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Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360) review


"In the very first scene – before we even take control – Isaac is talking to a guy who’s trying to get him out of his straitjacket, and then the guy gets stabbed in the face by an infector, and then scythes sprout out of his back, and then his face peels off, and then he goes “BLEEEAAAAAAARRRRRRKLLKEJBGFMVRSKGUSBOVMOCDGJEBSHRV!” And then the game gets loud."



Good news, Dead Space 2! We’re holding a dinner for sequels that misunderstood why their predecessors were popular, and Deus Ex: Invisible War saved you a seat!

Dead Space was a game whose steely grey corridors served as a constant reminder that we were trapped in space, light years from civilization. Its sequel takes place on a civilian station with more ornate, homey interior design that gives me an image of a project director standing over an artist’s shoulder barking, “More like Rapture!” It inhabits a universe in which a person would respond to losing an eye by shouting, “You owe me an eye, you bastard!” It’s the same universe in which the height of poignancy is on display when players are forced to trek through a dilapidated day care center shooting hordes of undead (exploding) babies. You stay classy, Dead Space 2.

In the very first scene – before we even take control – Isaac is talking to a guy who’s trying to get him out of his straitjacket, and then the guy gets stabbed in the face by an infector, and then scythes sprout out of his back, and then his face peels off, and then he goes “BLEEEAAAAAAARRRRRRKLLKEJBGFMVRSKGUSBOVMOCDGJEBSHRV!” And then the game gets loud.

Dead Space 2 tries to scare us by being loud, but it is never quiet for long enough to scare us by being loud. There’s a moment in the first chapter in which Isaac is walking down a corridor when suddenly a steam valve bursts (for it is always bursting steam valves). It was supposed to make me jump in my seat, but it didn’t, because I’d already turned the volume down. Whoops.

Maybe I’m the only person in the world who would call the first Dead Space a subtle game. Maybe I shouldn’t call it that. But whatever the case, the game paced itself. Developer Visceral understood horror enough to value silence as much as they valued noise. You’d hear footsteps and you wouldn’t know if you were about to face one necromorph or a dozen. You didn’t know where they’d come from, or how quickly they would come, or if they’d come at all. In Dead Space 2, these questions are put to rest. There will always be more necromorphs, many of them, running at you from the other end of the hallway.

I can understand Visceral’s desire to bump it up a notch with the sequel, making it the Aliens to the first game’s Alien, but Dead Space 2 beats you over the face so relentlessly that it’s never surprising, shocking, or truly frightening. It’s predictable, and that’s the very worst thing a horror game can be. It’s just bam bam bam, all the time.

So Dead Space 2 isn’t scary. Maybe it wasn’t even supposed to be. I can live with that. I said in my review of the original that it succeeded both as traditional survival horror and as a straightforward actioner, so if its sequel wants to lean in the latter direction, I’m down.

Only here’s the thing: Dead Space 2 is still under the impression that it’s doing survival horror, and as such, the controls are still quite sluggish. It’s what I call Resident Evil 5 syndrome, in which a horror franchise goes the shooter route but is still needlessly masquerading as horror. The high-octane bits in Dead Space were overwhelming due to Isaac’s lack of mobility, but that was intentional, because it made us dread such sequences and savor moments of peace. But once it becomes apparent that balls-to-the-walls mayhem is now the only trick up Visceral’s sleeve, “overwhelming” can turn to “tedious” very quickly when every encounter plays out the same obnoxious way.

And it’s not like Dead Space 2 is going to get less hectic as it moves forward. There came a point in which the later chapters may have been spawning necromorphs indefinitely. I never found out, because I ran out of ammo before I could kill them all. Yes, this is a game where you can buy supplies from vending machines, and I ran out of ammo. This was when I began bolting through levels without even fighting enemies. It was neither scary nor exciting, but it was the only approach that didn’t involve me getting a headache.

This isn’t to say that Dead Space 2 couldn’t have worked as an action game. Some of the added weapons are a blast to toy around with, and a new velociraptor-like enemy made me feel like I was in the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park, if one of the kids had been wielding a gun that fired electrified javelins. Dead Space 2’s levels force less backtracking this time around, the zero-gravity bits actually feel like zero-gravity bits (as opposed to piloting a character who’s wearing suction cup boots), and a handful of the Nathan-Drake-in-space set pieces are pretty spectacular. And even though the combat loses its charm when the game digresses into tedium, the core dismemberment mechanic is still fun. The ingredients are here, and now Visceral needs to figure out what to do with them.

Listen, fellas. If you’re going to make a shooter, then go balls out and make a shooter. If not, then tone it down a notch like you did the first time. I don’t care what you do with this franchise, as long as you do something that works. Dead Space 2 doesn’t work.

Rating: 5/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (May 01, 2011)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Feedback

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pickhut posted May 01, 2011:

I enjoyed reading this review, Suskie. It was very direct and in-your-face about all the points you wanted to make, and then just ended when all points were made. Good stuff.
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Suskie posted May 01, 2011:

Thanks a lot! This review is unusually short by my standards so I'm glad it worked out.
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WilltheGreat posted May 01, 2011:

That opening line is pure gold.
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wolfqueen001 posted May 01, 2011:

That review excerpt was pure gold. Haha. I laughed my ass off at that description. Truth be told, I may not have read the review otherwise. I'm glad I did, though. Nice work.

On a somewhat less flattering note, was this intentional?

but Dead Space 2 beats you over the over the face so relentlessly
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Suskie posted May 01, 2011:

Um, no it was not. Thanks for the catch (and for reading).
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fleinn posted May 01, 2011:

"Maybe I’m the only person in the world who would call the first Dead Space a subtle game. "

No. :D Good review. It's strange how different reviewers put weight on different things. Maybe it was easy to say: it's not like Dead Space, but on the other hand now the controls are more arcade smooth, and the zero g segments feel more realistic. And then leave that alone. But like you seem to say - those are small extra things.
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EmP posted May 02, 2011:

I got Dead Space 2 ages ago, but have yet to build up the desire to play it. You're not helping.
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Masters posted May 02, 2011:

Sweet review, Mike. I agree with the others: the opening paragraph was money.

This line is one of the best I've read in some time:

Dead Space 2 tries to scare us by being loud, but it is never quiet for long enough to scare us by being loud.

I don't like giving suggestions, but the only one I have is to scrap the "if you will" part in parentheses, because we certainly WILL; the comparison is apt.
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Suskie posted May 02, 2011:

Thanks for the kind words and the (good) advice. And don't ever hesitate to offer me suggestions; they're much appreciated.

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