My Game of the Year 2011: Dead Space 2 (360)

Developed: Visceral Games
Published: Electronic Arts
Genre: 3rd-person action-horror
Platform: 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

If you've read my older articles, you'll probably know that I'm a pretty big fan of the first Dead Space. I always longed for a worthy follow-up to Resident Evil 4 and the folks at Visceral Games apparently shared the sentiment. Dead Space took what was great about RE4 and refined it so well that it made Resident Evil 5 feel a bit disappointing by comparison.

When a sequel was announced, I quickly pre-ordered it; the first time I did that since 2004 when I pre-ordered Metal Gear Solid 3. My expectations for Dead Space 2 were about as high as they could be, so did it live up to them? Yep. As I said in my Top 15 Games of 2011 article, my biggest complaint about this game is that the cutscenes aren't skipable. Other than that, it's near perfect.

Dead Space 2 continues the story of space engineer Isaac Clarke, who was thrown into an insane asylum located in a giant space station built into the remnants of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. He's awakened suddenly one day and finds himself in the middle of another outbreak of necromorphs, humans who have been mutated into undead killing machines by the enigmatic "marker." Also, he's stuck in a straitjacket.
Oh boy.


Before I start, I need to give a shout-out to TobyGames, themarathonseason, PewDiePie, and VenomProject. Aside from one screen that I got from GameFAQs, every screenshot in this article was captured from their Dead Space 2 videos on YouTube, so credit for this article's visual pizazz goes to them. Thanks for the awesome videos, guys!
Nicole is now a human Lite-Brite of some sort, apparently.
The game opens the same way as the first one: with a static filled video of Isaac's girlfriend, Nicole. This particular recording is of a call she made to Isaac some time before things went wrong on the USG Ishimura, the "planet cracker" spaceship she was serving aboard. Right off the bat, we see that Isaac's face has been changed a bit from the first game and now looks a lot like Commander Shepard. He also talks now as opposed to DS1 where he never spoke a single word for the whole game. While I'm pretty apathetic about the change to his appearance, I am very happy that they made him an actual character in this game, rather than a silent avatar for the player.

The view zooms out from the holographic video and we see that Isaac is being interviewed by a rather harsh doctor about what happened to him on the Ishimura. Isaac mentions the marker and as the doctor yells at him to elaborate, a zombified hallucination of Nicole gets in Isaac's face and demands him to "Make us whole."

The scene changes to Isaac being woken up by Franco (the main character of the mediocre puzzle game prequel to DS2, Dead Space Ignition) in a dark padded cell. Isaac is bound in a straitjacket, which Franco attempts to take off of him, but an infector necromorph stabs Franco through the chest, then jumps on his back and injects something into his forehead, which triggers probably the most violent body horror moment I've ever witnessed as Franco transforms into a necromorph.

A woman yells at Isaac over Franco's radio, telling him to run, and we are treated to one of the most intense opening gameplay segments ever. Isaac, who is still in a straitjacket, must run through several hospital hallways filled with necromorphs. I've heard some people say that this part was so scary that they stopped playing right off the bat. I'd love to see those folks try to play Amnesia. For the record, I don't find this game (or any of the other Dead Space games for that matter) even remotely scary but I can see why some people would. I think Silent Hill has left me too jaded in that department.

Isaac gets to relative safety but soon runs into the doctor who was interrogating him in the game's intro. He grabs Isaac and puts a scalpel to his throat, saying that he was ordered to kill all of his test subjects. Isaac pleads with him not to do it, saying that they can both get out of this alive if he just gets him out of the straitjacket. The doctor lowers his scalpel as if to stab Isaac in the gut, but instead cuts his arms free and lets him go.

The doctor gives Isaac a couple of basic supplies, then commits suicide by cutting open his throat rather violently. Isaac can do nothing to help him so he moves on and is immediately contacted by the woman that yelled at him briefly over Franco's radio. The woman, whose name is Daina, tells Isaac that he is suffering from a form of dementia that will kill him if he doesn't get help, which she is conveniently able to provide. She gives him a route to follow and Isaac reluctantly continues on. Yay! Five minutes into the game and we're already getting ordered around by a stranger over the radio!

Like 2 minutes later, Isaac does the obligatory "I don't trust you, why are you helping me" nonsense and Daina tells him that if Hans Tiedemann, Titan Station's director, gets a hold of him more people will die. All righty then. Can't argue with that logic. By the way, Titan Station is also called the Sprawl by some characters in the game, so I'll probably absentmindedly go back and forth between the two names.

Isaac finds a man strapped to a surgical table with a rather large surgical incision on his chest and a surgical laser pointed at him. Isaac attempts to free the man but a necromorph barges in and kills him. Isaac quickly grabs the laser and attaches it to his flashlight to create a makeshift weapon that somehow functions identically to the plasma cutter in the first game. Why would a surgical laser fire out line shaped laser beams capable of easily cutting off limbs? Eh, maybe he turned the power up on it or something. Whatever.

Isaac bumps into another asylum inmate who attempts to lead him to safety but they are immediately separated by emergency doors. So much for that. After some more bickering between Isaac and Daina, we get a bit of exposition on how Isaac ended up on Titan Station. Tiedemann found him floating in space after the events of DS1 and has been studying the effects the marker had on him for the past 3 years, all the while keeping his memory suppressed. Using the information that the original marker put in Isaac's head, Tiedemann built another marker which caused the current necromorph outbreak.

Dead Space mobile actually sheds some more light on this but it also contains at least one major spoiler for Dead Space 2 so I won't go into much detail. All that's really important is that you play as the most gullible character ever who is tricked into sabotaging Titan Station's security system multiple times throughout the course of the game, which allows the necromorph outbreak to spread. It's meant to be a direct prequel to Dead Space 2 but I wouldn't recommend playing it first since as I said, it spoils something that's coming up shortly.

Anyway, Isaac runs into the other asylum inmate a few more times and finds out that his name is Nolan Stross and unlike Isaac, his insanity is unquestionable. He contacts Isaac many times throughout the game to tell him about "the steps," something that won't be relevant until the end of the game... That has to be the worst running gag ever and it's pretty much the only one that I have so far... Well that and describing something goofy, then immediately placing a screenshot with a caption saying something like "See! I'm not making it up!" I am terrible at this.

Isaac boards a tram and fights his way to the front car. Before he can make it all the way up there however, the tram derails and he slides through the remaining cars, coming to an abrupt stop as he dangles upside down from a wire just outside the front car. He fights off a bunch of necromorphs and is confronted by a brute that bursts out of the tram. Isaac shoots it, which causes its arm to sever after one hit somehow. These guys are mini boss characters in the first game and everywhere else in this one, but for whatever reason, this brute dies in one shot.

That one shot also manages to cause the tram car to come loose and untangles Isaac from the wire he was suspended from. He runs off just in time as the tram car hits the ground and explodes like crazy. I don't know what part of the tram would make it cause such a big explosion. You'd think it would be powered by electricity. Ah, whatever. This is an over the top action game. Logic doesn't exist.

Daina gives Isaac another new route to follow for like the third or fourth time now and he continues on, but Stross soon calls him up again to say a bunch of crazy shit that makes no sense. Isaac finally thinks to ask Daina about him and she states the obvious: he's crazy. Stay away from him. Isaac gets suspicious when Daina's route takes him through a Unitology (crazy religious zealots who worship the marker) recruitment facility. She assures him that it's the fastest way to get to her and he thinks nothing more of it. I wooooonder what's gonna happen.

After a few more minutes of exploration, Daina's route brings Isaac to a church of Unitology where he is immediately attacked by a gunship piloted by Tiedemann's soldiers. After escaping that deathtrap, he calls Daina, even more suspicious of where she's leading him, but She tells him to STFU and do what the NPCs tell him so he keeps following her route. Dumbass.

I probably should have gone into a bit more detail earlier about Isaac's hallucinations from DS1, which are back and get exponentially worse as you progress through the game. One actually attacks him in the church when a hallucination of Nicole seems to be trying to stab him in the eye with a syringe, but the hallucination soon disappears and we see that Isaac was holding the syringe up to his own eye. Also, his helmet seems to automatically open up specifically for this scene. Eh, maybe his hallucination episode caused him to open it.

There's a pretty goofy puzzle in the church where you bust your ass to shut down a gravity core or whatever, just so you can turn off the gravity and fly one floor up to a balcony in the same room. Then you press one button and the gravity turns back on. Why is it so hard to turn off but you can turn it back on with one button? It's a pretty cool puzzle actually but it just seems silly to defeat the purpose of a relatively complex puzzle right after you solve it.

Isaac reaches the top of the church where Daina is waiting with a couple of goons who restrain him. SURPRISE! Daina is revealed to be a Unitologist. She tells Isaac what he should already know, though he seems surprised by it: the information the original marker stored in his brain can be used to make more markers. Unitologists believe the marker is the secret to humanity's evolution and want to build countless markers to spread "convergence" across the galaxy. I guess homicidal zombie aliens are what humans are really supposed to be.

Daina's party is soon ruined when the gunship from earlier shoots the shit out of the room they're standing in, killing everyone except Isaac who escapes through a trap door, landing in a dark room a few floors down. Then my favorite action setpiece of any game from last year starts. A huge, almost fully armored necromorph attacks Isaac as the ceiling begins to collapse with support beams and pipes falling everywhere. As Isaac attempts to escape, the necromorph keeps picking him up and tries to eat him, but he shoots the one unarmored part of its body, which severs its right arm.

Isaac runs down a hallway into a room with a large window that is quickly shot out by the gunship, causing Isaac and the huge necromorph to fly out and land on the ship's hull. Isaac attempts to float away but the necromorph grabs him again.  A couple of explosive barrels are conveniently floating next to the necromorph's head, which Isaac shoots, causing a huge explosion that I guess kills the necromorph and destroys the gunship because you never see either of them again. Isaac is rocketed back by the explosion and flies back into the Sprawl through a window which is quickly sealed up by a blast door.

Stross immediately calls up and rambles about an extremely vague plan to destroy Tiedemann's marker, but they'll have to travel pretty far to reach it. Isaac decides that listening to an insane man whose plan is completely unclear at this point is good idea and begins the long trek to the government sector where the marker is stored.

Isaac comes across a young woman fighting off a group of necromorphs which she manages to kill before Isaac can even get close enough to assist her. When he attempts to go talk with her though, she almost shoots him too. Isaac tells the young woman, whose name is Ellie, that they should team up but she's actually a smart character (at least in the Dead Space universe where anyone could go insane at any moment) and refuses to trust Isaac, telling him that other people are a liability. When she says this line I swear to God she glances directly at the camera as if to say "Yeah. I mean YOU, player. You suck."
Cut! Ellie, you gotta look at Isaac, not the camera.
Ellie soon leaves, telling Isaac not to follow her. The first time I played through the game, I honestly looked around the room for another route for several minutes before giving up and going down the same elevator that Ellie left on, so yeah; the game forces you to follow her. And here I was, trying to do what the game told me like a good little player.

Isaac makes his way through an elementary school/nursery where he encounters two enemies that I have yet to address, so I guess I'll talk about them (and 1 enemy from DS1) here. I can't remember if I mentioned them in my DS1 article, but one type of enemy in that game, which return in this one, are called lurkers. Lurkers are basically zombified human babies that attack you with tentacles growing from their backs. They're so heavily mutated that you might not even notice unless you look closely, so I wasn't too bothered by them.

In Dead Space 2, they brought back lurkers and added two enemies that aren't quite as defensible: zombie children and explosive zombie babies. This is where it begins to get a bit too sketchy. It makes sense that there would be necromorph kids and babies since Titan Station is an entire city, but I still find them to be a little gross, particularly the exploding babies.

The exploding babies are literally a human baby with charred black flesh and a giant, explosive growth on their back. That's already disturbing enough on its own but they also make regular human baby sounds as they slowly advance on you. They're the only type of necromorph that does this. Every other type makes unworldly monster sounds, including the zombie children and lurkers. It just seems like Visceral Games was trying a little too hard to add as much shock value as possible to the game. They'll be hard pressed to top this in Dead Space 3.

Anyway, other than killing children, Isaac also has to deal with more hallucinations of Nicole who constantly mock him and keep telling him to "Make us whole." Ellie contacts Isaac and tells him that she found Stross and almost kills him before Isaac stops her because he needs Stross to be  "not dead" so they can somehow destroy the marker. Ellie decides to take Stross with her for whatever reason; I guess she agrees with their unbelievably vague plan.

A few minutes later, Isaac bumps into Ellie and Stross but the power goes out and Tiedemann contacts Isaac directly, telling him that he and Stross have to die so the necromorphs won't spread any further or whatever. You were the one that made the marker, buddy. He tells them that he cut power to life support which is the cue for a brute to attack Isaac.

After that's dealt with, Isaac tells Ellie more about his awesome plan to destroy the marker with his human Chekhov's gun and she agrees to help. First things first; they need to turn the power back on by repairing the back-up solar power system. Isaac makes his way through a highly secure area that is controlled by an artificial intelligence named ANTI who I thought would end up being a SHODAN style antagonist but all she really does is what she was programmed to: protect the solar array.

After an interesting puzzle that mirrors 2001: A Space Odyssey, ANTI goes offline, clearing the path to the solar array. Ellie periodically calls Isaac to tell him how exponentially more crazy Stross is getting which I guess is to build tension for a later scene. Isaac re-aligns the solar array manually and another crazy setpiece starts.

Isaac gets into an ejection seat or whatever and is launched back down toward the Sprawl. As he hurls through space he has to dodge a ton of debris which I swear wasn't there before. This part kinda reminds me of Star Fox 64 actually. It's not quite as forgiving as that game though, because if you so much as graze any of the obstacles in your path, Isaac explodes into meaty chunks rather comically, forcing you to restart the whole ejection scene again. At the end of it though, Isaac smashes into a vent and bounces around like a pinball before coming to a crash landing without taking any damage. Maybe it's easier to be dismembered in a vacuum or something.
Isaac meets up with Ellie and Stross in a room almost exactly the same as the one where he fought the brute earlier, but just as they're about to get to safety, shit starts exploding all over the place and they get separated again. Ellie immediately gets to work to open another door so Isaac can get away from all the explosions just as a horde of necromorphs barges in and life support in the room fails. I guess it's only in that room since Ellie and Stross are like one room over and aren't wearing spacesuits like Isaac.

Cue the hardest fight in the game. I'm sure many people would disagree but I have  personally died here more times than anywhere else in the game. You get attacked from every direction by probably the most annoying combination of necromophs. There's spitters, which have a projectile, a ton of zombie kids, which always attack in hordes, and leapers, the most annoying enemy in the Dead Space series, period. They move super fast, can jump on walls and have a ridiculously long attack range with their leap attack that they love to do so often.

Ellie eventually gets a door open, allowing Isaac to get to safety, and he continues on through a processing facility of some sort. Ellie shuts it down before he goes in but Tiedemann, still dead set on killing Isaac, powers the facility back up with Isaac still inside. While Isaac dodges fire and all manner of sharp spinning things, Ellie and Stross fight their way through more necromorphs. Actually it's more like Ellie does the fighting while Stross gets more and more crazy, to the point where he screams at Ellie about "the steps" while she's busy trying to keep them alive.

Isaac finally meets back up with them and Stross is in a near catatonic state. He keeps mumbling about the steps, the dark machine, the needle and all manner of crazy things. Isaac ignores him and goes to restart the tram system that will take them to the government sector while Ellie attempts to get Stross back on his feet. Once that's done, Isaac hallucinates some more and yells at zombie Nicole in a kinda derpy sounding voice. Should have gone with take 2 on that one.

As the tram begins to descend, they can see the USG Ishimura, the setting of the first Dead Space, docked nearby. Ellie gives Isaac the government explanation of what happened and tells him that the Ishimura's crew was killed in a terrorist attack, but Isaac sets her straight just as the tram comes to an abrupt halt.

Isaac steps off the tram to see what is blocking it, and after way too much exploration, finds a room full of tentacles wrapped around huge, explosive fuel tanks. He does the sensible thing and blows up the tanks (while fighting some annoying damn enemies,) clearing the path for the tram. He jumps into the tram just in time for them to do an action movie explosion chase scene, but they are again brought to a halt when Tiedemann uses a giant freakin' laser beam to cut the tracks, separating them from the government sector.

Conveniently enough, the Ishimura happens to be right behind them so Isaac boards it and makes his way to the bridge so he can use the ship's gravity tethers to pull the tracks back together. His hallucinations get worse and worse as he makes his way through the Ishimura. Stross is getting worse too. He seems to be having a conversation with his dead son, then he suddenly attacks Ellie and bites her. God, why keep this guy around? Do you really think he knows how to destroy the marker? What's it made out of anyway? Why not just blow it up? There's gotta be some explosives somewhere in the Sprawl. Meh.

Thankfully, Stross calms back down and Isaac finally makes it to the bridge and activates the gravity tethers. Ellie and Stross quickly take the tram across and Isaac jumps in an escape pod in yet another scene that I can't believe he survives. After crash landing, a video transmission pops up and we see that Stross has completely snapped. He has Ellie pinned to the ground and the video cuts off just as he prepares to stab her in the eye with a screwdriver. What did I tell you? This could have easily been avoided. Even that liar Daina knew enough to tell you to stay away from that lunatic.

Stross taunts Isaac a few minutes later, telling him that he thought that if Ellie did step 3 she would be able to "see." Apparently Step 3 is being stabbed in the eye. A while later, Isaac bumps into Stross who taunts him some more through a fence. He holds up a screwdriver with Ellie's eye impaled on it and tells Isaac that he's next, but Ellie pops up from behind him, hits him with a pole, then yells my favorite line of 2011 at Isaac:

A blast door closes just as Ellie and Stross begin to fight. I guess that's one way to not have to animate a scene: have it take place on the other side of a wall. Not that Visceral Games is lazy or anything but why did that blast door close all of a sudden? Actually, most of the doors that open and close or lock and unlock automatically in this game don't make much sense.

In the first game, the ship's computer would say something like "Foreign matter detected. Commencing lockdown." Then it locks the doors and after you kill all the necromorphs in the room, unlocks them again. Ignoring the fact that the ship somehow knows when the undead aliens are foreal dead, it makes a bit more sense than DS2 where the power will go out right after you enter a room, then turn back on right as you kill the last enemy. I am over analyzing this way too much.

Anyway, something that somehow makes even less sense happens. Isaac steps through the next door and is immediately grabbed by a tentacle that drags him through a long, narrow tunnel, then throws him out into space. The first time I played this, I thought this was another hallucination, and that Isaac would appear back in the hallway. But it isn't. The tentacle disappears as soon as it lets go of Isaac and is never seen again, so I guess all it does is grab people through that one hole in the station and throws them into space. I guess it was supposed to be a jump scare, but it would make a bit more sense if he was just forced to go out into space to progress? I'm over analyzing again...

Isaac calls Ellie, who says that Stross has run off and she's found something interesting nearby. Isaac soon bumps into Stross again who immediately attacks, hitting Isaac's helmet so hard with his screwdriver that it opens up, leaving Isaac's head vulnerable to further screwdriver attacks. Isaac fights him off and is forced to finally kill the annoying bastard. Oh no! How will we ever destroy the marker without mental McGee?

After another fun, wave based room, Isaac is attacked by zombie Nicole who somehow lifts him up off the ground by his neck. I guess he's imagining that too. In another mash A to not die QTE, Nicole chokes Isaac and demands that Isaac tell her who she really is; why he won't let her go. He finally admits that he can't let her go because he would have nothing left if he did, which causes Nicole to turn back to normal and say "Step 4. Acceptance." Okay then. The other steps, at least according to Stross, all had to do with a dark machine and needles. Dunno how the five stages of grief got factored into that (Yes, I know acceptance is stage 5. No need to correct me.)
Isaac soon finds Ellie and the "something interesting" that she mentioned earlier: a giant digging vehicle of some sort. They quickly fix it up and begin digging their way to the marker. They come to yet another crashing stop and land in the government sector, but are separated. Ellie almost immediately finds a gunship they can use to escape. Isaac soon catches up to her and somehow forces the gunship to launch from a computer in the station. Ellie is none too pleased but Isaac is determined to save at least one person in this series and sends the ship, and Ellie, flying off.

He sits down and talks with his imaginary friend some more. Nicole seems to be in a significantly weakened state and again tells Isaac to "make us whole." Make sense already! Isaac walks off and gets yelled at by Tiedemann some more, who warns him that he has 200 men stationed throughout the government sector and tells him he has no chance to survive and to make his tim- oh my God I just made an all your base reference. I think it's time to turn my internet badge in.

Isaac soon runs into a huge group of those soldiers who are blocking the way to the marker. The first time I played through the game, I thought this was a cutscene that was going to take control away from me so I just stopped moving in front of the column of soldiers who quickly blasted Isaac to pieces. You're actually supposed to run into a bathroom that I didn't notice the first time, then crawl through a maintenance tunnel and run up to a control room where Isaac turns off the power so a horde of necromorphs can barge in to clear the way for him. Great idea!

The soldiers get slaughtered and Isaac fights his way through a horde of necromorphs before finally arriving at the marker chamber. Or at least a room with a view of the marker chamber. Close enough. Hundreds of necromophs have grouped around the giant marker which is at least 3 or 4 stories tall. Nicole shows up again and tells him that "convergence is at hand," then Tiedemann calls Isaac up to yell at him some more, saying that it's his fault this is happening. You were the one that built the marker, dumbass.

He says the same thing as Nicole; that a "convergence event" is taking place. Is that like a resonance cascade? Then a huge beam of light erupts from the marker and the necromorphs begin to get sucked up to the ceiling. Nicole again tells Isaac to "make us whole," and leads him to the next room where the squickiest gameplay segment I've ever experienced begins.

Isaac gets into the machine that Stross described, and a metal device keeps his head in place and holds his eyes open. Then it's up to the player to slowly guide a huge needle down to Isaac's eye which somehow accesses the marker data in his brain. This is yet another gameplay segment that I didn't get the first time. The game purposely doesn't explain how it works to increase the chance that you'll screw up the first time and have to watch the most violent death animation in the game, aside from Franco's death at the beginning of the game I suppose.

The way it works is simple; you move the needle around with the right stick, and make it go up and down with A and Y. The needle moves really, really slow to increase the tension of the scene I guess and as you move it, Isaac gets nervous and begins to fidget around, though if you stop moving for a moment he'll calm down. The goal is to stick the needle directly into his pupil. If you do that, you succeed and the result is not as violent as you would suspect. The needle just slips in for a second, Isaac sees a bunch of symbols, then it pulls back out and a little blood runs out of his eye.
My apologies to any trypanophobic readers.
If you put the needle anywhere else though, the whole device comes crashing down and kills the shit out of him. I don't know why it would do that but whatever. The more shock value the better, I suppose. This was what happened the first time I played this part. I thought it was just a creepy interactive cutscene that you couldn't fail, and when I screwed up I initially thought the machine was trying to rip his eye out just as Stross did to Ellie. But no; you just die if you don't do it right. This part was especially nerve wracking in the hardest difficulty which I'll talk about later.

Isaac gets back out of the machine and Nicole simply tells him that she'll be waiting at the marker. Then an insect like, regenerating necromorph shows up. Just like the regenerator in the first game, this necromorph cannot be killed so all you can really do is dismember it, then put in stasis while it regenerates, and run. As you run, you'll be confronted by hordes of necromorphs, all of them the more powerful "enhanced" version of each respective type. Some people have complained that this part is cheap, but I find its challenge to be about the same as any other area of the game with respawning enemies. It's certainly easier than that annoying room I mentioned before where I died over and over.

Isaac finally reaches the marker and as he approaches a bright light in front of it, he's suddenly hit with a round from a javelin gun. Ah shit. It's Tiedemann, and he's looking a lot like Two-Face with half of his body charred as a result of the light that erupted from the marker I guess. It happened off screen. Isaac pulls the Javelin out, and another one. Just Tiedemann is about to shoot him from point blank range, Isaac suddenly knows how to do CQC and disarms Tiedemann, then violently shoots him through the throat with a javelin. Then the game gets pretty sadistic when it gives you partial control and lets you shoot him again, but he dies a few seconds later whether you shoot him or not. Nicole appears and thanks Isaac for coming this far, then tells him that it's "time to die." DUN DUN DUN

Wow, I never would have guessed. Nicole shoots Isaac with a mind laser or whatever and the camera zooms into Isaac's head where he fights a mental battle with Nicole and a marker that has a fleshy necromorph core. Aside from the brutes, which I consider to be more like mini bosses than proper boss fights, this is the only boss in the game. I found this pretty disappointing after the giant bosses in the first game.
That was your first mistake. Well, maybe not your first, but whatever. My point stands.
All you really need to do is stay away from Nicole and keep shooting her until she disappears, which exposes the marker's core, your actual target in this fight. After a few moments it closes back up and Nicole reappears. If Nicole gets too close to Isaac, it's instant death in a really disturbing scene. It zooms back out to the real world where Isaac, with a smile on his face, shoots himself through the chin with the javelin gun which causes his face to become disgustingly stretched out and distorted. Man this game is sadistic.

Other than Nicole, all you have to worry about are zombie children that constantly spawn, though they still die in one hit from any attack so they aren't that annoying. They're pretty much just there to drop ammo for you. After about three rounds of shooting the marker's core, it explodes and the game zooms back out to the real world where the marker is somehow crumbling and Isaac collapses from exhaustion. The station's computer warns about an imminent reactor breach and it seems like Isaac is finally out of luck.

Fake credits begin to play but Ellie suddenly shows up and crashes the gunship through the roof. Isaac does his Iron Man routine again and dodges some more debris as he flies up to the ship. He gets in and they quickly fly off just as the station explodes. The final scene mirrors the ending of the first game as Isaac sits down in the pilot seat. He slowly looks to his right expecting zombie Nicole to attack him again, but it's just Ellie. Roll credits.
Uhh, nothing. Just making sure you didn't suddenly turn into a zombie alien thing for a cheap jump scare.
In a short post credits dialogue segment, a mysterious man is told of Titan Station's destruction, and says that the "other marker sites will have to pick up the pieces."


Ah, so where to even start in this review... In addition to what I said at the beginning about the cutscenes not being skipable, I think I may have to add one more thing that I kinda dislike about Dead Space 2: there are several elements of the plot that don't make sense to me. I still consider it to be as close to perfection as I could hope for in a game, but I can't help but be bothered by a few things.

Why was Isaac convinced that Stross could be of any help in destroying the marker? What was the deal with all the necromorphs crowding around the marker and the subsequent beam of light that shoots out of it? What did the eye needle machine do to Isaac? How the hell did fighting zombie Nicole and a fake marker in Isaac's brain cause the real marker to start breaking apart?

Hopefully most of these questions will be answered in future Dead Space games but I can't help but be a bit bothered by them. Hell, I still don't fully understand what it is about the marker that causes people to either go completely insane or turn into necromorphs.

Good question.

Other than those loose ends, I love the story in Dead Space 2. The biggest problem I had with the first Dead Space was its lack of well defined characters, but the second game fully rectifies this with some of the most likeable characters in recent memory. Isaac himself went from a silent, faceless avatar for the player in DS1, to a very charismatic and well fleshed out character right from the start of DS2.

Another huge improvement is the inclusion of several well characterized antagonists. The first game had Dr. Mercer, whose name I didn't even know until I looked it up on Dead Space Wiki. Yeah. That's about how well defined a character he was. He didn't make enough appearances and when you finally fight him, he's just a regular necromorph who you can kill before he's even done transforming. Pathetic. DS1 also had Kendra at the very end of the game, but she barely counts.

In Dead Space 2, there are 4 characters who antagonize Isaac. Zombie Nicole is the most obvious one who torments him for almost the entire game and ends up being the last boss. Tiedemann was fairly good but underutilized for long stretches of gameplay. Daina and Stross also count, though they both die soon after you realize they've betrayed Isaac.

Ellie ends up being your only real ally and I thought she was great, especially since she's a strong female character who isn't sexed up at all. There aren't too many of those that I could name off the top of my head sadly. Naoto from Persona 4 I guess since there's only two scenes in the whole game where you can even tell she's a girl. I have gotta stop referencing that game so much. Hmm. Actually, that could be a running gag. Time will tell.

Do I even need to cover the graphics? They're about the same as the first game, though you see characters' faces up close a lot more in Dead Space 2 and the talking animations are really well done. Most of the main characters are apparently modeled after their voice actors, so I guess that explains Isaac's change in appearance. It's pretty weird to look at the cast list on IMDB if you're familiar with how the characters look.

I think Ellie is the only exception, and I'm a bit disappointed actually. Her voice actress is black but Ellie is white for God knows what reason. You could have had a strong, non-sexualized, black female lead, Visceral. What were you thinking? Maybe they couldn't get the rights to her image or something. Moving on...

The music is the same as always with big budget games nowadays. It's a competently done orchestrated score but it isn't really catchy or memorable at all. The Silent Hill series is my go-to example of how to do amazing survival horror music that really hits you at a primal level. I just don't think an orchestra is capable of having as much of an effect as the demented synthesized sounds that Akira Yamaoka created.

The sound effects and voice acting are where Dead Space 2's audio really stands out. Like in the first game, every sound effect has impact. Every weapon, every attack, every ambient sound, and every enemy sounds convincing and fitting. Speaking of which, if there's one thing in the game that actually manages to creep me out a bit, it's the enemy sounds. The screech of a stalker when it charges you is downright horrifying and the guardian wall monster things are still as disgustingly pitiful as in the first game.

The voice acting is a pretty big step up from the first game. Not that the voice acting in DS1 was bad; it was probably more that the characters and dialogue weren't very interesting. That's not the case in Dead Space 2. I swear there was only one badly delivered line in the whole game, which I mentioned above in a scene where Isaac is screaming at zombie Nicole in a kind of dumb sounding tone.

Other than that, the game's script and acting are amazing. In my Batman: Arkham City article, I complained about how insipid the dialogue in that game was; one of its only faults. While that's only one example, poorly written or badly delivered dialogue still seems to be a problem in the industry. Dead Space 2 however, has some very well written and surprisingly varied exchanges. Almost every character has a unique way of interacting with Isaac, whether it's Nicole's constant mocking, Tiedemann's anger at not being able to kill Isaac, Stross' insane rambling, or Ellie's cynical, cautious tone.

Isaac himself displays an even wider range of emotions, starting out afraid and confused at the beginning of the game, slowly becoming more confident as the plot progresses, and finally conquering his inner demons, quite literally. Character growth like this is becoming far too rare.

I guess now is as good a time as any to address just damn violent this game is. I'm a pretty jaded guy, so I'm almost never offended or grossed out by violence, but Dead Space 2 really tries its damnedest to raise the bar on how far video game violence will go. Right off the bat, the game sets an extremely graphic tone by having Franco violently transform into a necromorph right in front of our eyes. Actually, that scene is kinda funny to me after how bad the only game where you play as Franco, Dead Space Ignition, turned out. Seriously. Screw that crappy game.

Many of Isaac's death animations are just way too over the top, like when the zombie children manage to kill him in a QTE, they literally tear him limb from limb. Failing the eye needle machine immediately comes to mind as well. As I said above, that scene plays a pretty dirty trick on you by not telling you what to do, and it managed to fool me into thinking it was just an interactive cutscene that you couldn't fail.

The gameplay in Dead Space 2 is damn near perfect. Just as in the first game, It does a great job teaching you all the controls and gameplay elements at a reasonable pace with short tutorial messages or intuitive bits of gameplay that teach you without saying anything. The navigator from DS1 also returns. Any time you need to be pointed in the right direction, all you have to do is click the right analog stick and a line will appear on the ground that leads to your next objective. It may hold the player's hand a bit much I suppose, but the game's challenging combat makes up for that.

Combat works pretty much exactly the same as in the first game as well. Enemies are resistant to body and head shots, so you have to shoot off their limbs to dispatch them. Kinesis and stasis are still around and are as useful as ever. Kinesis lets you pick up and throw objects at enemies so you can save ammo when possible, and stasis slows enemies down for a short time. You also put both of them to use while puzzle solving.

Almost every weapon is viable, though one of the problems I had with DS1 is still around where some weapons had really low ammo stack sizes that took up too much space in your inventory. I say that, but when I replayed the game for this article, I had a little fun by beating the game using only the contact beam and seeker rifle which both have fairly low ammo stack sizes. Even weapons that I hated in the first game like the flamethrower and ripper have been improved quite a bit.

The only new weapon I was disappointed with was the javelin gun. It does pretty high damage but has a really slow fire rate and consumes two ammo if you wanna use its alternate fire, which actually doesn't make much sense. Alternate fire on the javelin gun causes the last javelin you fired to shoot out a burst of electricity (and explode when fully upgraded,) so I don't know why it would consume another javelin if all you're doing is detonating the last one you fired.

One thing that wasn't really around in the first game are the various action setpieces throughout Dead Space 2. Most involve either Isaac using his rocket boots to speed through a zero gravity area, or QTEs where you just have to mash A to survive. One thing that was around in the first game and returns in Dead Space 2 are scenes where Isaac is being dragged around by an enemy that he has to quickly scare off by attacking its weak point for massive damage, like the amazingly frantic scene where Isaac tries to escape from the giant necromorph that attacks him at the end of the church area. Scenes like that really do a great job of making the game feel like a blockbuster action film, while still involving the player in intuitive ways.

I talked about this in my Top 15 Games of 2011 article, but it's worth describing again just because I find it so funny. Dead Space 2 has one of the most challenging hardest difficulties ever: hardcore mode. In any other difficulty, if you die, you respawn at the last checkpoint. Hardcore has no checkpoints, so if you die, you have to reload your last save. You are also limited to three saves in hardcore so you have to do a bit of planning and use them well. Enemies behave like they do in the third highest difficulty (from what I've read at least) but the thought of losing so much progress puts you on edge and makes you more likely to make mistakes.

It took a lot of practice for me to finally beat hardcore. I picked out the three hardest fights and saved before each of them. Since you can't play new game + in hardcore difficulty, I also decided on exactly what weapons I was going to buy and when I would upgrade them. My hard work paid off I guess because once I had all that planned, I played through hardcore without dying once. That freakin' eye needle machine was still absolutely nerve wracking, though.

So what do you get for overcoming all those absurd restrictions? A big foam finger that shoots invisible bullets that kill anything in one hit. I'm not kidding. Isaac even says "Bang! Bang! Bang!" or "Pew! Pew! Pew!" every time you shoot. It's pretty hilarious because the weapon fires as quickly as you can press the fire button so Isaac can make his childish gun sounds comically fast if you shoot rapidly.

There are a few more miscellaneous things that were changed from the first game that I'd like to briefly touch on. There was quite a bit of backtracking in the first game which helped pad out the game's length a bit but made it a little less interesting to replay since you'd see almost every area multiple times during every playthrough. Dead Space 2 almost completely eliminates backtracking while still maintaining a fairly lengthy campaign.

I think there are maybe one or two rooms that you pass through more than once and the only one that I can specifically recall is a large room with four doors. You enter through one, leave through the second, go through a lengthy path that leads to door 3 and back into the room, then leave again through door 4 which you unlocked between doors 2 and 3. Confusing, I know. My point is that there is next to no backtracking in Dead Space 2 and I commend Visceral Games for their efforts in that department.

Another thing that was changed is the fact that in DS2 you must stomp enemies after you kill them for them to drop whatever item they're carrying. In the first game, enemies would just drop an item when they die, and when I first played DS2, I couldn't understand why they would makes such a bizarre change. I finally realized that they were trying to make it easier for enemies to play dead, so it's another way to scare babies who are afraid of jump scares. It eventually becomes second nature to just stomp every enemy after you kill them so I didn't mind the change after a while.

I suppose I should also mention the multiplayer, but I didn't ever play it. It seems kind of similar to Left 4 Dead's versus mode, with 4 players controlling humans and 4 controlling necromorphs. In all likelihood, nobody is playing it anymore but I could be wrong. This game really didn't need multiplayer but I suppose it's a requirement for every big budget release nowadays.


Dead Space 2 is an absolutely marvelous game and an exemplar of the action genre. It takes the incredibly fun action of its predecessor, adds crazy setpieces on top of that, and eliminates the backtracking that padded out the first game. The writing and characters are improved, and the plot more engaging. My only complaints about the game are nitpicky at best, and if I bothered giving scores, it would easily be a perfect 10.

Here's just a bit more evidence of just how much I adore this game. It's one of only 4 games that I've gotten every achievement in (the others being the first Dead Space, Oblivion, and Mass Effect 2), I've probably beaten it over 20 times and I'm still not bored with it. I love it so much that despite the fact that it just came out last year, it has a spot among my top 10 favorite games of all time. Yeah. I kind of enjoyed this game.

You can get Dead Space 2 for around $20 online and even cheaper than that at retail. My local Wal-Mart has been selling the PC version in the $10 bargain bin for months now. It isn't for the squeamish, but if you can handle some pretty intense violence, buy it. You will not be disappointed.
I'm Isaac Clarke, and this is my favorite store on the Sprawl.
Whew. 2011 is finally done. I'm getting worse and worse at this. When I created this blog, I intended to do one article a day and a top 5 article every 2 days at the most. So much for that.

Number 5 in my top 5 games of 1992!
The game that kicked off one of the most popular genres of the 90s.

I'll leave you with the only song from the game's official soundtrack that has any emotional impact on me, Canonical Aside. I believe it's the song that plays right after the last boss fight, as Isaac collapses from exhaustion and the fake credits start to play. Could be wrong about that. Regardless, it's one of the only songs on the soundtrack that isn't just super fast violins and trumpets. Those songs are competently done but I just find them to be boring as hell. Video brought to us by YouTube user RadiantRhapsody:

1 comment:

  1. Great review you have here. I have played this and really like it. beat it for days...