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Solo Gamer Review: Dead Space 2

Solo Gamer Reviews are dedicated to the gamer who does not play well with others, doesn't care about multiplayer modes in his or her games, and who absolutely despises things like multiplayer achievement points. These are reviews for guys and gals who prefer to play with themselves, and thus games will be penalized if developers spend more time on slayer deathmatch options than on the single-player experience. We solo gamers prefer a well-thought-out story, an immersive universe, and hours upon hours of enjoyment without having to shoot an endless horde of twelve-year-old punks in the head over the Internet. So throw away your WiiSpeak and your X-Box Live headset, and all hail the solo gamer!

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DEAD SPACE 2
Release Date: 1/25/2011
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Sites: Official | IGN | Gametrailers

A few years ago, it looked like the entire genre of survival horror was in jeopardy. With storied franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill opting for more action, multiplayer cooperative modes, and scenery drenched in light, it seemed as if nobody was willing to push the boundaries of horror and make a game that could utilize the technology of the current console generation to create something truly terrifying. Then, to fill the void, Dead Space was released. A dark, moody, single-player experience designed from the ground up to scare the crap out of its players, Dead Space proved that survival horror could live on.

But then, early last year, Electronic Arts announced that the inevitable sequel, Dead Space 2, was inspired by games like Uncharted and Modern Warfare to include more action, something that simply can't be done without sacrificing some of the horror. To add insult to injury, they also announced that the game would feature a multiplayer component. Fans of survival horror, including myself, were outraged by the news. Now that Dead Space 2 has finally been released, does the outrage seem justified? Is Dead Space 2 a worthy successor of the survival horror torch, or is it another disappointment on the scale of Resident Evil 5?



STORY

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Isaac's relationship with Nicole is still absolutely central to the plot
Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the events on the USG Ishimura, and it is unclear what has been happening to Isaac Clarke in that time. All he can remember is that he escaped to the Sprawl, a giant city orbiting Saturn's moon of Titan. He is awakened in a padded cell, wearing a straight jacket, and is immediately thrown into another outbreak of the necromorph menace. This time, he has to battle not only the horrific monsters, but also a government that wants to hunt him down for reasons unknown, along with recurring hallucinations of his dead girlfriend, Nicole Brennan.

From a purely narrative standpoint, Dead Space 2 is a logical evolution from the original. Isaac is given more character this time around (a voice, too), beginning with an opening cutscene that reveals a crucial bit of information about his backstory that lends more weight to the death of Nicole. This forms the connective tissue that carries Isaac through the entire game as he grapples with his guilt and inadequacies. Other characters in the game aren't given quite as much attention, though a couple of them are memorable.

There are also a handful of great story moments, most of which occur late in the game. There is one location in particular that I absolutely love (without spoiling it, all I will say is "Chapter 10"), and there are a few good confrontations and memorable twists. Newcomers to the franchise can even pick this one up and not feel too lost, as nearly every important plot point from other games is quickly recapped. Plus, despite a tiresome lead-up, the ending cutscenes are fantastic.

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From this point on, it's all necromorphs
Still, the story has its share of weaknesses. For one thing, nearly all of Isaac's actions and motivations are provided by other characters barking instructions through Isaac's RIG communications. While many were critical of the original's primary plot motivator--Isaac traversing different parts of the Ishimura, fixing problems as they arose--it was a far sight better than the meandering and seemingly aimless directions the sequel goes in.

Secondly, promises that we'd witness a necromorph invasion from the beginning were greatly exaggerated. There are one or two moments of chaos (barely visible on the other side of burning rubble--you hear far more than you actually see), but for the most part, by the time Isaac wakes up, the invasion is already in full swing, with only a handful of stragglers still uninfected.

Lastly, and most importantly, fans of the deep mythology will be disappointed to know that it isn't moved forward much. If anything, the game merely teases us with promises that more information will be provided in the inevitable third entry. If you're looking for more information about the markers, convergence, Altman, and what it all means, you'll probably feel like the story is treading water more than anything else. There are a few nuggets of information, provided mostly in the game's myriad text and audio logs, but there's nothing particularly mind-blowing.

[Story: 7 - The attention to character is welcome and the ending is strong, but the story falls a bit short everywhere else]



GAMEPLAY

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You might want to turn around...
Okay, enough waiting; let's address the primary concern of Dead Space fans. While there is indeed a greater focus on action, the horror aspects of the game are still largely intact. The halls are soaked in darkness and even on the easiest of difficulty levels, you will never feel completely safe or fully armed enough to take whatever gets thrown at you. Plus, even though you are being constantly assisted by other characters in other locations, you spend nearly the entire game alone and vulnerable.

There are some drawbacks, though. There are a few pauses in the action that allow the moody atmosphere to sink in, but usually, every single room throws enemies at you. This means that players won't be on edge as much as they were in the original, because truth be told, you almost always know what's waiting for you in the next room: more necromorphs. There are a handful of surprises, but when you expect baddies to jump out of every vent or ceiling, not much can take you off guard. One of the main strengths of the original--that sense of dread you get after being left alone for too long--is taken away by the relentless hordes of necromorphs.

But it's not as bad as you might think. This is due to the new enemies, the stalkers and the pack in particular. The stalkers are intelligent necromorphs (derived from animals, it seems) that hide behind corners and coordinate attacks to outflank you while you're waiting for the one in front of you to pounce. Game designers aren't shy about sharing their inspiration for the stalkers--the velociraptors from Jurassic Park--and it's an apt comparison. As for the pack, it's a huge wave of adolescent necromorphs who let out a high pitched scream and come running at you from all directions at once. Coming into contact with stalkers or the pack is deliciously terrifying.




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-e. magill 2/1/2011








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