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Solo Gamer Review: Dead Space 2 - Page 2



GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

Screenshot
The tormenter
The boss battles, though, aren't as creative. Most of them revolve around a new giant necromorph known as the tripod, and it's nowhere near as memorable as the huge, unique bosses from the original (like the Leviathan). There is a big monster called "the tormenter," who appears only once, but it feels like a giant brute and doesn't exactly have any interesting characteristics aside from its size. Besides, that particular boss battle isn't much of a fight; it's more like a series of brief action sequences.

Those action sequences--and indeed all of the game's big action sequences--are very intense, though. I fully expected to hate the frequent action cutscenes and running from something exploding or chasing you, but those moments are probably the most memorable parts of the whole game. There are a couple of times where things are happening so fast that you can't tell cutscene from gameplay, and that's awesome because it works; your heartbeat will go up.

As for the controls, they are largely unchanged, with a few notable exceptions, the biggest being the zero gravity controls. Like in the first game, there are a smattering of moments where Isaac finds himself in a zero gravity environment. Instead of having to jump from wall to wall, however, Isaac now has the ability to control himself in all three dimensions, floating and flying around with ease while using his tools and weapons whenever he wants. This is a huge leap forward and is successful in every way. I found myself looking forward to the zero gravity portions this time around, whereas I was pretty ambivalent about them in the original.

Screenshot
The javelin gun could be your best friend if you let it
Stores, save stations, and upgrade benches are still around, and the handy RIG can now show you the path to the nearest ones in addition to your next objective. The kinesis module is slightly improved, and the stasis module now slowly recharges over time (and is more important than ever before). There are a few new weapons--like the fairly useless seeker rifle and absolutely awesome javelin gun--and familiar weapons like the flamethrower are vastly improved. The inclusion of the new weapons strains the concept of engineering tools turned into weapons well beyond the breaking point, but that's a minor complaint; most of the new stuff is good. Though the plasma cutter is still Isaac's weapon of choice, it is nearly impossible this time around to use it exclusively, because the game simply won't give you enough ammo to pull that off. Besides, it's fun to shoot a javelin through an enemy so that it flies out a window and causes some explosive decompression, sucking everything out into the atmosphere of Titan as you struggle to activate the switch that will cause a safety shield to come down and save your ass.

Dead Space 2 is more linear than the original, without much in the way of backtracking or exploration. The backtracking in the original was actually a good thing, because a familiar location could lull the player into a false sense of security and exploit that to great effect. Dead Space 2 only has a few locations that are used more than once, and that sense of false security never really kicks in. Another bonus of the backtracking and exploration in the original is that, by the end of the game, you should feel like you know how the Ishimura is laid out. In Dead Space 2, you never feel like you're getting to know the Sprawl; it feels more like a random assortment of locations passing you by as you walk from a mini-mall to a church to a school, etc. The locations are great, but due to the intensely linear path you follow to get to and through them, they never feel organically interconnected the way the disparate parts of the Ishimura do.

A final note should be made concerning the difficulty levels. On the whole, this installment is much harder than the original. Even on the "casual" difficulty, you will probably die more than once. To make up for this, the "New Game +" option that opens up after beating the game now allows you to jump into a harder difficulty level with your gear and upgrades in place. You can't go into the hardest difficulty level, "hard core" (yes, it's two words for some reason), but that's because "hard core" is designed to be an insane challenge that few will even dare to attempt. In "hard core" mode, you have to start from scratch, the enemies are ammo sponges, ammo is rare, there are no invisible checkpoints, and worst of all, you are only allowed to save your game three times. Yikes!

[Gameplay: 9 - Most of the additions and tweaks are improvements over the original, but the increased action quotient does sacrifice at least a little bit of horror]



PRESENTATION

Screenshot
Not that you'll be able to spend much time admiring the graphics or ambient sound
Where Dead Space 2 shines most is in the sound design. There is almost always some form of ambient noise in the background, be it a distant trash can getting knocked over, a groan of pipes in the walls, the drip of a faucet, the clicking of a flickering lightbulb, or the hiss of a stalker ready to pounce. The music is minimal and moody, only picking up during the heat of action. All of this combines to make the game intense and difficult to handle for long periods of time, as it should be. Many other reviewers have said it, but it bears repeating: this game simply wouldn't be the same if you turned off the sound.

The graphics are also a huge improvement over the original. Facial textures are strong and emotive, the necromorphs are graphically detailed, and there are hardly any hiccups with the frame rate or textures, even during the most fast-paced sections of the game. Even more impressive is the total lack of load times, aside from start-up and reloading after death.

There are some neat touches, too, like a video you can play that recaps the original game or the list in the pause menu that shows your progress with certain achievements (as in Mass Effect 2). And of course, there are lots of cryptic notes hidden throughout the game, written in the enigmatic alien script Dead Space is known for. Add to that the promise of quality DLC in the near future (the first of which will address the fate of Dead Space: Extraction's surviving characters) and you have more than enough fan service to keep the marker-headed zealots happy.

[Presentation: 10 - The sequel still delivers, with vast improvements to the already stellar graphics and sound]



SOLO GAME SCORE

Screenshot
Four Isaacs is three too many
Yes, there is a multiplayer mode included in Dead Space 2. However, unlike Resident Evil 5, the multiplayer isn't built into the game's DNA; from all reports of those who actually play these things, the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 is tacked on and unimpressive. There is no unique cooperative storyline, the multiplayer doesn't appear to take anything away from the single player experience, and best of all, there are no multiplayer achievements! That's right; you can still get 1000 points, even if you refuse to play with anybody else.

As a result, Dead Space 2 still earns a perfect solo game score, despite the inclusion of the multiplayer mode. I get the feeling the mode was only reluctantly included because of the bottom line. Certain number crunchers behind the scenes keep insisting that games can only be profitable if they pander to people who love multiplayer. Thus, multiplayer probably won't become part of the franchise's formula moving forward, even though it is likely to continue getting tacked on.

[Solo Game Score: 10 - Even with a multiplayer mode, this is still a solo gamer experience through and through]



CONCLUSIONS

Screenshot
"Agh, Resident Evil 5 just makes me wanna poke my eye out!"
Game designers working on direct sequels have a difficult task ahead of them. If you don't change enough about a game, the sequel will seem ho-hum and be decried by fans as mediocre at best (Bioshock 2, Fallout: New Vegas). Change too much, and fans will feel betrayed and the magic of the original will be lost (Prince of Persia, Halo: ODST). Truly masterful sequels (Assassin's Creed II, Mass Effect 2) improve what needs improving, alter just enough to spice things up, and preserve the things that made the sequel possible in the first place.

There's a reason I keep bringing up Resident Evil 5, because my greatest fear going into Dead Space 2 was that it would follow in the footsteps of that disappointing sequel. Resident Evil 5 is a well-made game that manages to kill everything that made the franchise great. It is distinctly possible we might never see another core game in that universe as a result (and worse yet, we might not want to see another one). If Dead Space 2 does the same thing, as many feared it would following the announcement that the game would feature more action and multiplayer, it could mark the end of survival horror as a legitimate genre.

Fans of the original game and the genre need not worry about Dead Space 2, however. Survival horror is alive and well, and the Dead Space brand continues to pave the way for the current console generation. (Reports from the latest Silent Hill would indicate that other designers have gotten the message, too.) While it may not be quite as terrifying as the original Dead Space and its story may be a little lacking, Dead Space 2 is still a hell of a ride that stays true to its roots and will have you double checking the dark corners of your own home in the middle of the night for lurking horrors.




FINAL TALLY
STORY: 7
GAMEPLAY: 9
PRESENTATION: 10
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10

TOTAL SCORE: 9.0

Dead Space 2 is a worthy successor that every fan of the original needs to pick up. Altman be praised!




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-e. magill 2/1/2011








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Copyright 2011 e. magill. All rights reserved.