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DEAD SPACE 2 plants us three years later, as Isaac wakes up in a hospital amidst an interplanetary pit-stop mining city known as “The Sprawl,” thrusting players into one of the most hellacious first fifteen minutes of a game ever to appear on consoles.
Running for your life through a nightmare-infested hospital and watching former patients, doctors, staff – pretty much everyone - transform into necromorphs (intensely amped-up bloodthirsty space zombies) is only the tip of this horrific tale, as the 14 chapters that stretch over a good 12-15 hour play-through squeeze in just enough horror to not cause prolonged flashbacks in gamers. Seriously, this game could come with a Surgeon General's Warning for the toll it takes on players' cardiac health. Even though a few chapters in may cause you to feel a little desensitized to the Visceral brand of horror and violence, only about 40% of the “scare moments” will give you the predictable “Gotcha” feeling, while another 40% will make you jump and leave tingly hairs on your neck. The other 20% will make you change your pants.
Though the game's scenery has transformed from a claustrophobic, seemingly abandoned spaceship to a more open, once-bustling city of the future, the game itself hasn't undergone such a drastic change that fans lose the familiarity. If anything, DEAD SPACE 2 brings about a series of subtle improvements that do nothing but enhance the game's overall impact. Gone are the near-indecipherable 3-D maps and the errand boy fetch quests from the original DEAD SPACE. Isaac Clarke has become his own man, trudging through piles of blood and meat to find safety, answers, and solutions. He also has a voice, which presents a much more personal connection for players, as opposed to the first installment's grunting and breathing. Mechanically, he moves a little quicker and looser, giving players both a better chance at dodging necromorph attacks and aiming weapons to execute precise dismemberment, both crucial to survival. Each mission or objective sets out with a definitive cause and result, all chained together and working congruently with a story rich enough for the annals of sci-fi classics. New additions to the game include a few variations on the base-model necromorph, a javelin gun capable of harpooning necros and pinning them to surfaces, and the ability to freely move about in zero-G atmosphere. The zero-G elements can truly test gamers' dexterity and spatial thinking, but provide a gorgeously designed alternative to the run-and-gun battles or the edge-of-your-seat buildups.
The game's true star – horror – manifests in more than just big scary monsters. Three of the larger, definitely scarier settings in the game include a hospital, a school, and a church, and I'm not sure what's scarier than surgery, kids, or religion. Throughout these sequences, Isaac experiences moments of mental breakdown where his psychosis changes the surrounding atmosphere into all terror imaginable, including tormenting visits from the memory of his lost love, Nicole. Though the moments of delirium vary in length of time and spooky imagery, they combine to make for some of the scariest, freakiest, jump-out-of-your-skin moments.
That's not to say the fits of insanity overshadow the necromorphs; they're the original lords of scare in the DEAD SPACE universe. Big, hulking, bleeding, oozing, screaming, charging monsters made of once-human bodies only get more horrifying with the sequel. These beasts have a penchant for bursting out of ventilation shafts and through giant windows in an otherwise silent and uninhabited world. The Visceral team spares no detail in blood and gore, throwing beautifully detailed brutish nightmares at Isaac in all shapes and sizes; from possessed hospital patients with thorny-bones for arms to razor-toothed toddler sized imps that roam in packs to gunship sized monstrosities to exploding babies. One of the most spine-tingling elements of DEAD SPACE 2 is hearing the approaching necromorphs (especially the children), as they drag, crawl, cry, and tear a path right to Isaac's face.
From start to finish, DEAD SPACE 2 is pulse-pouding. The game opens at full speed and the pace never lets up until the credits roll. Even the let-down, catch-your-breath moments, albeit brief and far between, maintain a sense of “what's around the corner” or “what was that noise,” so players constantly stay glued to the tension. Visceral Games takes all that’s scary – religion, creepy children, surgery nightmares, possession, abandonment, claustrophobia – and packs them all into one of the best constructed survival-horror experiences to date, and a definite Game of the Year candidate for 2011 (yes, I know it's January). DEAD SPACE 2 represents a true quality in craft, in both creating a solid. yet inventive game and scaring the living bejeezus out of people.
DEAD SPACE 2 is now available for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC. For more, see our in-depth preview of the game in FANGORIA #299.
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