Visceral Games achieves a rare accomplishment: a sequel that surpasses its predecessor.
I knew almost immediately that Dead Space2 was going to be something special. A solid demo of the game was released several weeks ago that hinted at what Visceral Games had in store for players, but a demo, like a trailer, can hold promise that fails to be delivered in the final product.
Not so with Dead Space2.
Dead Space ended (SPOILER ALERT) with Isaac Clarke barely escaping the USG Ishimura, the Necromorph outbreak that overran that vessel, and the mysterious marker that was responsible. He did not come out unscathed, physically or psychologically.
Dead Space2 begins with Issac Clarke in a very dark place. Recovered by the corporation that sent him on what should have been a routine repair mission to the Ishimura, Isaac has been on The Sprawl – a human city on Saturn’s moon Titan – for the three years since that incident, undergoing tests, participating (unwillingly) in experiments, barely hanging on to his sanity. Emotional trauma and delusions aren’t all that have followed Issac to The Sprawl; somehow the Necromorphs have too. Once again Isaac is thrust in the midst of a waking nightmare, this time forced to fight demons within as well as without.
Most sequels (for convenience’s sake I will be providing film examples) are either a direct continuation of an original, advancing plot and further developing character (e.g. The Godfather: Part II, The Bourne Supremacy, The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers), or a rehashing of an original with a bigger budget and grander setting, albeit with stagnant characters (e.g. Lethal Weapon 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Speed 2, Men in Black II). Dead Space2 is that most rare of sequels, one that manages to BOTH be bigger and better AND advance plot and character.
Moving to The Sprawl (even the name is brilliant) is a stroke of genius. Whereas the Ishimura was a ghost ship when first encountered in Dead Space, The Sprawl is densely populated and still in the early stages of a Necromorph outbreak. It makes for a different sort of terror. Instead of isolation broken up by the rarely encountered survivor, long past the point of sanity, see 5:00, 6:00, and 10:10 in the following video:
Isaac is (often helpless) witness to numerous citizens of The Sprawl meeting violent, gruesome ends at the claws of the Necropmorphs. This combined with the same eerie atmosphere and gore-infused scare tactics of the first game, an increasingly unstable and unreliable protagonist, and some new tricks to ramp up the tension successfully make Dead Space2 as scary or scarier than the original.
Additionally, Dead Space2 features refinements (but few significant changes) to the controls and gameplay mechanics. Isaac moves and fights much as he did in the first game, and if anything the controls feel a bit tighter and more responsive, boot stomps and melee attacks slightly faster, all of which make for better gameplay. There are more weapons to experiment with in finding your favorite for dismembering Necromorphs (still an important element in this game), and though weapons from the first game make a return, some of their alternate firing modes have been tweaked, mostly for the better.
The most noticeable change is how Isaac operates in zero gravity. The jumping-from-surface-to-surface has been completely overhauled, with all of Isaac’s new RIGs having the capability for zero g flight. I could try to describe it, but why don’t you just see or yourself (skip to the 2:15 mark in the following video:
Given the capabilities of this new feature, it’s not surprising the developers have opened up Dead Space2 with new portions of gameplay very different from what fans of the first game might be used to, as evidenced in the “Jump” trailer:
Another new feature of Dead Space2 reminds me, oddly enough, of Batman: Arkham Asylum. One of the key elements of the first game was the fact that Isaac Clarke was not a space marine or the like, but an engineer. But Dead Space didn’t do a great deal to make you actually feel like Isaac was an engineer. Part of what made Batman: Arkham Asylum so great was the lengths it went to infuse players with the feeling that they were embodying the Dark Knight in all of his facets: silent predator, unparalleled martial artist, and world’s greatest detective. In Dead Space2, Visceral Games have gone above and beyond to remind players that Isaac is indeed an engineer. From assembling his own plasma cutter from spare parts to hacking terminals and accessing/repairing pieces of equipment, there are numerous points throughout the game that serve as opportunities for Isaac to showcase his engineering background. It’s a small, but not insignificant improvement, one of many in the game.
I won’t go into any further detail on the plot of the game, but like the first it is solid from opening to closing credits. In conclusion, Dead Space2 stands as an amazing achievement in the world of sequels, and (IMHO) will prove to be one of the best games of the year, in a year looking to be overflowing with great material.