A Life Found in ‘Dead Space’

Courtesy of Electronic Arts

In October of 2008 — and just in time for Halloween — Electronic Arts, in collaboration with Visceral Games, released “Dead Space,” a survival-horror game that takes place in the far-distant future where humanity makes first contact with a parasitic alien race that not only has a thirst for blood, but is very good at stalking humans to get it.

“Dead Space 2” picks up on the story of its predecessor with Isaac Clarke bound by a straitjacket in a hospital on a colony of Earth called “Sprawl.” Locked in a room, Franco (the protagonist of “Dead Space:  Ignition”) releases you from the room only to be instantly killed by a Necromorph (a mix between a zombie and a demon), thus turning into one himself.

With a seamless transition, the game unapologetically gives you control: confined by a straitjacket, you’re forced to run through a gauntlet of grotesque and dangerous Necromorphs without the aid of weapons or even your arms.

This first transition is one of several that happen effortlessly throughout the game. Without excessive cuts or clumsy angles, “Dead Space 2” intelligently melds expositional cut scenes and developmental gameplay for a continuous narrative that almost always suspend  disbelief.

Not too long afterward, Isaac is freed from his straitjacket and you’re prompted on how to handle some familiar controls. While veterans from the original “Dead Space” will already know how to handle themselves, those new to the game should have no problem picking up the controls. Mastery of them, however, is an entirely different subject.

“Dead Space 2” inherits from its predecessor “strategic dismemberment” — the tactical use of weapons and surrounding objects to cut off enemies’ limbs to use as weapons. In other words, you can cut off an enemy’s arm with a floating saw blade and use telekinesis to impale it into that same enemy or any other enemy surrounding you, a big help when ammo is scarce on the road and opportunities to buy more are few and far between.

While retaining its aggressive functions, telekinesis also preserves its passive abilities as both a method to grab items from hard-to-reach areas as well as a tool to solve puzzles that fit logically within the game’s storyline.

However, the puzzles can be redundant at times, as many of them only require the player to put thing (or things) x in place (or places) y. Since there are few permutations to this, puzzles aren’t difficult and can even be frustrating at times.

On the other hand, the game’s battles are action-packed and diverse. With roughly a dozen unique species of Necromorph, you’ll need quick wits, rapid reflexes and steady hands in order to make it out alive against enemies with specific weaknesses and counters that you must discover through experimentation.

The level design of ”Dead Space 2” is inspired, varied and best of all, beautiful. Although the game requires a dark room for an optimal experience, you’re rewarded with levels that place you in claustrophobic hallways, desolate rooms and disorienting zero-G environments.

In addition, each chapter of the game carries a unique and attractive aesthetic specific to where you are. Color schemes and small details such as papers scattered on a desk, a toppled wastebasket in an obscure corner or a fire extinguisher against a wall not only add realism, but serve to remind the player that the now blood-splattered walls were once part of a school, church or hospital. Furthermore, you can even pick up these environmental effects to use against Necromorphs.

However, this can be disappointing at times, as not all objects appear to be programmed to do this. For example, while it’s possible to hurl a creature twice your size with telekinesis, you may be surprised to discover that you’ll have trouble lifting a rock the size of your fist.

Perhaps one of the most important and well-executed aspects of the game lies in its audio. In the darkness of the levels, you’ll be forced to rely on the game’s surround sound-friendly cues to tell you what’s around you and where. Similarly, the game’s music will chill your bones and make your hairs stand on end with tortuously tense violin scratches or heart-stopping orchestral hits timed perfectly with enemy ambushes.

While offering a stunning campaign, the much-anticipated online play for “Dead Space 2” gives competitive gamers a chance to play either as humans or Necromorphs in a potent handful of accelerated objective-based multiplayer modes. With a vast collection of unlockables, a ranking system and party-capable lobbies, you’ll have fun going head to head against other players online. However, there is one downside: it’ll cost you about $10 to purchase an online pass once your two-day online trial runs out.

True to its name, Visceral Games has developed an intense, terrifying and exhilarating experience that’s sure to make even seasoned survivor-horror gamers shriek like prepubescent girls (I know I did). A worthy sequel to “Dead Space,” “Dead Space 2” combines gut-wrenching action with heart-stopping suspense and presents it almost flawlessly within a story you’ll be dying to know.

Rating: 4/5 Stars