Video Game Review: Dead Space

Timothy Black

Staff Writer

The original Dead Space came in under a lot of gamers’ radars upon its release in 2008. It was by no means the focal point of its gaming season and, often when brought up in conversation, required a certain degree of explanation.

The franchise follows the tale of engineer and salvage worker Isaac Clarke who, in the space-faring 26th Century, works with a team of comrades to harvest and repair broken space vessels. However, upon a routine reconnaissance and rescue mission, Clarke and his squad encounter the horror of the “Necromorphs”, grotesque mutants who frequently pioneer newer and more terrifying ways of dismembering unsuspecting crew members.

Clarke ultimately survives the harrowing adventure, only to find himself reliving the horror of the previous years with the release of Dead Space 2.

The plot of Dead Space 2 is essentially the same as the previous at first glance, with players taking control of Isaac Clarke to battle the Necromorph hordes; this time the monsters somehow re-emerge on the space colony in which Clarke has been recovering from his previous misadventure. Coincidence? I think not.

The game quickly sets itself apart from the original’s plotline in including a secondary, psychological story. Clarke survived his first encounter with the alien menace, but the struggle left his mind scarred and his sanity imperiled.

The much anticipated, Dead Space 2. Photo credit: http://www.ripten.com/2009/12/07/dead-space-2-officially-announced-by-ea/.

Isaac Clarke must battle the physical danger of the Necromorphs while at the same time intermittently facing off against the nightmares plaguing his own psyche. Over the course of the game, I found the psychological plotline to be more interesting than the rather homogenous “shoot ‘em up” sequences surrounding the various strains of mutants.

Gameplay in Dead Space 2 is fast-paced and exciting, playing out like a third-person horror film than a more Mass Effect-like shooter. Level design is linear, forcing players to traverse narrow corridors to create a feeling of claustrophobic vulnerability.

The game corrected the problems of its predecessor, removing the irritating backtracking and frustration of the occasionally inaccurate gunplay. One of the few problems I could find with gameplay was the general lack of variety to be found in enemies. One would think an opposing army of mutants would be a bit more diverse than the same 5 models of monsters all using the same tactic: rush at the player screaming. I found that this made some aspects of combat dull, simply plugging away at incoming monsters rather than having to track them down in the shadows or fight more intelligent targets that can take cover and return fire.

To a certain extent, I felt that the linearity of the level design diminished the more “survival horror” aspects of the game, relying less on maneuvering, conserving and, well, surviving than on senselessly blasting down zombies as they blunder out of the shadows. The characteristic sense of helplessness of “one less bullet than you need”, involved in survival horror is generally absent. This is an increasingly prominent aspect of the survival horror genre, seen also in the recent Resident Evil games and Left 4 Dead series, simply makes the character feel too capable.

The thrill of entering a dark room of a sprawling complex with only a pistol and a flashlight is noticeably diminished when that flashlight is a set of glowing armor and the pistol is a reloadable, futuristic semi-automatic.

All in all, Dead Space 2 is an excellent game, if one that suffers from a rising trend of more “player-friendly” survival horror. The psychological elements of the game’s story far surpass the more “real” parts of the plot, involving the typical onslaught of mutant villains.

It is overall a refreshing take on an older idea, building upon the legacy of the previous installment of the series while at the same time attracting more players that would otherwise be unfamiliar with the genre. The graphics and sound quality are both excellent, and the linear level design is compensated for by the lack of backtracking and awkward pauses in gameplay.

I will be playing this game for weeks to come, all the while uncovering more fully the horror of the Necromorphs and delving into the shattered mind of Isaac Clarke.