PlayStation 3
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Game Info:

Dead Space 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games 
Released: January 25th, 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood, Strong Language, Violence
Available on: Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (version reviewed)
Genre: Survival Horror Third-Person Shooter
MSRP: $60 (Amazon affiliate link)

(Click here to Jump to the moral content) It\'s like Resident Evil, but in space. That was the first impression I had of Dead Space before I took the time to sit down and actually play through it. After finishing the game, Dead Space became one of of my favorite mature-rated games for the PS3. Not only was it a unique experience that warranted multiple playthroughs, it took place in a cool universe and was a solid gem from Visceral Games. I did have some quibbles with it though, like the Zero Gravity segments and with backtracking. With Dead Space 2 shipping  recently, let\'s see if it\'s worth reliving the horror a second time.

It\'s been three years since the USG Ishimura incident. CEC Engineer Isaac Clarke is being held in a hospital on the Sprawl, a massive space station constructed on one of the moons orbiting Saturn. It doesn\'t take long before the Sprawl spirals out of control with a Necromorph outbreak, the same kind that wreaked havoc on the doomed Ishimura. As Isaac sets out to escape the Necromorphs flooding the hospital, he meets up with a handful of other survivors who guide him throughout the infected metropolis.

The eight-to-ten hour story takes the player through various locales, including a Unitologist church, an elementary school, an apartment complex, and even space itself. There\'s still a healthy amount of text and audio logs scattered around the levels to check out, and believe it or not, Isaac Clarke has lost his Gordon Freeman condition and engages others in conversation or talks himself through his own dementia. It\'s a welcome change, but one that\'s not explained.
As for the core game, Visceral Games has axed the back and forth gameplay between an area and the tram from the first game and instead focuses on linear progression throughout the Sprawl. This helps drive the story forward, but some of the situations that arise can get a bit repetitive. Isaac will have to get from one point to the next, but X is broken, Y needs to be replaced, or Z has an obstruction. These issues that popped up felt a bit unnatural, sometimes to the point where the characters themselves accept that if something can go wrong, it will.
For those that missed out on the series the first time around, Dead Space is a third-person shooter with a focus on “strategic dismemberment” when it comes to combat (more on that later), all enveloped in a horror survival world. At first that world was a large empty industrial ship, but now in Dead Space 2, it\'s a whole station filled with warm bodies just waiting for Necromorph assimilation. Necromorphs are an alien life-form which take the genetic DNA of human corpses and reanimates them into grotesque beings that attack indiscriminately, which is bad for Isaac Clarke, but fun for the player.
The Necromorphs take many shapes and sizes, offering a wide mix of enemy types to take down in bloody fashion. Is one trying to attack with its two large razors arms? Blast them off with your Plasma Cutter and use Kinesis to impale the beast against a wall with its own limb. Another charging headfirst? Slow it to a crawl with stasis and then fire a Ripper saw blade at its legs to cripple it. Another trying to puke on you? Take out its head and legs and then set it on fire with the Flamethrower. Whatever the challenge, taking the time to remove limbs and/or figuring out ways to improve your chances is what sets the game apart from many other games in the genre. Headshots may work occasionally, but that\'s the exception, not the rule.
Highlights:

 

Strong Points: Intense horror elements and creepy environments; Zero Gravity areas control much easier compared to the first game; cinematic moments are pretty slick; story is meaty and offers plenty of new background into the Dead Space universe; reason to play through multiple times

Weak Points: Not as awe-inspiring as the first game; storytelling could\'ve been smoother; environments aren\'t that memorable; online play won\'t hold your attention for that long

 

For veteran players, get ready to take down some new nasties. First up, the Pack; these monstrous looking children attack in groups, shrieking as they try to grapple and slash at Isaac with their large claws. Then there are the Crawlers, slow-moving bloated infants that explode in a shower of blood and acid. A new proximity mine Necromporph shows up on walls and ceilings which make running around an environment a bad decision. Groups of nimble beasties that hide in the shadows and ram Isaac at a moment\'s notice make for a fun challenge, too. It\'s fine that enemies from the first game return, but the new additions fit well, and bring some welcome difficulty.

Weapons and armor have gotten a nice once-over which aids in giving the game a more fresh feel. The original weapons make their return, some with different alternative fire mechanisms, and even some new ones are thrown into the mix. There\'s the Javelin Gun that launches enemies up and away into walls, a tactical trip-mine weapon for added safety, and even a rifle with a zoom function for ranged sniping. A respec option opens up part way through the story so the power nodes used for one weapon\'s upgrades can be moved into another when you find a favorite. The stasis ability recharges automatically after a minute or so, and since the enemies here are faster and more coordinated, it\'s wise to use it during combat.

Issues like the wonky Zero Gravity control from the previous game are thankfully remedied this time around. Instead of pointing at a surface and jumping towards it (which made the camera act up), the player is given full control over Isaac with the aid of jet boots. The camera can be oriented to the ground in case all the flips and twists of gliding around get disorientating. Likewise, depressing the R3 analog stick gives several lit paths leading to the next objective, save point, work bench, or store which helps out a lot given that the area maps have been omitted for this sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay 18/20
Graphics 9/10
Sound 10/10
Stability 4/5
Controls/Interface 4/5

Morality Score - 34%
Violence 0/10
Language 0/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 6/10
Occult/Supernatural 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

While Dead Space didn\'t scare me like it did other players, the sequel easily cranks up the horror to 11, offering plenty of jumps, gnarly deaths, and freakish moments sure to get anyone\'s heart racing. Playing with both the sound turned up and the lights off really adds to the experience. The setpiece moments between the large boss encounters, depressurizing rooms that suck everything into the vacuum of space, rushing from one side of a Necromorph-filled train to the other, or even escaping a gunship all add a much needed sense of excitement that helps counter-balance the tense horror. Don\'t even get me started on how slick Isaac looks jettisoning through certain areas with his new equipment.

While there\'s more detailed changes that could be explained, let\'s switch gears and talk about multiplayer. The new online component sees two teams of four players facing off against each other, Security versus the Necromorphs. The five levels here involve simple objectives for both teams to follow. One requires a Security member to pick up an item and make his way towards a console so it can activate the next objective. Once the carrier drops off the item, another objective pops up, like activating two panels and then making it to an Escape Pod zone to win the match. The opposing team will do their best to stall the other through constant attacks until the timer runs out. Other levels may requiring defending a power structure, or even a Marker if playing as the Necromorphs. There\'s only about five or so different objectives given in each map, again, just relying on the tried-and-true capture-the-flag or control point mechanic.

Sounds boring, right? It did to me at first, and then I continued playing a few matches. Those twenty minutes or so of skirmishes turned into a few hours. See, one reason that this online portion is actually fun is because of how both sides handle. As the humans, each player is given a Pulse Rifle and a secondary weapon, as well as a shot or two of stasis. As the team works together, whether it\'s watching each others\' backs, slowing a frontal attack with stasis, or even calling out targets, there\'s a lot to enjoy when people are communicating and knocking out these objectives one after the other. Smacking a grappled Necromorph off an ally is always good too. Though there\'s a lot of firepower behind a Security member, going it lone-wolf style helps no one out and usually loses many a game.

As a Necromorph, you\'re given a few different options. While they are all weaker health-wise, a player can choose from up to four different classes, each with their own special attacks. The Pack is a nimble little fella who\'s main goal is to ambush and grapple onto enemies. Then there\'s the Spitter for pure ranged damage, the Lurker who scurries around on walls, and the Puker, a guy who snares others and spews acid on them. After you select your class, you\'ll select a vent to pop out of, so the player can decide how close they want to spawn to an enemy in case they want to help ambush, or just help jump them seconds after spawning.

The chaos that ensues for the several minutes in each map can be both exhilarating if the whole team is working together, or frustrating if someone\'s not wanting to be a team player. Regardless of how badly or great a round goes, each kill, ally grapple rescue, heal, or completed objective awards experience points. These points go towards leveling up characters; unlocking weapons and armor for the humans, and giving passive bonuses for the Necromorphs. Even though there\'s a generous level cap, without some kind of future map DLC, I honestly can\'t see this online segment lasting but a week or two given the small amount of maps. Is it fun? It can be. Was an online portion needed? No, but if it\'s your thing, it fits nicely with the game overall. The online is just not spectacular given what\'s out on the market already.

Presentation-wise, both the visuals and audio portion have gotten a nice bump in quality. Character models are much sharper, environments are believably detailed, and the lighting and shadow effects look pretty sweet. Voice acting from Isaac and the other cast do a fine job, the weapon reports come off strong and powerful, and the Necromorphs\' cries of pain and anger as limbs are removed fit perfectly. The small touches like screams behind closed apartment doors, or the muted sound in space help convey a sense of dread and realism. Oh, and the squishy sound that is made when Isaac stomps repeatedly on Necromorph corpses can be a bit exaggerated.

Though I go into further detail in the disclaimer below, do know that the game can get pretty hairy in both the content matter and with the gore. Elements like suicide, mental illness, gruesome deaths, and more all show up in the game constantly, and as such, please check out that section below. While enjoyable to me purely as a videogame, some folks may not be able to stomach what\'s in the game. There\'s a demo out on PSN and XBL for those apprehensive about buying.

As great as the whole package is, there are some issues the game has that keep it from truly shining. Though the story is deeper this time around, the way it plays out can feel a bit disjointed in both delivery and what\'s being said. While the levels that comprise the campaign may have a handful of incredible scripted sequences, individual environments don\'t stand out as they did in the first game. Furthermore, the Sprawl itself feels more confined than expansive, and with so many corridors packed with enemies, it can get a bit claustrophobic.

Even still, the sequel is a fine showing, adding a lot more than I hoped for, but it lost some of its charm in the process. It\'s fun, a whole lot more scary, and it furthers the cool lore that previous players have come to expect. So while it didn\'t have the same kind of impact like the original Dead Space did, there\'s more than enough reason to check out Dead Space 2. It takes two steps forward and one step back, but that\'s not necessarily a bad thing.

-- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

Additional Details

Around nine hours was sunk into the offline campaign, a majority of which was on the Survivalist difficulty, switched to Normal difficulty for the last third of the game due to lack of items to progress with. Six hours or so was dedicated to the multiplayer which allowed ample play time on all maps and a character level of about 14. The Dead Space Extraction content provided on the PS3 Limited Edition was not played due to lack of Move hardware, but we do have a review of the game on the site right here.

Objectionable Material

Violence: Dead Space 2\'s combat revolves around dismemberment; blow off the legs and arms to cripple an enemy.  Isaac\'s deaths are pretty gnarly, including being crushed by a mechanical door, being decapitated, disfigured, burned, suffocation, and more. Likewise, enemies can be killed in a variety of ways, including the above and with impalement. Isaac is forced to stomp on enemies to find extra items which causes blood to splash around. One scene shows the quick nature of necromorph mutation in which a man is stabbed in the forehead before his face and skin breaks open to become an enemy. Another man slits his own throat, one character is stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver, another is shot in twice in the body with a Javelin Gun. An important character has their arm snapped out of place. The game is extremely violent, and this is only scratching the surface.

Language: Harsh swearing abounds throughout the main story, including F- and S-words. When Isaac stomps on enemies, he\'ll continue to use heavy profanity as well. I heard only a few minor blasphemes and no sexual dialogue was to be found. The swearing is not over the top compared to other M-rated games, but it is noticeable.

Nudity/Sexuality: Other than some necromorphs showing off their butt cheeks that remained on their host body, I never saw anything else in the way of nudity.

Supernatural: Unitology, a man-made religion surrounding the worship of Markers (the alien artifacts), is promoted in-game. One chapter is devoted to the inner-workings of a Unitology church filled with propaganda and billboards. The religion is more like a futuristic Scientology though and, like Scientology, is not to be taken seriously.

Other: Isaac wrestles with his dementia throughout the game as he tries to deal with his past. Some of the imagery used for the dementia sequences can be disturbing, such as a wall of corpses screaming (as shown in the demo), or communication between Isaac and a deceased loved one. Gruesome events and enemies appear in game, such as a toddler crying in pain as a dryer runs its cycle implying the child is in there. A necromorph that looks like a baby explodes in a woman\'s arms, blasting blood on a window in one scene. Elementary-school aged enemies that shriek and use sharp claws. One hospital level includes a patient that awakes during surgery to only get mauled by an enemy soon after, a corpse is used for a puzzle to open up several doors, and so on. One character, upon failing a sequence, commits suicide with their own weapon. Blood is splashed around environments and shows up on Isaac too.

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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