Dead Space 2, A Ten Year Reunion
When Glen Schofield began to create the original Dead Space, he set out to create the scariest game we’ve ever seen. And he succeeded. Way back in 2008, it scared the living shit out of me and when I played it for an anniversary article, it did the same once again. It’s a truly unique and terrifying experience that after all this time is still one of the strongest horror games we have ever seen.
I’m a huge fan of survival horror with some of my all time favourites being the new Resident Evil 2 Remake, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, Silent Hill 2, and the Amnesia franchise. So it’s high praise when I say Dead Space is up there with the very best. Three years after the launch of the original game, comes in Dead Space 2. Promising to be bigger, more action packed yet still just as terrifying as the first game and it very much succeeded. It’s been a good five years or so since I last played and it with it now being ten years old I have an excuse to go back to it.
Spoiler ahead for the Dead Space franchise
Dead Space 2 picks up several years after the events that took place on the USG Ishimura, with engineer Isaac Clarke being the sole survivor of the incident. He managed to stop the Necromorph infestation by destroying the Red Marker on Aegis-7. Found adrift in space, Isaac has been moved to the Sprawl space station located on the shattered remains of Titan where he has been sectioned off by EarthGov. The effects that the Red Marker have had on Isaac have allowed them to create a new Red Marker. When Isaac awakes, he is thrust straight into a new Necromorph invasion, forced once more to fight through the nightmare he thought he escaped.
One of the major criticisms about the first Dead Space has been the story. It was hard to connect to Isaac’s struggle even though he had personal motivation. This was partly due to the fact that there was no voice acting from Isaac making, for some really awkward moments where characters tried talking to him. However, in Dead Space 2 it’s much easier to connect to Isaac thanks to his newly found voice and interesting character development. Throughout the game you will also meet a wider cast of more interesting characters, as well as Nicole who will haunt Isaac through Marker induced hallucinations. There’s also a much deeper dive into the lore of the Dead Space universe.
It’s a fascinating story with plenty of twists and turns, and looking back onto the story after playing Dead Space 3, everything seems to piece together neatly and got me more involved. Isaac’s growing Dementia adds a layer of psychological horror, whilst the more basic Necromorph invasion pushes the action along. Unitology is introduced here, a cult that worships these markers and are mostly responsible for the events on-board the sprawl. It’s full of predictable plot twists with betrayals and disposable characters, but it is an entertaining ride.
Whilst the story has been expanded, it’s still the gameplay that really shines through. Not really innovating too heavily on the predecessor, but instead perfecting what was already there. The same UI-less design is here with everything important being visible on or around the character whenever needed. Health and Stasis bars appear on their rig, whilst ammo is showing on your weapon itself. If you need to delve into your inventory for whatever reason, be it to check reserves, health packs, etc., it’s displayed holographically in real-time, leaving you open to attack. It’s clearly still a Dead Space game.
The core combat is very much the same, clearly inspired by Resident Evil 4 with the over the shoulder camera perspective, limited ammo, and inventory space. Isaac can still stomp as normal, but this is backed up with a new more traditional melee and his movement has been improved. I found myself responding to enemies coming in for off-screen attacks just a little bit quicker thanks to the refinements done to the core gameplay. Surprisingly, it’s aged remarkably well. Picking it up today, there’s nothing that really stands out that says it’s a ten year old game.
You still kill Necromorphs by taking off limbs and there’s some strategy behind it. Taking off the heads will put them into a frenzy, so it’s not always the best idea. On the other hand, taking out their legs will slow them down, but in chaotic moments it can be easy to lose track of them. It’s good, tense fun that never stops being exciting, especially when the game keeps throwing new enemies, locations, and mechanics at you to keep things interesting across its roughly seven hour campaign. There’s still nothing quite like the Dead Space experience out there and honestly, nothing has come close. Every encounter in Dead Space 2 is wonderfully designed and well varied.
Isaac has a ton of weapons available to him with some serious upgrades from the base game’s weapons. In the original game, the pulse rifle was one of the worst due in part to its weak damage and alternative attack, which was hilariously bad. Here though, you can utilize it much more with its ability to tear off limbs easily as well as a grenade launcher. Although, the star of the show is still the Plasma Cutter, Isaac’s base weapon that really pushes Dead Space‘s unique mechanics to the forefront. I’ve never once put this weapon away and it will always be my go-to.
Then you’ve got the massively improved Kinesis Module that allows Isaac to use the environment as a weapon. You can throw blunt objects and you can even rip off limbs from dead Necromorphs and use them as projectiles. It’s occasionally fun to play around with, but I still didn’t use it too often in combat. Isaac also has a standard melee attack to compliment his stomp ability and it never feels overpowered, just a quick way to stun enemies. Improvements have also been made to the game’s Zero-G sections, so Isaac now can move freely around these zones. They still are the weakest parts of the game, but they’re serviceable.
As you would expect from the original, this game has epic set pieces. The Tormentor encounter takes the tentacle encounter from the first game and dials it up to the next level. Isaac gets thrown around, chased, grabbed, thrown around a little bit more, before being launched right into space and finally sent crashing down into the Sprawl. All of this happens in the space of about two breathtaking minutes. In contrast to this, we also have the infamous needle in the eye section that has Isaac crawling into a machine that will help him discover how to stop the Red Marker. It’s a much slower and more tense encounter, but one with some gruesome results.
Whilst Dead Space 2 functions brilliantly as an action game, how did it actually fair as a horror game? The answer is surprisingly well. Even in the most chaotic, action-packed moments, Dead Space 2 finds moments to terrify me. When I first played at launch, I was always on-edge, creeping forward, and checking everywhere. Necromorphs can appear from anywhere; vents, doorways, the random bodies that are on the ground, even behind. There’s a lot of debate online over if Dead Space 2 is scarier or not, but today I sit somewhere in the middle. They both provided terrifying experiences with a slightly different flavour. Dead Space is a slower paced horror, whilst Dead Space 2 is more relentless in its approach, but still gives you time to breathe.
Even rooms that you once think are safe are now a sign of caution. Necromorphs can appear in elevators now, so what was once a sign of safety, is no longer a time to drop your guard. Save stations, shops, and workbenches aren’t always grouped together and can sit anywhere on the Sprawl, including Necromorph-infested rooms. One time in Chapter 8, I dropped my guard running to a safe station that thought was safe, but was jumped and got slaughtered.
Then you’ve got the Stalker enemies. Let me tell you, these fuckers still terrify me today thanks to their unique mechanics that slow the action down for a more horror-like encounter. They are fast, they will try and flank you, and then attack when you least expect it. I dread every time I hear their screech when entering a room, slowly creeping forward and rapidly looking at every single hiding spot. A neat little reference is spotted after the first mechanic where you get the achievement “Clever Girl”. Stalkers weren’t the only new addition either, with a lot more Necromorphs being introduced as the game goes on. It ends with the phenomenal Regenerator encounter as well as some enemies that were actually cut from the original.
The visual design has seen some major changes as well, moving from a planet-cracking ship, which is more industrial, to a high-tech space station. The Sprawl replaces a lot of the Ishimura’s muted browns with a lot more colour and variety. From the living areas, shopping centres, an utterly terrifying nursery, and a Unitology church. There’s a lot more interesting things to see and feels like it fits into series nicely. Environments are full of detail and really help builds up the world, it very rarely shows it age. Though the disappearing bodies can pull you out of the experience and the lack of anti-aliasing (on consoles) can give the game a really rough look.
I have always said that sound design is absolutely critical to the survival horror experience and this is one area where Dead Space 2 really holds up. Although looking back, it does rely a little too heavy on the sudden loud noises that every single horror game relies on these days. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually mind it too much here. It makes sense when Necromorphs are crashing through vents, as well as the overall chaos the Sprawl is in.
One great way to improve your first playthrough experience is to up the difficulty from Normal to Survivalist. I made this mistake the first time I played it, but opted to go for survivalist this time for a more true to form survival horror experience. You will be constantly on edge wondering if you have the resources to make it through after each and every major encounter especially in the games second half where you’ll have the strongest Necromorph to deal with. If you want an even harder experience, boost the game right up to Zealot. But be warned, it’s tough. Once you’ve finished the game you also unlock the game’s Hardcore mode, which disables all checkpoints and gives you three saves for the entire campaign.
Today, there’s plenty of platforms that you can play Dead Space 2 on. For my recent playthrough I opted to play the Xbox 360 version through backwards compatibility on the One X. This of course this means it’s supported on Series X/S as well. There’s also a PC version, but there are a number of issues. Unfortunately for those who only have PlayStation systems, it is only playable on PlayStation 3, but hopefully that will change in the future. There’s also a single player expansion that never came out on PC, so currently the Xbox version is the most complete and readily available.
This is where the series died for a lot of people. Dead Space 3 launched to a a very mixed reaction in 2013. Whilst not a bad game in it’s own right and provided a highly entertaining co-op action game with some incredible ideas. It gave some solid answers to the Marker mystery, but is poorly paced and wrapped up into a plot full of unbelievable character motivations and a love triangle. It leaned too far away from the action horror routes taking an almost entirely “Hollywood” approach. Since the release of Dead Space 3, the franchise went dark and with it, the death of Visceral Games.
With the Dead Space franchise now in the dark and seemingly no other survival horror franchise having that same feel, it’s a real shame, but there is still hope. Glen Schofield (who directed the first game) is returning to the genre with next years Calisto Protocol. We haven’t seen any footage yet, but I’ll be keeping a very close eye on it and am hopeful he will fill the void that Dead Space has left behind.
Even after ten years, Dead Space 2 is a refreshing experience. It’s a near perfect sequel that is bigger and more ambitious than the original; perfectly blending high octane action with slow paced thrilling gameplay. It’s stuffed full of clever jump scares and intense moments. There’s nothing quite like it and it’s still very much worth your time and money.