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Review: Dead Space 2

The nightmare of what happened on the Ishimura, where an alien artifact called the Marker killed the entire crew of the gigantic mining ship and transformed them into grotesque necromorphs, will stay with ship engineer Isaac Clarke forever. Even as he's held as a patient in the mental ward of a hospital located on the Titan colony, orbiting Saturn. However, this is Dead Space 2, so nightmares have a tendency to come to life and tear apart anything that has the misfortune to be nearby. Fortunately, Isaac's experience makes him uniquely qualified to handle both the necromorph threat and the Titan Colony's government, which will go to any lengths to contain the situation.

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Just as Isaac is no stranger to dealing with necromorphs, both great and small, so are players. Fans that have played through the original Dead Space are already used to creatures leaping out from the shadows or creeping out from walls, and they know that the best way to beat a necromorph is to dismember it. So, one of the first questions is whether or not Dead Space 2 can keep up the scares. Technically, the answer is, " No". Apart from a handful of "boo" moments, where the game will try to startle you with loud noises, flash hallucinations, and creative use of shadows, it would be a bit of stretch to characterize the game as "scary." Instead, Dead Space 2 focuses on generating a sense of suspense that follows players as they walk down darkened hallways and crawl through tight spaces. The feeling is heightened by the limited funds and ammunition players have to work with.

Differences between the Titan Colony and the Ishimura become apparent very quickly, and there's even a sequence where players get a chance to revisit the mining ship. The Titan Colony has a residential section and a shopping section, all torn apart by swarms of necromorphs. Unlike the first game, where Isaac's crew arrives after the Ishimura has been completely taken over, players can now witness the infestation occur as it happens and listen to the pained cries of colonists as they're killed and dragged away. There's also a greater population variety on Titan, so expect to see children and babies transformed into deadly creatures.

The story is done well manages to pull off one or two surprises. There are quite a few references to the first game, so it's worth playing through it to get a better sense of what's going on. Levels are very nicely designed and varied, including sections where the player can shoot out the glass and suck everything out into the vacuum of space. The game starts with an intense sequence where Isaac is straightjacketed and unarmed as the necromorphs take over, forcing the players to seek out weapons and equipment while on the run. We would enjoyed the story more if it revealed more secrets about what the Marker is, its origins, and its purpose. After completing the campaign, we don't really know any more about it than what we found out in the first game, and the sequel leaves us with a lot of open plot holes. But our main gripe is that there are one too many zero-g disorienting zero-g sequences for our liking. That, and how the hacking minigame quickly gets annoying. We should also mention that the story is also completely linear, so the game loses its suspense after the first playthrough.

All things considered, Dead Space 2 doesn't necessarily do anything new or advance the survival horror genre any further than the first game did. Even the majority of weapons are carried over from the first game with few exceptions. However, it's a game that's done very well. Everything from the health meter built into the characters suit spine to the ammo count shown on holographic display attached to the weapon itself helps to keep players engaged with what's going on. Telekinetic energy is unlimited, which makes a convenient fallback when ammo is low. Players can throw broom handles like spears and use volatile containers as explosives, or they can pull sharpened body parts off dead necromorphs to use as weapons.

Multiplayer is a bit limited, but executed well nonetheless. Players are either assigned to playing as humans or necromorphs in a team vs. team battle. The humans must work together to complete tasks, like activating a number of computer stations while fending off against oncoming players. There are only a handful of maps, and the necromorph team has the distinct advantage on maps like the Ishimura, where there are a lot of dark spaces and narrow corridors. Necromorphs also have an advantage if one manages to use one of the fast moving creatures to pin down a player while everyone else tears away at him. Not to mention, friendly fire makes the humans as much of a danger to each other as the necromorphs are. Players can unlock better equipment, but unless they're really good at using the slowdown powers, it can be a pretty long road.

On the flip side, there's no practice mode for using necromorphs, so the only way to get a sense of how to use their abilities is during an a live match. Furthermore, since necromorphs can see in the dark, it can be difficult to figure out where shadowy spots are for hiding and laying an ambush. We're disappointed that there's no story driven survival mode, since Dead Space 2 is very well suited for it, but the multiplayer is fun for what it is.

Dead Space 2 is a well crafted survival horror game that will keep even experienced players on edge. As stated earlier, the game doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the table compared to its predecessor and other horror survival games, but it makes up for it with a compelling story and excellent characters. The multiplayer could have benefitted with some more attention since it's the only completely new feature to be introduced into the series, but it's a flaw that can be overlooked. If you have no interest in competitive multiplayer, then it's worthwhile to wait for a sale, since there's little else the game offers beyond the initial playthrough, except perhaps beating hardcore mode for the secret bonus weapon. Players must also consider how it's unlikely that the PC release will receive DLC expansions. But with everything considered, the game is worth picking up for some creepy late night gaming.

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