3.5 out of 5 stars
Thanks to my new handy game rental service Plurent, I’ve managed to keep up with the times when it comes to playing and reviewing new releases. I paid about thirteen bucks in rental fees instead of $120 to exhaust everything I needed to do in Portal 2 and Mortal Kombat, and so I set my sights on a title I really wanted to play from a little while back.
Due to the ban on violent video games in my house growing up, I never got into survival horror titles like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, and subsequently as I got older, never got into the sequels. I tried to play Resident Evil 5 for about ten minutes but was laughing too hard to continue when I learned that there was a game released in 2010 where you can’t move and shoot at the same time.
When I discovered the original Dead Space, this site was in its infancy. One of the first posts I ever wrote here was this one, chronicling all the nasty ways you could die in the game. I’m not sure I ever did an official review, but at the end of the year, I did go back and make a few suggestions for improvement, even though I overwhelmingly loved the game.
“What? Do I have something stuck in my helmet?”
Most of my praise was for EA taking a risk on a new IP, and having it pay off so profoundly. The game had a more convincing premise, cast and setting than most horror films today, and was genuinely scary to play. The weapons were incredibly inventive, and far from the usual 1st/3rd person bullet and plasma-heavy fare. Even combat was unique, as it turned the concept of headshots well, on its head as “strategic dismemberment” entered the video game lexicon.
The problem with a sequel is that you have to keep all these elements in play to retain what made the first game good, but by definition, you’ve lost almost all of your originality. Some games use sequels to improve on setting (Assassin’s Creed) or gameplay (Mass Effect), but Dead Space did almost everything it needed to correctly the first time around, so there are hardly any changes to be found.
Rather than traipsing around the doomed ship Ishimura, engineer-turned-survivalist Isaac Clarke wakes up on a massive space station appropriately called Titan. After a brief moment of consciousness, and a hint he’s being experimented on, he wakes up three years later and oh shit, it’s happening again. The station has been taken over by Necromorphs, human zombies with a lot more spiky appendages, and he must fight his way through them in order to destroy what gives them their power, the mysterious Marker.
One thing improved upon story-wise that I suggested in my critique of the original is that it was rather hard to empathize with a faceless, voiceless protagonist. Even if he’s just meant to be an ordinary guy using power tools to kill scary things, in a giant suit of armor he still feels like a space marine.
A grizzled white guy? No way!
And now, Isaac Clarke really is a space marine. He takes off his mask to reveal he’s a Commander Shepard lookalike, and he’s killed so many Necromorphs at this point, he could take on Gordon Freeman for the crown of most badass alien-killing intellectual. His face and voice does round out his character a bit, but actual significant development is scarce, as he’s plagued by visions of his dead ex-girlfriend from the first game. We learn that he misses her and can’t let her go, which ends up being central to the main plot in a way I didn’t quite understand as it unfolded.
But onto the killing. Combat has remained relatively unchanged, and by relatively, I mean completely. Initially I thought the kinesis (making things levitate) and stasis (freezing things) abilities were added this time around, but when I went back and checked, whoops! They’ve been here this whole time. Now you can use kinesis to pull a claw off of an enemy and skewer them with it, which I believe is new, but I’ll be damned if I ever did that more than once, as more often than not, I wasn’t grabbing a Necro’s claw, but a metal lunchbox behind him instead.
So really, the only new aspect of combat is a few new guns, and even I had trouble remembering which ones we hadn’t seen before. There’s a javelin launcher, which shoots metal spears you can electrify after they’ve impaled something, but in a game about dismemberment, it’s not terribly useful. There’s a Minelayer I never actually touched, a Rivet Gun that’s only a preorder bonus from Gamestop (with only four new weapons, that’s incredibly lame) and finally there are two actual “gun” guns, an assault and a sniper rifle. The assault rifle never left my side, as it was invaluable in taking out those little tiny baddies not worth significant amounts of more valuable ammo, but the sniper? In a game where your enemies are constantly anywhere from five feet to two inches away from you, I rarely found an occasion where it would be useful, and when I did, naturally I never had it on me.
There’s an achievement if you beat the game using only your Plasma Cutter.
The problem with Dead Space‘s combat system is that certain weapons work well in specific situations and environments you find yourself in, but by the time you’re in the middle of one, it’s far too late to go back and change your loadout and you just have to work with what you’ve got. Pretty much you just pick your favorite four, and stick with them for the duration, but I will say I don’t know what I would have done without my Force Gun in the final boss battle.
There’s a still a tech tree that lets you upgrade different aspects of your weapons and armor as you go. I really like the node system, but the problem is there just aren’t enough nodes to go around. If you’re trying to upgrade say, the four main guns you like, plus your armor, plus your stasis module, You’ll get about halfway there on one of them, and a quarter for all the others by the time you beat the game. I’m sure I missed a node here and there, even with searching every nook and cranny I could, but it’s clear the game wants you to stick around for more playthroughs so you can max everything out by presumably your fifth go-round.
But despite its best efforts, letting you know with each save you are playing “round one,” when a game like this is over, you won’t feel the need to play through it again for a long, long time, and so 75% of the upgrading potential goes to waste. And if you really do want to keep going? You either have to start over from scratch on a higher difficulty, or breeze through the same difficulty you just played with an uber-upgraded Isaac, and I fail to see the real purpose in that.
There’s now an ability to re-spec, where for a cost, you can remove the nodes from something and put them elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is hardly ever a store (where you have your inventory of guns you no longer use) and a bench (where you perform the respec) in the same place, so you have to tout your shitty gun you accidentally upgraded around with you until you find a bench.
As this is supposed to be survival horror, ammo and health aren’t as plentiful as they are in most games, and for almost the entire ten hours, I was stressing about how much ammo I was using on each encounter. This was greatly enhanced by my ability to nervously horde my money in case I found the schematics for some big ticket item I had to save up for. But that day never came, and by the end, I discovered I had a much easier time if I actually bought ammunition instead of relying on rotting corpses and crates to contain as much as I needed.
So if combat is the same, there should at least be some new enemy types, yes? Well, if there were, I can’t really tell you what they were. I believe there was a Necromorph that spit acid, and you actually WANTED to chop off his head for once. There was a fat one that I thought would explode, but just rolls over and dies once its legs are gone. There are children Necros that die instantly in one shot from anything. And about twice in the entire game where was a rail thin scarecrow Necro who when killed exploded into a bunch of spindly little spiders who were by far the most annoying things to try to figure out how to kill in the game, and they took up far more health and ammo to destroy than they should. I wish you were able to fight ANYthing other than Necros during at least one point in the game. When you finally do encounter hostile humans, you simply run away and sic the Necros on them, and I think that was a missed opportunity for the game to differentiate itself from its predecessor
The game’s puzzle sequences are still around, and flying around in zero gravity is a lot more intuitive than it used to be as it’s not just launching yourself from wall to wall all the time. I love the puzzle phases of the game because it was the only time I could relax and didn’t have to worry about health or ammo. Every actual enemy encounter was less about the terror of dying, and more about crunching the numbers in my head to see if I could live through the next room on two javelins and five plasma cutter shots.
Anti-grav is finally fun.
The Titan is a much more elaborate environment than the Ishimura, and I appreciated that it actually put some effort into making the different sections of the game look unique. I remember a particularly terrifying trip through a brightly colored elementary school wing of the station where I was promptly mobbed by Necro psycho children and exploding infants.
There’s even a section where (spoilers) you get to head back to the Ishimura, and it was definitely cool to revisit some of the old areas that once gave you trouble. I think the scariest parts of these games are when there are actually NO enemies around, and at the end of a ten minutes trek with no Necro in sight, you’ll be more on the edge of your seat than ever.
The game is about the same length as the other title, which last time I said felt short, but I think that was because I paid $60 for it. These ten hours actually seemed rather long, but as I’m never going to touch the game again, no matter how many power nodes still lurk out there, that’s plenty long for the $6 I paid to play it.
“You are so grounded!”
If you like Dead Space, you’ll like this, because it’s essentially more of the same. This whole review I’ve been racking my brain to think of significant differences between the two, and outside of a protagonist with a face and a few new weapons and enemies, really nothing at all has changed. The plot moves forward in ways I do not in the least understand, as I just can’t wrap my head around what this Marker is, what the government’s doing with it, what the Unitologists are doing with it, and what Isaac’s role in its existence is. I need to go read a Wiki or something.
There’s a very obvious set up for another chapter, which OK sure, bring it on. It’s a winning formula, there’s no question about that, but I can’t remember the last time there was this little difference between a game and its sequel. You can’t really be innovative if you’re just using the same innovations from before, that doesn’t count.
Wait, there’s multiplayer? Ah, forget it.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Until next time…