Dead Space 2

(18) ¦ 360, PS3, PC

As everyone already knows, in space no-one can hear you scream. The same can’t be said for your living room however, especially not after you've been playing this sequel for any length of time. The chances are it will have you crying out loud and winning the title of ‘Scaredy Cat of the Year’ for 2011. And even if you consider yourself hardcore, it’s guaranteed to make you jump out of your skin more than once.

Despite being set in space, this title oozes atmosphere. In the original, engineer Isaac Clarke found himself aboard the USG Ishamura; a stricken mining ship, floating aimlessly in space. Isaac was not alone; an alien infestation had attacked the crew and had turned them into the rather unpleasant Necromorphs. Unfortunately for Isaac and his party, the Necromorphs did greet them with open arms, in a bid to rip them to shreds.

Fast forward to the opening of Dead Space 2, which finds Isaac waking up in a hospital ward on the Sprawl - a space station built on the moon of Titan. He has no memory of what’s happened in the last three years and wakes up only to find that he’s in a straitjacket. Before he can even say “asylum”, he’s confronted with his old pals the Necromorphs.

The deeper into the station Isaac ventures, the more he experiences flashes of memory returning to him. They all lead him on a path to the Marker; the device that appears to be causing this new wave of Necromorphs. But as Isaac soon discovers, there are a lot of monsters between himself and the Marker.

boom reviews - Dead Space 2 image
Oh my, our termite problem is worse than I thought.

If you chose not to participate in Isaac’s first adventure worry not, as there’s a nice little ‘previously on Dead Space’ catch-up video you can watch before embarking on this dark journey. It’s not essential, but it’s helpful in setting up Isaac’s current scenario.

It may be somewhat of a throwaway statement to declare that horror has found a new home in this game, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Through a mix of different elements – gameplay, story, music, lighting etc – gamers are offered one of the most competent horror survival experiences to date.

On a base level it is a game that simply finds you walking down darkly-lit corridors being attacked by fiendish foes. But there are so many more layers to it than that, making it a sublimely rich experience. Unlike other titles, the gung-ho approach doesn’t really work. The game dictates the pace, which can be almost tip-toe-like in places. Before you know it, you’re faced with a genuine fear as to what might be lurking around the very next corner.

For anyone who has played the remarkable Bioshock 2 and enjoyed it, Dead Space 2 a similar experience on all fronts, only with heightened paranoia and fear. Just as Rapture was a utopian dream under water that went horribly wrong, the Sprawl is a similar failure in space.

And although there aren’t that many characters involved, Isaac’s story still manages to be an absorbing one. In fact the further you step into his world, the sharper the writing and dialogue seemingly become.

Sadly though, the game does fall short from being perfect. For starters, it has one of the most ludicrous difficultly settings yet conceived. Most games should allow the most competent gamer to complete it on the ‘normal’ setting. However, after engaging in the first boss you may well have to concede that you have to switch to the ‘casual’ setting – as we did. We’ve never had to do it before for any other game, but when you run out of ammo time and again against the formidable beast, leaving you to attempt to ineffectively stamp it to death, you may well be left with little choice.

And even then, on the easiest setting known to man, it still managed to pose a challenge in places. If there was a setting for ‘wuss’, there’s a chance we would have played through on it.

What this game is crying out for, more than anything, is a regenerative life system. The ability to run into a corner, get some life back, then jump back into the fray would have been ideal. Sadly, you rely on health packs that may or not fall out of your enemy after they’ve taken damage. And if you don’t pick enough of them along the way, you’re forced to buy them. You can tell we’re in a recession, can’t you?

That leads to another minor irritation. The majority of times, the ammo that does fall from you opponents, more likely than not is for a weapon you’re not currently carrying. Anything would have been better than that; even throwing banana skins would have been more useful. But no.

And while we’re having a moan, Isaac waddles like a duck when he tries to run. Maybe he’s so scared that he’s pooped his proverbials, but it just doesn’t look right having to watch him from the back as we’re forced to do.

Thankfully though, the game does enough right to pretty much make it an essential purchase for the single player experience. Although the idea of being able to cause your enemies to physically enter a period of slo-mo, in theory making it easier to shoot them, is somewhat clumsy in practice, its inclusion in the game should be applauded. As should the set pieces that put a lot of films to shame. And not forgetting the elegant sections where you float around in anti-gravity, which rather ironically, can take your breath away.

It even has a multiplayer mode this time round, and although it won’t be wrestling Call of Duty to the ground and robbing it of its online crown, it does at least attempt something a little different; there’s little in the way of depth to its aliens v humans mode, but it’s a nice distraction whilst it lasts.

It’s clear that as franchise, this sequel is definitely putting Dead Space on the stellar map. With a few tweaks here and there, it may well become the AAA title that it has the potential to be. In the mean time, make sure you play Dead Space 2 with all the lights on, because let’s face it, you have no idea what’s lurking in the dark.

four out of five