Dead Space 2 review – real terror? Not really

We return to the void in EA’s meaty, suspenseful sequel. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions tested.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, January 25, 2011

Pity Isaac Clarke. Fate has not been kind to him, to put it mildly. All the poor chap wanted to do when he graduated from Close-Shaven Space Marine college was fix radiators and pimp the odd warp drive, pick up a nice, blonde girlfriend with zero damsel-in-distress potential and spend the next two decades on the star-going equivalent of a cross-channel ferry.

But those Necromorphs, they just won’t let up. They dog his heels like a bad smell, rearing their oddly jointed, toothsome maws wherever his increasingly irrelevant engineering work sends him. In the first Dead Space it was the Ishimura, a giant, blacked-out “planet cracker” orbiting a part-consumed world. That went well. This time it’s the Sprawl, mining metropolis and the birthplace of planet crackers, cut from the ruins of Saturn’s moons.

The game’s first few playable moments feel like a Necromorph award ceremony, as Isaac flees down an infested hospital corridor, spine-mounted health read-out blinking, memory reduced to ribbons of alien code and VHS close-ups of his (as it transpired) fatally distress-prone girlfriend. Ghastly patchwork entities totter into the flight path, baring elongated canines and flexing their toenails for the cameras. They might as well have laid out a red carpet. Blood will have to do.

An explosive menace, or an old lady needing a hand with her grocery bag?

The gang’s all here – spindly pink threshing machines, fat mutant mommas stuffed with angry maggots, scuttling sabretooths and those weird Manta ray things who flap around injecting the Necro-juice into butchered humans. Even if you skip the “previously on Dead Space” cinematic, or somehow sleep through the superb preliminary interrogation sequence, newcomers to the franchise should know exactly where they stand: as far away from these noisy, attention-seeking ambulatory food-blenders as possible.

But Necromorphs are ultimately more of a problem for Visceral Games than Clarke himself, who quickly reacquires the means to fight his corner, including a new electrified javelin thrower and mine layer. The developer doesn’t quite know what to do with them. Splashing around in a soup of Resident-Evil-era gross-out and Event-Horizon-flavoured interior design, Dead Space soon found its depth as a horror experience. The sequel introduces new monsters and squeezes a few, more introspective chills from Isaac’s botched psyche, but it readily defaults to the same, shallow scares.

So the bad guys, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, are rather fond of ventilation systems. When they aren’t popping through grills – often on the periphery of your vision, if not right behind you – they’re crawling around in the walls, conscientiously layering the sound-scape with scratches and rattles, remote thumps and foreboding clatters. Lord only knows what they’d make of free-standing air-conditioning units, or an old-fashioned English chimney flue. Necros also like to play dead among clumps of corpses – indeed, they enjoy doing this so much that you end up carefully dismembering every innocently decomposing body you see, like a shop assistant snipping at price tags.

The genuinely horrific is again conflated with the superficially gruesome or the trashing of taboos. Habituated to the sight of deformed, chitinous babies whose tentacles sprout armour-piercing darts, returning players are unlikely to be put out of countenance by exploding newborns, or by the packs of ghoulish primary schoolers who get under your feet towards the mid-part of the game. These are hammer-blows on already deadened adrenaline glands: a lighter, more incisive touch is needed if the game is to rival the likes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Is Dead Space 2, then, no more than an action game with Tourette syndrome, a shooter that periodically and predictably yells “boo”? Well, that’s not quite fair. If there’s terror to be found in this game, it’s in the frantic, unhinged messiness of those firefights rather than creature concept or direction. Dead Space 2 might not get under your skin, but it will keep you hopping on the edge of your seat, struggling to maintain precision – the beasts go down faster if you pare away their limbs – in the face of assault from all angles.

Larger breeds of Necromorph may grandstand, leering grotesquely while the soundtrack breaks out in ecstasies of string-plucking, or close the gap at a furious sprint, soaking up defensive fire. Drawn to these posers, it’s easy to miss the gibbering wretch lugging a sac of volatile fluid down one flank, or the distant wall-crawler preparing to leap. Meanwhile, new “Pukers” are dousing you in bile, draining the urgency out of Isaac’s ponderous stride, and bone-headed hunchbacks are peeking round crates, inviting you to play matador.

Yellow equals bang, Isaac. Too close.

Dead Space 2 likes to fight dirty. You won’t fear the enemy – not if you’ve played a horror game before, at least – but by God will you hate the evil, excitable, unsporting bastard. You’ll want to knock him down and stamp on him again and again, swearing like you’ve got your thumb caught in a door jamb, and Visceral clearly wants you to want this, as stomps can now be chained. Encounters thus generally tail off into wheezy, cathartic fits of boot-sole punishment. It’s gotta be da shoes!

16 Responses to “Dead Space 2 review – real terror? Not really”

  1. Koby says:

    I pity your company with this delusional reviewer. The only critic review to give dead space anything below a 8.8. I will never return to your site this review is completely subjective and it disgusts me.

  2. zazentofu says:

    Really? I found it relatively spot-on, entertaining, fair and inoffensive.

    Cheers Edwin. Good review.

  3. Qjuad says:

    Good review

  4. The Knoa says:

    This was the most well-written review I’ve read in a long time. It makes me want to read more reviews on this site. Bravo, good sir.

  5. Thanks chaps! Glad to be of service.

  6. stech says:

    I’m with OP.

    While I don’t mind the content of the review and the subjective griping, I don’t feel that even the review given is 8.0 territory. It feels more like you gave it an 8 because everyone else gave it a 9 and you had to be different. Since, from what I can tell, your site doesn’t do the X.x style rating, in which case it would mean that you felt DS2 was an 8.4 or lower. Anything 8.5 or above naturally should round to 9, not 8.

    I more fault you for saying that this game, which blows the doors off the rest of the pack and sets a new standard for survival horror (especially with the zealot/hardcore modes).

    As a result I feel that my only return to the site will be to see if you reconsider your rating. Giving Dead Space 2 an 8 is like down-talking the Mona Lisa “eh, it’s ok. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Such a comment is not wrong or invalid, it merely expresses the underlying failure to grasp the point.

    • stech says:

      Edit: I more fault you for saying that this game, which blows the doors off the rest of the pack and sets a new standard for survival horror (especially with the zealot/hardcore modes) is a mere 8.0.

      A.D.D. be damned.

  7. pezzicle says:

    “oh noes this guy didn’t give my favorite game a high score he must be a moron”

  8. LAN says:

    The review is fine, you’re entitled to your opinion.

    Whats not fine is the attempt to ram as many unnecessary words down our throats as possible.

    “Dead Space 2 is nonetheless a feat of paradigm-splicing worthy of Frankenstein himself. The scars of creation are visible on its flanks, repurposed muscles and organs bulging through the skin..”

    lol wtf??

    Save that shit for cheesy, angst ridden poetry.

  9. God Mode says:

    I like the way the review is written, but I must admit that it is not objective at all. It sounds really biased, if you ask me.

    I mean, while the style is engaging and amusing, as well as makes for an entertaining read, the impression I got was that you’re faulting Dead Space 2 for not being scary. I don’t know, your main criticisms were based on how Dead Space 2 relies on cheap shocks and is not terrifying at all. So…what? How does that make the game good or bad? How does it make it worth playing? I may not be able to write as well as you nor do I write reviews for a living, but I’m pretty sure reviews are supposed to tell readers whether a game is worth playing or buying.

    Instead, all I get is a ramble on how the game isn’t scary, how the necromorphs’ designs aren’t scary, how the game is “patently unterrifying”. Okay. But you did point out how stupendously and awesomely the graphics, setting and everything were designed. You also described the action as well as use of stsis and kinesis. So what? Does that make combat fun? Does it suck? I don’t know?

    In the end, I might be misunderstanding, but the review seems more of a gripe over how Dead Space 2 is not scary rather than a review of the game’s strengths and weaknesses itself. Sure, you did point out the details of the levels and settings are great, but…? You said that Dead Space 2 followed Resident Evil 4 quite closely, but…does that make it a good game like Resident Evil 4 or a cheap, lousy rip-off?

    And while I admire your vocabulary, you might want to simplify your sentences and lay off the poetry. The purpose of a review is for readers to read your opinion on whether the game is good or bad or worth buying (and all I understand is you’re saying the game is bad because it’s not scary, but it does have good points…which is insufficient), not for readers to appreciate your artistic and literary talents. Well, just a suggestion, though. I did enjoy your article and find it entertaining, but I’m not sure if other readers (other than some who commented above) will get through your clutter of words.

    Thanks for reading (if you are).

  10. zazentofu says:

    I thought the review was funny. Intentionally so. …Or I could be wrong and disturbed. Your guess.

    You know, just because a review is biased doesn’t mean it’s bad. Rather, objective reviews tend to be boring, dry and soulless to be honest.

    These are people reviewing. Not robots.

  11. IndianaRedneck says:

    So you guys are complaining that his review (his opinion) is wrong? Seriously? I’ve not played the game, but I’d like to think that someone’s opinion is fine whether I agree with it or not (when it comes to games, that is). While most people liked Assassin’s Creed and deserved at least an 8.5 rating, I thought it was boring crap and deserved no better than a 6 (only for graphics, mind you – gameplay should have been a 4). Does this mean my opinion is wrong? No – it means my requirements for a fun game are different.

    Dead Space 2 is being marketing at a horror game, which means I should have to change my underwear at least once while playing this game. The reviewer says it doesn’t meet the hype. Good for him. You disagree and say he’s a bad reviewer. Bad for you.

  12. Dead Player says:

    Nice review but i will agree with god below you can chill with your poetry ;p I browsed upon many reviews for dead space 2 and my conclusion is this: The game video game sites are unreliable to the core. When there job was to promote Dead Space 1 which was remarkable they put 8s on it. Now that it is weak they put 9.5 ratings and the hordes of idiots cheers them.

    I post here to congratulate you for your review because you are the only one that alarms the player about the menaces of this polished unworthy sequel. Its definetely an 8 not a bad game thought but far behind the originality of 1 and the suspens.

    The job of the reviewer is to alert the players for weak games to save their money for better ones.The mainstream sites has definetely failed to do this. I and every gamer with half a brain never trusted them and rented the game. Lucky for me. A week has past and after finished it in 3 modes and dont want to go back on it.

    More power to you and continue to alert those ones with the brain. Dead space 3 will be a 20 out of 10 surely. Go blindly buy it.

  13. Stuart says:

    There is no such thing as an objective review. Why? Because any review is based upon a person who has played the game writing it. Nice job on this one Edwin.

  14. teqnick says:

    Brilliantly written review. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that while this game makes you jump, the scares, as in most U.S cinematic productions, are predominantly cheap and use shock tactics rather than tempered dread. Having said that, the return to the USG Ishimura in chapter 10 has a long walk which breaks up this pace and brings back the suspense. I loved both versions of this game. On my 3rd play through now.


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