.
Taking a lead from other action blockbusters such as Call Of Duty and Halo, the game crams in a lot more spectacular set pieces than before. End of level bosses will come crashing through train carriages, trying to rip your head off, or you might find yourself free falling through space, dodging meteors, in an attempt to get through an air lock before it shuts you out or chops you in half. Sometimes these set pieces happen one after the other, barely giving you time to think about what you’re doing.
The Sprawl is a lot bigger than the USG Ishimura, which makes for a better variety of locations. Dead Space 2 isn’t all corridors that open into bigger rooms. There’s a lot more open space to deal with, which means the Necromorphs will come at you from almost any angle.
The structure of the single-player game isn’t as rigid as before, either. Instead of having a clearly defined start and end to a chapter (made clear by the entering and exiting of a space tram), the chapters seamlessly roll together, with a subtle on-screen note that you’ve now started Chapter 2. Save points are plentiful, though, and you’ll never have to backtrack far after being sliced open, which will obviously happen once or twice.
While the game starts out with enemies and weapons you’ve seen before, new additions to the arsenal are introduced through the finding of schematics that can be downloaded and turned into real weapons in ‘The Shop’. Somewhat shattering the illusion of reality, stomping on dead enemies will also produce credits, health and ammo to keep you replenished along the way.
For the first time in the series, multiplayer has been introduced, and you’ll need to enter the activation code that comes in the box (or buy a new one if you buy second-hand). It’s not great, though, and feels like an afterthought created to tick another feature box on the back of the packaging rather than bringing a new experience to the table. The small variety of games pitches humans against Necromorphs in simple, objective-based matches. They’re a bit like Left 4 Dead’s versus component, only nowhere near as engaging. Playing with random players online is sometimes more hassle than it’s worth. But who buys Dead Space for multiplayer?
The sequel definitely gives you more bang for your buck, thanks to a wonderfully crafted, atmospheric, single-player game. There’s plenty of replay value to be had as well, with more difficulty settings that unlock more suits as rewards for use across both single and multiplayer games. As much as we all like to complain about sequels, we’re already looking forward to a third outing for what’s quickly become a shining star of the survival-horror genre.