Dead Space 2: Real space, real terror

Dead Space 2 continues the story of Isaac Clarke and his seemingly endless run-ins with the once-human Necromorphs that have taken over a space station on one of Saturn's moons, Titan. Does Dead Space 2 deliver the screams of its predecessor?

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Two years after the original Dead Space exploded onto the gaming scene, we're treated to a proper sequel. Critics and gamers alike praised the original for its unique atmosphere and resurrection of the flailing survivor-horror genre.

Dead Space 2 continues the story of Isaac Clarke and his seemingly endless run-ins with the once-human Necromorphs that have taken over a space station on one of Saturn's moons, Titan. Does Dead Space 2 deliver the screams of its predecessor?

Jeff:
Like any hardened survivor-horror fan, the original Dead Space convinced me that the genre still had legs. I found the atmosphere in the game truly terrifying for its ability to believably insert the player in the scariest environment imaginable: outer space.

Dead Space 2's atmosphere is familiar, but instead of a vast planet-cracking spaceship, Isaac Clarke must battle demons--both real and internal--while trekking through the space station Titan. I got to sit down with Dead Space 2's executive producer Steve Papoutsis for some more insight on the sequel.

When asked about keeping Dead Space 2 true to its survival-horror roots, Papoutsis delivered a memorable slogan the team at Visceral Games used as inspiration: "Real space, real terror." And though we think Dead Space 2 takes things to a more fast-paced level, the ominous feeling of impending doom and jump-out-of-your-seat moments are sure to win over those loyal fans of the original.

Papoutsis went on to explain how important it was for Dead Space 2 to remain somewhat grounded in reality, exploiting its uncanny ability to appear believable. We can't disagree, as Dead Space 2 seems to be in a unique category of games that can convince the player of some sense of realism. Our hero Isaac Clarke also is much more fleshed out and humanized in Dead Space 2 as well, something that was lacking in the first game.

As for the actual experience, players of the first title will immediately notice a drastic bump in performance and graphics. The game does a great job at seamlessly transitioning from a playable cut scene to traditional third-person action.

We really enjoyed facing the various new species of Necromorphs, especially an ode to "Jurassic Park" a few hours in as told through the corresponding achievement/trophy. Also making a major difference is the ability to free-roam in zero gravity as opposed to the constricting A to B movement in the original title.

EA

All of the upgrading mechanics return in Dead Space 2, which now gives players the ability to choose between suits, rather than just progressively upgrading them. The game certainly flirts with elements found in an RPG, even more so this time around.

It's safe to say 2011 has found its first blockbuster, and we wouldn't be surprised to see us talking about Dead Space 2 again come December.

For more on Dead Space 2, make sure to check out our live demo on last week's episode of preGame .

Scott:
Dead Space 2, like many of the best games of this generation, is a sequel. It's also an over-the-shoulder shooter that's atmospheric, deeply story-driven, and meticulously paced. What it isn't, of course, is original.

Picking up Dead Space 2, even if you haven't played the first Dead Space, you'll instantly understand the controls, and even the level structure. Take some Resident Evil and some of James Cameron's Aliens, add a dash of John Carpenter, and you've got Dead Space. The game that Dead Space 2 most resembles, however, is BioShock. The lonely abandoned halls, the occasional audio files that reveal backstory, the acquiring of additional powers such as telekinesis, even the peppering of upgrade shops amid the detritus of a haunted space city, a collapsed utopia.

Making the action faster, the challenges bigger and brasher, removes Dead Space's most unique quality: its claustrophobic, haunted-house-in-space design. Though this sequel's a little easier to control, it's becoming unnerving to see so many games become similar to each other. Technically, there's not a lot of difference between Dead Space 2 and last year's Alan Wake, either. Years ago, genre games were significantly different from each other. A role-playing game, a survival horror game, and an action shooter had different mechanics. I'm getting the sense that games are bleeding evermore into a similar mold across all genres. The only difference, really, becomes storytelling style. That doesn't mean I don't want to keep playing Dead Space 2--I just have a sinking feeling that I know where it's all going.

EA

Dan:
Mixing genres can be as dangerous as crossing the streams on your Ghostbusters proton pack, if some of the action/horror/sci-fi mashups we've played over the years are any indication. Dead Space and its new sequel are far better than most, with tons of visual flare and occasional moments of genuine creepiness, but also a feeling a missed opportunity.

To backtrack for a moment, one of the oldest genres of the cinema era is the haunted house story, and Dead Space is essentially that. Its closest intellectual cousin may be "Alien" (essentially a haunted house tale set on a spaceship), filtered through a heavy dose of "Rambo"-style action. In terms of story structure, the Dead Space games take the lone protagonist and isolated surroundings of the haunted house meme and layer on the endless gun battles of an action picture (or game).

The original Dead Space was, despite this disconnect between the slow, haunting atmosphere and trigger-happy action, an excellent overall experience, and one of the few games of 2008 that we literally couldn't put down. Dead Space 2 has a similar, if not better, level of polish and design savvy, and is a great example of how much pure gameplay quality you can squeeze out of the current generation of half-decade-old consoles.

At the same time, moving from a derelict spaceship to a sprawling space station loses some of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the original, and if anything, there seem to be more and more monsters lurking around every corner, pushing the game even further out of the horror category and into pure action. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but we've got plenty of action games out there.

EA

None of this should be construed, however, to take away from the fact that Dead Space 2 is an expertly made entertainment product, and still surprisingly creepy, especially if played late at night with the lights off, making it the first must-play game of 2011.

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

Dan Ackerman

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal. See full bio

Jeff Bakalar

Jeff has been at CNET for more than five years covering games, tech, and pop culture. When he's not playing ice hockey or pinball, you can catch him live every day as the host of CNET's infamous daily show, The 404 Show and every Friday in CNET's first-ever tech comic, Low Latency. See full bio

 

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