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PlayStation 3 Review: Dead Space 2 – Limited Edition

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Every once in a while—not often, but once in a while—I come up against a game which is in a genre I enjoy, has great graphics, sports a decent plot, features a good system of upgrades, and contains a fair amount to do and see and yet which completely fails to capture my imagination.  For one reason or another, and it’s not always something I can put my finger on, while I end up admiring the title for all that it does right, while I appreciate the title for all the effort that is so clearly evident in it, I am just not captured by it the way so many other games capture me.  It’s this exact reaction that I’ve had and have been considering with Dead Space 2.

Please, before you start ranting and raving in the comments down below about how Dead Space 2 is one of the greatest videogames in years and perhaps the best one we’ll see in 2011, let me be clear – the game does a ton right and if you enjoyed the first one (or any of the other Dead Space titles), you’re almost certainly going to like this one.   As a sequel, it’s not all that original (and even if it wasn’t a sequel it wouldn’t be all that original), but I think it’s a really well put together title with, well-spaced upgrades and save points and more than one spot that will make you jump.  The problem is that after about an hour or two playing it I just didn’t care what was coming, I just wanted to reach the end so that I could be done.

The story picks up three years after the first Dead Space, with Isaac Clark in a mental hospital in The Sprawl (it orbits Saturn) trying to come to grips with what happened on the Ishimura in the original.  It’s a task that Isaac has had some issues with, especially as the doctors in the hospital have been running some sort of freaky experiment.  As the game opens though, what you know is that Isaac has been in the hospital and that now there are Necromorphs everywhere. 

That leads to a whole lot of running away from said Necromorphs, the villainous Marker created creatures who want nothing more than to tear you limb from limb (literally).  Your goal as you start the game is definite but rather small in scope, survive.  As you continue, your goal grows and changes somewhat… but if I tell you what it becomes I’ll just be ruining what little story the game actually throws out at you.   Oh, there’s a very definite tale, but there isn’t a lot to it – this is still survival horror in space and so the key first and foremost is simply to survive.

Dead Space 2 seems to mainly exist so that you can have fun dismembering creatures and then utilizing your kinesis abilities to impale them with their own dismembered limbs.  It is a bloody, semi-horrific process made that much more disturbing when you choose to stomp on dead humans so that you can free up some of their limbs for the purpose of impaling the Necromorphs.

I think that part of my problem with the game is that once you overcome the initial shock about how you proceed (a shock substantially lessened if you played the original), there’s just not much after that.  The game tells you exactly where to go, there is really no need to backtrack, no alternate routes, and no need whatsoever for you to make any decisions except for which limb you’re going to try and shoot off a Necromorph for impaling purposes.

As you find credits (buy stomping on corpses and containers) you can buy new weapons which does provide a new thrill as you learn exactly how the new weapon functions and how precisely you can remove an appendage with it.  But, that thrill, too, is short lived.

It may be that one of the reasons that you’re given so little choice about what to do in the game is that Isaac Clarke is losing his mind and that were he set loose with options no one quite knows what would happen.  Clarke, it seems, has something of a conscience about the people he’s killed, and that conscience balks at the notion that he simply has to keep on doing it.  Or, it balks sometimes, Clarke seems perfectly content to shoot at Necromorph babies when they appear.

Dead Space 2 does little to convince you that it’s anything other than Resident Evil (a franchise I do love) in space.  However, this is survival horror – limited ammo, tons of creatures jumping out at you, and dark surroundings are really par for the course and Dead Space 2 delivers all those things in droves.  It really is a solid survival horror game, one which plays into the tropes of survival horror almost perfectly, but I can’t help get the sense that it, perhaps like the Necromorphs, lacks a soul.

Boy, I’ve made it sound like it’s a bad game and I really don’t think it is.  Dead Space 2 is a big, brash title that provides one visceral thrill after the next.  In that age old question about whether or not a videogame can be considered art, Dead Space 2 most likely falls into the non-art realm, but it’s beautiful graphics and excellent sound design balk at that categorization. 

If running around killing things in space is your idea of a good time, you’re almost certainly going to love Dead Space 2.  Of course, I would have thought that I would have loved running around killing things in space, but I all too soon felt relatively bored by the experience, which is completely at odds with what the game is telling us about Isaac.  Or, it would be at “complete” odds if the other potential way you could feel about it wasn’t enjoyment.  I can’t get away from the fact that the game tells us that Isaac doesn’t like what he’s doing, what he’s being forced to do, but that we’re supposed to just love every possible second of it.  The desire to put the player at such a far distance from the character we’re playing as is one that lessens the experience – either we can see things from Isaac’s point of view and hate what we’re doing or we can wholly ignore what little story is there and the feelings of our entry point into the title.  That’s a weird choice for the game to force upon us and unquestionably one of the reasons I have some trouble with it.

The game does come with online multiplayer (you can play either as a Necromorph or a human) and the limited edition features the full Dead Space: Extraction.  The multiplayer isn’t really as well developed as you might like, there are just a few maps and a single game mode, but more fully fleshed out could prove hugely enjoyable.

In the end, I really do have trouble calling Dead Space 2 a bad game, I think that it does a whole lot right and that most people who like the genre—or any action-based title—will almost certainly have a great time with it.  I’m just not one of those people.

Dead Space 2 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language . This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PC.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.