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5.0 out of 5 stars Improvements over the already stellar original make Dead Space 2 a truly legendary experience., February 22, 2011
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
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This review is from: Dead Space 2 (Video Game)
I was a day-one fan of Dead Space 1 (DS1). I remember it was set to release within a week or two of Fallout 3 and Gears of War 2, two other big titles going up against a previously unseen space horror. What's strange is I have really never liked horror...not in movies, and not really in games...But something about it being in space appealed to the sci-fi loving side of me thus I chose to play DS1 over the other two...fast forward to the end of DS1 and I have been eagerly awaiting a sequel since sometime in late 2008.

Prior to release, it seemed Dead Space 2 (DS2) doomed itself to failure...Obviously it would be compared to its highly acclaimed predecessor with a microscope. During the lead up to the release in January of 2011, there were complaints from fans from everything to it having multiplayer tacked on, to the protagonist Isaac Clarke showing his face. Other people complained about him getting a fully voiced dialog, or that he was supposedly accompanied this time around. The concern was the atmosphere created by DS1 and how these factors would diminish it. These issues all could have taken away from the magic that was DS1. However, what I found in DS2 was a richer, more engrossing, more refined and overall purely superior experience in comparison to DS1.

Gameplay:

When playing DS2, I noticed some differences in the controls...something that was hard to pin down exactly what had changed. All I knew was that in comparison to DS1, DS2's controls felt tighter, more responsive and overall better to use. I felt that in most situations where Isaac gets mauled, maimed or shredded by the baddies that it was my fault in some way, not some fault of the controls. Even as you have to resort to swinging and stomping your way through piles of necromorph bodies and limbs, the game rarely feels cheap as you continue to stave off wave after wave of murderous, psychopathic blade-enhanced necros. There were only a few times the game felt cheap and all of them had to do with a the number of pursuant necros and a lack of available space to move around in. In my first play through, Isaac paid the ultimate price a few times when I just got overwhelmed from all angles and had nowhere to go. This was not too frustrating as I could quickly learn from my previous attempt and not repeat that again.

All of the weapons from the first game were brought back and new ones were added. I noticed that the fully upgraded plasma cutter weapon in DS2 did not feel as rip-roaring powerful as it did in DS1. Perhaps this was intentional, but either way it felt like it had been a bit neutered. Regardless, I greatly enjoyed the detonator for the new offensive strategies it delivered and the force gun was actually useful to me this time around as opposed to in the DS1. One of my favorite aspects of DS1/DS2 is it lets the player play the way they choose to play. You can stick with one gun if you like...fully deck it out and shred away. You can upgrade many weapons in any combination you like. The RPG-ish upgrading system is wonderful, and will keep me coming back to see what all the weapons are like at full throttle. In addition, DS2 adds the ability to remove upgrades for a small price allowing the player to experiment a bit with weapons.

There were some weapons with what I felt had limited uses, specifically the contact beam and the seeker rifle. The seeker rifle felt just too weak and too slow for me to decide to use any hard earned power nodes to upgrade it. The contact beam, while powerful, was too slow...I found the ripper, plasma cutter and line gun to be far more useful.

One addition I really enjoyed were the vacuum windows. The addition of these really made me feel like Isaac was walking around a high-tech but still fragile space station. One off target shot and he can get sucked out into the vacuum of space. It really makes for some interesting tactics when seemingly overrun with oncoming necros. My only gripe is I wished there were more of these chances.

The entire cast of enemies from the first game returned, but there are some newcomers to the list that make some of the old ones look like no big deal. Without spoiling too much, I felt that DS2's enemies presented a much more formidable challenge than the same ones in DS1. By themselves they were not so bad, but DS2 manages to spawn them in various combinations almost as a squad of troops with battle orders. Whenever I died in the game, it was generally due to me not considering the different strategies required to take on the collection of enemies at that time.

The zero-G segments from DS1 return in DS2, but more refined and far more enjoyable. Instead of being confined to jumping from one platform to another, DS2 gives Isaac a free float ability that is incredibly enjoyable and easy to manage. Isaac is given boosters on his boots that let him move quickly in zero-G areas, and there are buttons that allow you to re-orient Isaac to the correct heading as it can be very easy to flip upside down without realizing it. The zero-G environments are fully functional and were some of my most memorable moments of DS2.

Finally, the replayability for DS2 is phenomenal. I play every game through on its default difficulty the first time through. If the game is good enough, I'll go back and play on whatever the super hard mode is. With DS2, you get not only a super hard mode, but also hardcore, both which should present a formidable challenge. In Zealot difficulty, you can carry over your previous playthrough's weapons independent of the previous difficulty setting (unlike DS1). I won't go into details on Hardcore mode, but know that if you like a challenge, DS2 has one.

Graphics:

The graphics in DS2 have been noticeably improved over DS1, and were frankly on par with some of the more technically meaty titles of the PS3 like Uncharted 2, Killzone 2 etc. The textures were given a lot of extra attention between titles and it showed. The gritty detail of the blood stained walls of the Titan Sprawl (the location of DS2) were one way that the game created the engrossing atmosphere. The attention to detail in Isaac's various suits and weapons, the enemies and the special effects all help to paint a very impressive picture. The character models of the various types of necros seemed to have variations so it wasn't always the same stabby looking humanoid running at you...some are still in clothes some not, some have varying faces, body sizes, weights etc. All are still frighteningly grotesque as can be expected from a Dead Space title.

In an attempt to leave out any location spoilers, every hallway, room, etc. has an exceptional amount of attention paid toward making it come alive...or rather look like it once was alive but is now exceedingly dead. One particular spot that stays with me is a hallway with black lighting you are able to see the bloody smears and hand prints of what was obviously a struggle that didn't end well. The levels are also better than DS1 in that there is little if any back tracking and there are some extremely diverse locations that Isaac finds himself in before the final chapter. Supremely detailed environments a large variety of locations are one of the major ways this game's atmosphere is created. In a word, DS2's level design is superb.

Sound:

Atmosphere was my main draw to DS1 and now DS2. Visceral Games has managed to create this incredibly immersive environment that manages to literally keep me trying to be prepared for what they may throw at me next. In my opinion, the number one contributor to creating such an unrivaled level of atmosphere is the sound design. Anyone who plays this game owes it to themselves to have it on a good home theater system or at least some good quality headphones. The surround sound not only adds to the spookiness of the game, but delivers vital information of approaching creatures. Even in areas with no baddies to kill, the sounds of metallic creaks, cracks and scrapes in the Sprawl's ventilation system let you know you're never safe. Indeed DS2 has some cheap scares, but they're so well timed and not always predictable that I have a hard time believing someone who says they never jumped during a play through.

The music is well composed, and only adds to the atmosphere. The music is also well timed and sometimes gives you the impression that something large is coming. Sometimes it never happens, while other times it does. It manages to build levels of tension and keep you on your toes, never taking for granted the next dark hallway, for a necro is commonly waiting in unseen corners.

I find it really difficult to sum up the quality of sound and how much it contributes to the game in words. It's really just that good.

Presentation:

The game overall has an extremely polished feel to it. The interface, the in-game menus, the weapons, animations, special effects all operate flawlessly. The Development Team put in some major time bringing this game to level of completion that is rarely seen. I enjoyed that the flame thrower didn't work in zero-G environments. While obvious to some, it very well could have been overlooked. I also love how the sound goes nearly to an underwater feel in some of the zero-G environments, further adding to the authenticity. The use of lighting throughout the game paints a picture of darkness and true threat that does not falter or taper off any time during the campaign.

The story should not be overlooked. While some have said it doesn't make sense, I believe it's a tremendous addition to the overall Dead Space timeline. You also get the impression that this character is not invincible. In fact, I believe that those who complained about Isaac being voiced this time might feel otherwise as the story reaches into who he is as protagonist and creates a deeper adventure than could have been accomplished without a voice.

Other reviews I've read docked the storyline for being too linear and giving you menial who-cares tasks to do while Isaac battles his way to the final chapter. I would wholeheartedly disagree with that. While the storyline is pretty linear, it is not menial by any means. I found myself engrossed in the game, caring about who his contacts are, how they fit into this Dead Space universe and how it may all play out. Each task, while not necessarily more gripping than the last, was relevant and fun to play. I found myself being very uncomfortable in the game numerous times when I was faced with an even creepier place to trudge through than the last. Part of the fun of this game is how on edge it makes you feel when you're playing it.

Final Thoughts:

The Development Team from DS1 obviously knew what made DS1 so special because it all returned with improvements for the better. Generally with the addition of a multiplayer component into an single-player game would have some complaining that the entire game would suffer. While I was never interested in the multiplayer component, I can attest to the fact that the single-player campaign and overall game quality was not neglected. In my opinion, DS2 was an improvement in nearly every way, and is very much worth your time.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 17, 2012 11:30:09 AM PST
masterkey says:
This review is just too damn long! Seriously!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:10:02 PM PST
D. Elston says:
Nobody forced you to read it...
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