Critical Reception: Visceral Games' Dead Space 2

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Visceral Games' action-horror sequel Dead Space 2, which reviews describe as "actually better than the original."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Visceral Games' action-horror sequel Dead Space 2, which reviews describe as "actually better than the original." Dead Space 2 currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at Giant Bomb's Brad Shoemaker gives Dead Space 2 5 out of 5 stars. "The first Dead Space was a surprise to me because it took a bunch of familiar concepts from other games and movies, and put them together so expertly that the result somehow felt original and highly satisfying in its own right," he begins. "With an established Dead Space formula now in place, the only surprise about the game's first sequel is that it's actually better than the original." Shoemaker continues: "Dead Space 2 expands the scope and intensity of its sci-fi horror action without stifling its tense atmosphere or fiddling too much with its nearly perfect third-person shooting. If you care at all about keeping up with the evolving standards of cinematic action games, you simply can't miss it." Dead Space 2's narrative style is quite different from the original game's. "In the first game you didn't hear a peep out of [series protagonist Isaac] Clarke, but now he's joined the noble ranks of formerly silent protagonists who have gone on to more prominent speaking roles," Shoemaker explains. "The game takes this opportunity for richer characterization and uses it to plumb the depths of Clarke's tattered psyche, but he comes off as kind of a one-dimensional, square-jawed action hero who's never quite in danger of actually losing it, so I didn't feel especially connected to what the game depicts as a grueling internal conflict. But I did appreciate his interactions with the other characters and the way they fleshed out the game's overall storyline." "Ultimately, it's the perfectly tuned third-person run-and-gun shooting action that attracts me to this series, and that gameplay has only gotten better in Dead Space 2," Shoemaker assures. "It still revolves around shooting the heads, arms, legs, and tentacles off of every necromorph you see, and the basic controls for doing that are still so well tuned that I can't think of any way to meaningfully improve them. Everything from the acceleration in the over-the-shoulder aiming to the fact that you can sprint backwards makes the game a joy to control." "Just like its predecessor, Dead Space 2 doesn't do anything especially new, it just does everything exceedingly well," Shoemaker claims. "EA's current management set a mandate a few years ago to improve the quality of the company's internal game development, a directive this game and its predecessor directly resulted from. If the Dead Space franchise is ultimately the only memorable result that effort ever bears, it will still constitute a memorable legacy indeed." Thierry Nguyen at gives Dead Space 2 an A- grade, likening the franchise to the shift in tone between Ridley Scott's "Alien" and James Cameron's "Aliens." "The first installments in both series focus on civilians panicking their way through a dark spaceship while avoiding an extraterrestrial lurking horror," Nguyen claims. "Both follow-ups retain their predecessor's basic aesthetic while deliberately shifting from creeping tension into outright sci-fi action. 'Aliens' introduced space marines, the power loader exosuit, and the Alien Queen; Dead Space 2 gives us scenes of Isaac flying around in zero-g, mowing down Necromorphs with an assault rifle while wearing 'space marine' armor, and confidently throwing explosives with his telekinetic powers." Dead Space 2's controls reflect its more action-focused gameplay. "While Isaac already controlled and felt smoother in Dead Space than, say, Chris Redfield from Resident Evil 5 or even Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4, the further tweaks he's undergone for DS2 make playing the original more difficult by comparison," Nguyen observes. "Not only does he simply move and respond to your input faster, but the actual interface has undergone a welcome tweak (by example, DS2 moves reload to the more Call of Duty-esque X/Square button, and doesn't require you to hold down the Left-Trigger to do so). Isaac goes from feeling like a competent shooter character in DS to being an honest-to-goodness action hero now." "In addition to overhauling and tweaking Isaac's feel and mechanics, the team has also generally taken advantage of the larger setting," Nguyen continues. "While the starship Ishimura had its array of decks, it still, for the most part, felt like a large, cold, sterile (albeit haunted) starship. By contrast, Isaac's journey through the Sprawl takes him through places like a residential complex, a bright and cheery preschool, some ultra-clean government offices, and an imposing Unitology church. While Dead Space drowns you in tension and claustrophobia, Dead Space 2 likes to show you bright colors and actual vistas at times -- before turning off the lights." Multiplayer is a less significant addition, however. "Multiplayer is a five scenario/map affair, where each one has a team of four humans fulfilling a specific objective (activate escape pods, calibrate solar arrays, construct a bomb), and the four Necromorph players simply need to stop the humans," Nguyen describes. "In general, multiplayer is of that 'it's pretty good, but not quite good enough to last or dethrone other dominant multiplayer' type of experiences. That is, it's fun and there's nothing glaringly wrong, but unless there's either a steady stream of additional levels, or a strong community to sustain it, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the multiplayer feels a bit empty in a few months." "This isn't just a clear, 'this game is better than its predecessor,' situation," Nguyen writes. "Take away the interface tweaks and improved mechanics behind how Isaac moves and feels, and examine the overall structure, you don't have a 'good game and then a better game,' you have two different games: a creepy sci-fi horror game with some damn good action versus a damn good sci-fi shooter with some creepy parts." Games Radar's Henry Gilbert scores Dead Space 2 at 9 out of 10. "Taking what made the original a scarily good reinvention of the action-horror genre while adding enough to keep things interesting, Dead Space 2 is an incredibly polished experience that falls just short of perfection," he begins. "The core combat of Dead Space is pretty much unchanged, which is fine with us," Gilbert says. "The expertly done third-person camera meshes well with each new weapon you find, be it the standard Plasma Cutter or the crazy awesome Javelin Gun. The armory may not be incredibly deep, but each weapon has its uses and you'll find yourself picking your favorite loadouts for blasting off the limbs of your enemies. The standard enemy types strike a pretty good balance between beatable one-on-one and pretty darn challenging when four or more show up. The newer baddies add some much needed depth to the returning roster, making most of your encounters with them pretty fresh throughout the game." Gilbert praises the sequel's expansive environments. "The biggest difference this time around is how everything feels much bigger than before," he notes. "An early example is an amazing train battle unlike anything seen in the first game. So much is happening at once you need fast reflexes while keeping your eyes glued to the screen throughout. Just when you think it's over some new twist comes to the sequence and when it finally is done, you exhale the breath you've been holding during the entire scene. There are several more like it, but not enough as to completely change the flavor of the game." "The only complaint about the setting is that originality in area design fades away some in the last couple hours," Gilbert warns. "Sure, the areas are still well-designed, but they aren't different enough from all the other parts of the dying space colony you've seen already, though it picks up again in the homestretch. Overall these additions don't make DS2 monumentally different from the original, but it does keep everything fresh." Gilbert also takes issue with Dead Space 2's uneven difficulty. "It's a tricky equilibrium creating enemies that challenge you while at the same time being ultimately beatable, which Dead Space 2 manages most of the time," he writes. "Still, on our normal playthrough there were enough times where we'd have to die and restart that replaced fear with frustration. But those were infrequent enough in the more 11-hour-long game that it didn't ruin the whole endeavor." "Keeping almost everything that made the original great while taking suitable steps to amp up the fun," Gilbert concludes, "Dead Space 2 will please both the series' fans and those just starting with this haunting adventure."

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