Maaaaaake uuuus whoooooole!

I was worried about Dead Space 2. When I heard Isaac had a voice now, I cringed. In the first game, Isaac was silent. Changing this most basic part of a game for the sequel is always a bad sign.

I’m thinking of Mechwarrior 3. In that game, the main character is silent, referred to only as “Lance Leader.” In the expansion pack, Mechwarrior 3: Pirate’s Moon, the Lance Leader has a voice and a name. It sucked, and it ruined the game. Naturally I was worried about that in this game.

But Isaac has a good voice. Even a sense of humor. It’s different, and it opens up better storytelling possibilities. Ok, I’m sold on that.

Start with the cons. (Because every gamer is an expert on how to make a good video game.) It begins way too easy. The first 6 chapters fly by and I barely noticed. Little stands in your way from getting from one side of the level to the other, and each level is so simple it goes by in no time.

The twist at the game’s midpoint has no weight because there’s no buildup to it. I didn’t have to work through the first half, and that’s something Dead Space 1 made sure you did. Everything leading up to and including the Leviathan made you EARN the game’s midpoint. DS2? It’s all but handed to you.

Then, in chapter 6, it’s like someone else took over the design. The levels are more complex (though the goals are still linear and basic). The enemies are more numerous and they’re a genuine threat. The boss battles are dramatic. The game finally dwells on the situation long enough to give it some weight, and finally I started to feel dread.

That’s one thing that’s missing from most of this game. Dread. In the first game, I was terrified of my own shadow because the enemies really were a threat. It’s not like a normal FPS, where you just point your gun in the general direction of the enemy, shoot, and the enemy dies.

In Dead Space, you had to aim for certain parts of each enemy to make a kill. Parts that are moving. Sometimes very fast. This means no matter how good you were, there was no wiping out a roomful of enemies with a shotgun. Every shot counted, and this made the enemies a real threat, especially in groups because you had to make multiple, precise shots on each enemy to take them out.

Dead Space 2 softens that. Now I only played it on normal mode, but still, even in the first game, normal mode was unforgiving in where you could hit the enemies to do damage. The sequel is more lenient in that sense, even introducing a couple enemy types who can be killed by body and head shots. It’s like someone told the developers to dumb down the gameplay, when that was what made the first game so terrifying.

Then again, the sequel couldn’t bank on that. Those of us who played the first game are used to the precision shots, so it’s never going to be as terrifying as it once was.

The first time I felt real dread was when I had to go aboard the Ishimura again. That place scared me because I remember all the shit that happened the first time I was on it, and I expected some shit to go down again. That was scary.

It didn’t last too long, because there are so many credits, ammo and power nodes lying around I didn’t fear for supplies. That was a major factor of the dread in game 1: ammo is scarce, credits are rare, and power nodes are so few and far between they’re worth twice their weight in diamonds, even in normal mode! You had to be careful with your shots because you weren't resupplied very often, and there wasn’t enough credits to buy lots of ammo because you needed that money to buy upgrades! Then you had to choose upgrades wisely because there were no nodes to waste on experiments!

But everything is plentiful in DS2. There are nodes to waste, plenty of money to spend, plenty of extras to sell back. You’re in no danger of running out, which takes away from the fear. I’m sure things are rare in the more difficult modes, but for normal, it shouldn’t be that easy.

Levels are simpler than in the first game. On the Ishimura, in DS1, you ran all around that ship repairing that and fixing this because your life depended on it. There isn’t as much to do this time. Not as many detours, or complications, or multi-part goals to complete before you can advance. Just follow the path and reach the end. It’s too simple, and doesn’t build up a sense of urgency or danger.

Curiously, there are a lot of locked doors on the Sprawl. This is disappointing, because in the first game if you came across a locked door, odds were it would be open either later in the level, or later in the game. Not here. There are a LOT of places you can’t go.

Games like Bioshock give you plenty of side areas to explore. Dead Space 2 seldom does this. It was forgivable on the Ishimura because of the location, but here, the maps are begging to be opened up a little more. I would have liked to see more of the Sprawl instead of just the goal path.

Isaac has more freedom of movement now, and I like that. The melee attacks actually do something, and it doesn’t take you several seconds to recover from your wild swings and stomps. But at the same time it almost makes the game feel cartoony.

I feel like a hypocrite for saying it, because I griped that the rigid controls of Dead Space 1 made me feel more like I was piloting a Battlemech than a human being, and now that I have looser controls, I’m still griping. But it really is a good thing to have some freedom of movement. Opens up more combat possibilities.

But there is plenty of good here. One thing I absolutely adore about DS2 is it explains more about Unitology and its founder, Michael Altman. This was a bit of a mystery in the first game, but now it’s clear who these people are and why they’re trying to help this invasion along. It’s fascinating, and the developers can do so much more with it.

Another great part of the game is the new zero-G system. No more point-to-point jumping around; now you have full 360-degree movement in zero-gravity areas. I enjoyed this new freedom, and it added a lot of good to the game.

The best part is the final boss! I love the final boss! The first game’s final fight was a letdown, but this fight is really cool! I didn’t like the new girl they got to play Nicole until she screamed “Maaaaaake uuuus whoooooole!!” (The line is just as memorable as “Your rig is red. It’s red.”) Yes! This is what we’ve been waiting for! THAT’S the Dead Space experience! If only the whole game could’ve been like that from the start!

My guess is the same thing happened to DS2 that happened to Bioshock 2. The developers (likely under pressure from the publisher) focused on making the game multiplayer, so the single-player campaign got rushed. Bioshock 2 is a great game, but it felt about 3 levels too short. For the same reason, Dead Space 2 is unevenly paced. The first half is weak and rushed, but the second half makes up for it. It’s a worthy follow up to the original.

[[Monday, March 7, 2011] Just finished the game in Zealot (hard mode). It's much more channeling, but the same uneven first half still makes the game feel lopsided. There still isn't as much dread as there was in the first game. It's a good followup, but I don't think anything will be as good as the original.]


  1. I enjoyed the earlier Mechwarrior games. I tried Dead Space, but I couldn't hack it. Sounds like the sequel might be more appropriate for a traditionally 8-bit gamer like myself.


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