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Dead Space 2 (PC) artwork

Dead Space 2 (PC) review

"If It Ain’t Broke, Isaac Will Fix It"

While Dead Space has received critical praised on launch as well as posthumously with its creator’s death, the series has also been awarded with sparking a discussion if linear, AAA games have a place in its wake. In an era where open-worlds are a blight on traditional games and where multiplayer games are a fad, it’s difficult to justify why linear games should exist if they can easily be shelved or if they are unmonetizable. Even heralded names like Half-Life would be difficult to compare to games nowadays with the “Play It Your Way!” or RNG trends.

Despite these points, games like DS2 goes to show that like any good story, it’s not the amount of time to finish that counts but its quality. If a linear game creates an experience that is worth replaying, then it does not matter how scripted it is. Limitations will always result in gameplay that is distinct, and if handled correctly like DS2, it will garner interest to replay them. Sometimes it’s not an immediate return, and it make take years--this is what prevents linear games from becoming disposable. What makes the DS games so effective is there are many incentives to replay them immediately that it baffles me more linear games don’t take the lessons learned when they nail them perfectly.

There is a consensus that each game became progressively more of a departure with each iteration, and while there is some truth, Dead Space 2 remains an exceptional game much like the first. Neither game is exceptionally “scary”; however, they are great games that draw you in with their immersive qualities and suspense to catch you off-guard. People may decry these are cheap tactics but both games handle this strategy beautifully. To use an analogous comparison, DS1 is to Alien, in terms of its tension and setting, what DS2 is to Aliens.

Like DS1 and the Ishimura, the space station from DS2, the Sprawl, is a cleverly designed fictional environment that blends the narrowed corridors with the narrative atmosphere to emphasize its immersion. Unlike the original where you backtrack through areas in a linear manner, which lent familiarity by progression that challenged players to spot ambushes, the sequel sets the player on a straight course with diversions through numerous environments. This is not entirely true as there are areas players will revisit like DS1; however, changes to the revisited areas are more pronounced that make them feel new, or they offer shortcuts back to save-stations. The new design creates a greater sense of pacing with the journey, though both games could benefit with non-linear environments or branching paths if possible.

Transitioning between areas takes a more liberal approach to the grounded realism of the original. Whereas the original made it clear with elevators or the rail-system to change to new locations, the sequel will sometimes propel Issac by a Necromorph ambush, a stray vacuum malfunction, or a train derailed that will disorient players who become lost with the sense of scale. This is also true about the Zero G environments that are more dynamic due to the free-form flight controls versus the hop-and-watch of old. These changes are beneficial because, unlike the original, there are no artificial “safe-zones” where players can feel comfortable. Players can be ambushed at save-points, elevators, entrances, exits--anywhere--which only greater enhances the realism but also keeps the player on edge, even with the amount of action.

Sometimes the means of traversal border on being self-aware like a cheesy blockbuster film, yet it does work with the shift in tone of the gameplay. Necromorphs and their mechanics retain the horror elements as well as the narrative, which is focused this time around about Clarke’s progressing dementia due to the Markers. As for the story itself, outside of Clarke being thrown, sometimes literally, from one objective to the next is entertaining despite how sparse it can be, emphasizing the lore and the motives of people surrounding him. In general, the plot is more engaging than the first because Isaac is responding to the situation as a character, not a vector of the player serving as his drive to survive.

The real focus of DS2 other than making Isaac more human is in its core gameplay. Controls are more fluid and responsive than previously with additional enemies and tactics to make players more on the offensive, yet tactful, like the explosive enemies that can be thrown if dismembered properly or the maggot-carriers that will burst open if you hit their massive stomach. Even the QTEs, thankfully not as excessive as RE4, and mini-games like the eye needle are tastefully handled to make the player take short breaks of the shooting that colors a great campaign. All in all, the gameplay and storytelling of DS2 is simply better than the first while the tone and setting is more subjective. It depends on whether you appreciate a greater sense of scale and pace in the Sprawl or the familiarity of the claustrophobic Ishimura.

However, one thing that has remained a standard, even in the third game, is rewarding future playthroughs with additional rewards in a meta-progression system. DS is not the first to capitalize this feature as Resident Evil 4, the game that inspired it, was renowned for its replay-value. Each game allows you to either start from scratch with the options to choose different tools to get through the game or they will allow new game plus saves to carry over your progress. DS1 limited you to the same difficulty whereas DS2 allows you to take any difficulty more equipped for the job, but there is an added Hardcore Mode tailored from nothing. (DS3 can boast for having more NG+ options.)

As a result, neither the DS1 “get gud” experience nor the accessible options compromise the game. Survivalist is the intended newcomer difficulty that is punishing enough without ruining the blind experience. DS2 even goes beyond the original for post-game content with tons of new armor rewards along with a joke weapon where Isaac shoots a foam hand at enemies accompanied by “Bang!” or “Pew!” sounds. What could have been a stupid five-dollar DLC addition is a completionist reward to acknowledge the player’s commitment to the game. (Unfortunately, due to EA backpedaling on DLC, you have to ignore the DLC armor and weapons littered in the store, so only get the items that cost money.) Both of these aspects are something more linear games should strive for to retain players when they are finished.

This last point is something of a larger discussion as the problem with games like DS2 isn’t the fact that there isn’t a market for them, which there most certainly is Wolfenstein can be successful, it’s more of how can they become successful. “Games as services” models and microtransactions are the result of publishers wanting to earn revenue that is lost due to used games and discounts. It’s why there is a heavy push for multiplayer games or single-player open-world experiences where a grind is not a rewarding progression but one of monetary vs. time inconvenience. Linear games are not simply worth publishers’ time or interest if there is no profit to be made.

In terms of Dead Space, DS1 was littered with DLC cosmetics, DS2 attempted had a failed multiplayer addition with online-passes, and DS3 went the full greed mile with microtransactions that compromised the balance of DS1 and DS2. What if, along with mini expansions, they added more replayable rewards or modes? What if they reworked the campaign with characters like Ellie to reuse assets and give players more incentives to stay? These sorts of features, if priced fairly, are one idea EA to keep the series untarnished yet profitable for the series’ future. Instead, like everyone is owed a death, there are no exceptions even for great games.

Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (October 27, 2021)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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