Friday, February 4, 2011

Game Review: Visceral Steps up the Action in Dead Space 2

Posted By on Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Sprawl_Trailer_Shots_04.jpg

“Dead Space 2” is the next chapter in Isaac’s quest to solve the mysteries of the Markers. Players will once again assume control of Isaac Clarke, an engineer who survived the necromorph outbreak aboard the Ishimura.

The story in “Dead Space 2” is full of subtle intricacies that returning franchise veterans will pick up on. For those who have played “Dead Space,” “Dead Space: Extraction” and “Dead Space: Ignition,” there are many plot twists and tie-ins that surface that will please fans. It’s a very satisfying journey indeed. For those new to the franchise, the opening events may be a bit confusing, but an accompanying recap video of the first game will help players get up to speed.

“Dead Space 2” retains the same gameplay philosophy as the original. There is no heads up display, all the information that is necessary is somehow implemented on Isaac. For example, the RIG on Isaac’s back shows his health, there is a stasis meter next to the RIG, and there is an ammo counter above Isaac’s weapon. Much like recent “Resident Evil” games, “Dead Space 2” is an action-oriented third-person shooter. For the most part, controls are intuitive and actions are fairly easy to execute. Dead Space veterans will feel right at home when playing “Dead Space 2”, but newcomers to the franchise may need to take some time to get used to some of the more awkward button mappings.

Visceral really upped the action in “Dead Space 2” compared to its predecessor, but depending on the kind of gamer you are, this may not be a good thing. The action kind of takes away from the dark, mind-twisting atmosphere that the first thrived on. What really made “Dead Space” scary was that it captured the three worst fears the people have: isolation, uncertainty, and the dark. Players were alone 95 percent of the time and hardly ever knew what was going on when exploring the mostly unlit Ishimura (the space ship where Isaac first encountered the outbreak). In “Dead Space 2”, Isaac is in constant communication with another character, and the emphasis on storytelling gives players a better understanding of what’s going on. That’s not to say that Visceral skimped on the mood of the game. The dark still plays a significant role in setting up the atmosphere and setting up really good “BOO!” moments that keep players interested and on their toes.

“Dead Space 2” is a very immersive game. The detail that Visceral put into the environment is excellent. There are many subtle nuances that players can pick up on. Whether it’s blood on the walls forming shapes that look like letters, a video holograph of a mental-patient interview that plays on an infinite loop, or even a seemingly useless text log; all of those subtleties tie together, adding depth to the haunting atmosphere. And none of it is arbitrary. All of the writings or recordings somehow contribute to the Sprawl and help the city come to life. The best parts of the game aren’t the pre-scripted events, the cut scenes or even the action sequences——they are the exploration segments between each fight and puzzle. The lack of urgency in the game gives the players the option to take each step with caution or analyze every phrase written on the walls. However, the game’s moody atmosphere never lets up, leaving the suspense intact. Isaac’s troubled mind also plays a big role in keeping players uneasy, with constant hallucinations and… well that’s the surprise.

In terms of sound design, Visceral really nails the score and the sound effects, effectively adding another layer of impact to the game. Filled with screams in the background or complete silences, the score never gives anything away. Isaac could be walking down a hallway, approaching a blind corner and the music will slowly build up. And when players finally bring themselves to turn the corner, the music stops and nothing happens. It’s a dirty trick on the players but it is a fun trick to be victim of.

“Dead Space 2” introduces a multiplayer mode. Multiplayer offers four-on-four, objective-based matches. Each match has two rounds. The basic premise is that the humans, played by one team, are supposed to complete an objective before the time runs out, while the necromorphs, the other team, have to stop them. In the second round, the teams switch sides. The controls in multiplayer for the humans are the same as the single player campaign. The necromorph controls are a bit awkward at first, but are easy to get used to.

Players gain experience points for each match and are eventually “promoted.” Promotions offer human players perks such as new guns, suits and increased gun stats, while the necromorphs get increased abilities. It’s a nice idea, however, it leads to very unbalanced teams. There was an instance where I played on a team of pretty low-level teammates, while our enemies were all level 25+. Needless to say, my team never won a round. Even as a human, I had a negative kill-to-death ratio at the end of the match. It gets frustrating when playing matches where your team loses four matches in a row.

It’s pretty fun to play as a necromorph. Until you start dying a lot. When playing as a necromorph, it’s very easy to die and the camera can cause a few problems for the player. On top of the camera issues, the humans can use stasis to slow you down. If that happens, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to die. Balancing issues are hard to determine in the multiplayer. The bottom line, if you are super competitive and a high kill-to-death ratio is important to you, then I don’t recommend “Dead Space 2” multiplayer

Speaking of camera issues, a con in the franchise is the camera, especially in combat when I’m trying to fiddle with the camera while trying to avoid from being killed. It’s very annoying and hard to work with whenever the player is backed up against a wall. “Dead Space 2” rectifies camera issues a bit, most likely because the environments are very open spaces, unlike the claustrophobic hallways of the Ishimura. The camera is one of the few issues. Other issues included frame-rate drops during combat segments and some unfixable glitches like the glitch I encountered on my second play through. In that instance, the game wouldn’t allow me to progress in the at all: I was stuck in a church hall with no way out. The multiplayer mode just isn’t refined or polished enough to keep me coming back.

Aside from those grievances, “Dead Space 2” is a trip that any player should take. It is truly a ‘survival-horror’ game that focuses more on players scaring and doubting themselves, and doesn’t rely on the clichés traditional horror games overuse. For anyone returning to the franchise, they will be in for many different treats throughout the game. Visceral has managed to create an interesting and immersive universe with a rich mythology further fleshed out in this installment. “Dead Space 2” is a beautifully scary game that captures peoples’ worst fears and sends players reeling through its tense score and atmosphere. The game is as enjoyable to watch, as it is to play.

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