Dead Space 2 redefines genre

By Zach Walton

When “Dead Space” came out in 2008, many people wrote it off as a clone of “Resident Evil 4.” It turned out to be the finest action horror title on current generation consoles with fantastic pacing, great sound design and some of the most terrifying enemies to grace players’ TVs.

Fast forward to 2011, with a prequel on the Wii and two animated films under its belt, “Dead Space” is a franchise to be feared, for more than one reason.

“Dead Space 2” continues the fine tradition of sci-fi horror that its predecessor started with more scares, more action and more atmosphere than Ridley Scott ever delivered with “Alien.”

“Dead Space 2” picks up after the events of the first “Dead Space” with Isaac Clarke waking up on an operating table wearing a straitjacket. The mutated human aliens, or necromorphs, have already taken over The Sprawl, a space station on Titan, and Isaac is thrust right into the action. The player is given no introduction no mission and, most importantly, no help.

It sets the perfect mood for the beginning of the game and the rest of it follows suit. Isaac does meet up with various side characters along the way to the conclusion but none are ever in need of rescuing or being escorted. It’s just Isaac all by himself ‘til the end, and I would not have it any other way.

The one major improvement that “Dead Space 2” has over its predecessor is that Isaac Clarke has a voice this time. The silent protagonist worked for the first “Dead Space,” but “Dead Space 2” has a story to tell. The story is on par with the other great classics of horror video games such as “Silent Hill 2” in that Isaac feels human. The thrilling conclusion cements Isaac’s humanity and drives the story from great sci-fi horror into something more relatable. The themes of love, loss and the unwillingness to let go are all represented with tact and grace.

Those who were hoping or expecting some dramatic shift in gameplay are going to be disappointed. The core gameplay of dismembering the enemies to kill them is still present. The developers have just given the player more tools to dismember the enemy with. Unfortunately, just like in the first game, there isn’t much need to use anything beyond the basic plasma cutter. The other guns are fun to use, but the plasma cutter still trumps every other gun for its versatility and strength.

The greatest improvement over the first game are the zero gravity moments where the player is allowed to float in large rooms with floating enemies and objects all around them. Players were relegated with just jumping from surface to surface in the first game’s zero-g rooms. This time the player is given thrusters to freely maneuver through these areas. These rooms provide some great gravity puzzles that break up the action horror that pervades the rest of the title.

“Dead Space 2” features a multiplayer component that pits humans versus necromorphs in a team death match setting that feels similar to “Left 4 Dead” versus mode. It’s a nice diversion but the game is firmly cemented in the single player experience.

With a great single player campaign, passable yet enjoyable multiplayer, and one hell of an experience, “Dead Space 2” is hard to ignore. It’s the best horror game I’ve experienced since “Resident Evil 4.”

Horror video games are a dying breed, but “Dead Space 2” proves that not all life is gone from survival horror if developers take the time to craft a truly exceptional experience. I can’t recommend it enough.