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

The Stasis and Kinesis abilities return, the former slowing time around the target, the latter allowing Isaac to pick up and propel certain objects with his mind, a la Half-Life 2′s Gravity Gun. Both are central to the game’s meagre handful of lock and key puzzles – you might use Kinesis to reconnect a power unit, then Stasis to decelerate the piston blocking passage to the exit – but combat is where you’ll call on them most, pinning Necros to each other with their own, torn-off limbs, or stalling them long enough to sidle out of harm’s way. Instruments of impalement litter Isaac’s surroundings, and employing them to good effect is crucial on harder difficulty levels, where bites prove rather worse than barks and ammo is harder to come by.

Necromorphs usually have the edge up close.

The station itself is every bit as stupendously rendered as the Ishimura, and a far more compelling reason to persist than the anaemic plot, which can be glossed as Dead Space warmed over with an extra helping of psycho-babble. Holographic interfaces are still in vogue, petals of bottle-green light unfurling from door locks and control panels, and the underlying hardware has the same, hand-worn, future-antique feel to it, highly advanced yet massively old.

But where the first game’s starship inclined towards the cramped and utilitarian, the Sprawl, well, sprawls, enclosing vertiginous, glass-fronted plazas and apartment blocks, as much a living space and a recreational area as a place of work. Between firefights, there’s much quiet enjoyment to be had rooting around in the detritus for scraps of context – flickering ad-boards, columns of alien handwriting, audio and text logs left by the dead, child’s finger-paintings, hastily abandoned possessions.

Perhaps my favourite of the campaign’s 10 hours took place within a chapel of Unitology, the game’s thinly-disguised take on Scientology, stripping the religion’s waxen public persona down to its petty quotidian components. A souvenir shop sells miniatures of the alien Marker, that ill-advised object of Unitologist veneration. Talking signboards politely ask Isaac to wait for long-ripped-asunder tour guides. A maintenance man’s journal complains of waffly sermons, and a convert writes with touching lack of artifice to her atheist sister. In the “profiling” hall, a coffee machine ringed by polystyrene cups. In the security room, a discarded porn mag.

Zero-G puzzles are easier this time, thanks to Isaac's suit thrusters.

Details like these peg down the brasher moments, ensuring that for all the obvious intention to exceed Dead Space in terms of cinematic impact, the new game has substance to back up its big, silly, Capcom-tastic boss fights and quick-time events, its protracted death sequences and hammy characterisations. They also help bridge the gap to multiplayer, an asymmetrical affair which takes place on maps as steeped in incidental data as the levels they’re derived from.

If Resident Evil 4 and its sequels are one inspiration for Dead Space 2 offline, then the nod here is to Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, with its cleverly meshed constructive and destructive agendas. Human teams must battle along a chain of objectives hung with Necromorph spawn points, pitting range, endurance and Stasis blasts against extra-sensory perceptions, superior mobility and savage close-range grapple attacks. Necro players get a choice of four classes, with the tougher and more vicious specimens taking longer to respawn, and each side has its own upgrade tree, foisting new suits and weapons on the engineer squads, new kinds of attack damage on the bogeymen.

As we noted in our preview, the experience lacks the poise of Valve’s game, constrained by that plodding third-person move-aim system, and however pleasing to the eye, the five environments probably won’t give rise to quite as glorious a range of water-cooler anecdotes. But it’s still a polished, engaging effort, losing little of the story mode’s claustrophobia in the shift to squad play.

Last week, producer Shereif Fattouh told VG247 that Dead Space had “its own market”, that it had “carved out its own identity”. Scrolling down the list of references and parallels – which includes, of course, 2K’s similarly lore-rich and politically-aware Bioshock – it’s tempting to scoff. But after 20 hours with the game, I find myself nodding in agreement: “carving out” is exactly the right way of putting it. Patently unterrifying, Dead Space 2 is nonetheless a feat of paradigm-splicing worthy of Frankenstein himself. Its pick-and-mix creation has left it somewhat scarred, repurposed muscles and organs bulging through the skin, but somehow everything works in harmony. All told, Isaac Clarke can do without his day job.

8 out of 10

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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