Some games clearly show the effort and dedication that their development teams have poured into them. Dead Space felt like one such game, and Visceral Games has managed to take that up a notch for its sequel. They are so comfortable with this intellectual property that they can include crawling baby mines and get away with it. It's been said that this game is the Aliens to Dead Space's Alien, and in some ways that comparison is apt. Dead Space 2 is focused a lot more on cinematic action and overt humour, and in both those aspects it's Isaac Clarke who underwent the most significant evolution between games.
Dead Space 2's story is something of a mixed bag. It builds on the lore of Dead Space, and only a detailed map of the relations between Isaac, Nicole, the Marker(s), the Necromorphs, Unitology, and EarthGov would reveal how convoluted it all really is. Towards the end of the first game, the revelations start stacking up until everything is repeatedly turned on its head. What doesn't help is that Dead Space 2 retcons many of those elements in order to turn the Marker itself into a primary antagonist. That, and the massive amount of ancillary information available through the other media in which the franchise has asserted itself. Regardless, the story is there, but by and large, it will overshoot most players as they find their next Necromorph to dismember. And that's without mentioning Isaac's more prominent role, which comes with some questionable acting. Within a single line of dialogue, he'll forget his face is visible, then suddenly remember and overcompensate.
The gameplay also continues what Dead Space set in motion. The mechanics stay largely the same, augmented by several new weapons and Necromorph types that can be categorised into specific tactical considerations. I ended up using my mainstay arsenal from Dead Space (Plasma Cutter, Line Gun, Ripper, and Pulse Rifle), because Isaac's new armaments feel like convenient extensions of capabilities he already has. The Javelin Gun, while fun on the first try, becomes less useful once the much more enjoyable improvements in the Kinesis Module are discovered. There's nothing as satisfying as freezing a Necromorph in place, blasting off its talon, using Kinesis to pluck it out of the air and shoot it back, and then watching it slowly reel backwards. All that followed by a catharsis of repeatedly stomping on the remains while hurling expletives.
More interestingly, Dead Space 2 subverts several expectations and techniques that the first game established. For instance, the player is used to clearing an area of Necromorphs, then calmly checking around for supplies and moving on to the next one. In response, several areas in Dead Space 2 feature infinitely respawning Necromorphs where the only viable tactic is to keep moving forward (most notably when Isaac enters the EarthGov station, where it's even a plot point). The most apparent subversions occur when Isaac is forced to once again head into the USG Ishimura, which has been salvaged and docked at the Sprawl for study and analysis. Isaac revisits many areas that are known to him, including the flight deck, the medical deck, and the bridge. Those familiar to the series know that a decontamination cycle will always coincide with a wave of Necromorphs swarming in, so it's natural to expect this when Isaac once again has to sit through one. It does happen, but only on the second time around, which makes the first time much more frightful.
Dead Space 2 also makes a point of it to include every element that featured in the first game. This extends to the appearance of a Hunter-like enemy as well, but it lacks the background that the original had. It's rumoured to be some developing form of Hive Mind, as it has similar features. But for all intents and purposes, it's just there to make the final run more challenging. In my opinion, the true stars of Dead Space 2 are the Stalkers.
That doesn't look very scary. More like a six foot turkey.
Dubbed "the Velociraptors of Dead Space 2" by the developers, the Stalker is a new type of Necromorph that shows a high level of situational awareness (whereas all other types are content to close the gap between them and Isaac as fast as possible). Like chest-high walls give away impending firefights in cover-based shooters, the presence of Stalkers is betrayed by the configuration of the rooms they're in. These are typically large, open chambers with crates or containers that create a maze-like layout. The Stalkers' attack pattern is also given an element of predictability once it's realised that their peek-a-boo glance is always followed by a charge, and they lose their effectiveness if the player uses that to his advantage. Gently edging forward, then quickly retreating can trigger them to charge, and it is easy to clear an entire room from one vantage point. To truly appreciate their intelligence, I suggest you run straight into the middle of the room so they can surround and flank you. Visceral Games also considered this, since the player has his first encounter with Stalkers in an elliptical room that negates such tactics.
Oh, and with regards to Isaac's ongoing hallucinations of Nicole, remember how I jokingly stated in my Inception post that a battle against a manifestation of one's guilt would seem ridiculous if handled through button-mashing? THIS IS A THING YOU ACTUALLY DO IN DEAD SPACE 2. Yes.
Welcome to Playthroughline, a personal blog focused on the implementation of stories in games. In addition to general musings about narrative design, you’ll also find a collection of scripts that basically do for videogames what The Editing Room does for movies.