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Dead Space 2 PS3

Polished sequel to cult sci-fi shooter deserves new disciples

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There's a hulking boss monster who turns up a few times too many, and who's ridiculously simple to defeat when you've twigged his weak point. Strangest of all is the corpse-stomping: you can stomp on dead enemies and they'll explode into goo and possibly extra items and ammo.

So, of course, you go corpse-stomping after every fight - occasionally, it can be cathartic (indeed, Isaac's soundbites suggest this is Visceral's intention), but it's a bit too silly to sit comfortably, and undercuts its most tense engagements. Dead Space is amazing at making gore scary and sinister, unlike every other action game - surrendering this for a few extra credits and plasma blasts seems a poor trade.

MINOR FLAWS
But these are minor bumps on an otherwise beautifully-executed survival horror: few games move you from challenge to challenge, from scare to fight, as smoothly as this while still keeping your antennae permanently twitching.

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It's pacing, of a sort, but it's also a tribute to the content: Dead Space 2 has very little dead time. There's no awful level, or crappy vehicle section, or misjudged difficulty spike. DS2 just doesn't let up. If Dead Space announced Visceral as a top-class studio, then Dead Space 2 cements that reputation with more of the same.

Next to a game like Resident Evil 5, it looks even better - in terms of polish, sleight of-camera tricks and even quality of ideas, it's in a different league. In-keeping to the original's template there was always the risk of over-familiarity, but a judicious jazzing-up of the armoury and environmental design that's often stunning (not to mention the new necros) gives DS2 its own flavour - less classy but a little crazier, a game that values tension but isn't too precious to occasionally throw the kitchen sink.

MULTIPLAYER SPACE
Dead Space 2's multi-player is asymmetric: a team of four humans battle against four necromorphs, with a sprinkling of AI necromorphs in each arena. There are five missions total, and each one has objectives the human team must accomplish to win - stand here, carry this here, destroy this, run here.

The necromorphs just have to kill the (suited and armed) humans and let the clock run out. It's a weird one. Our first games were chaos: players just ran at each other, the human team were all solo gunners, and every necro was spawning as the Gollum baby. The necromorphs won every game.

After the alien concept of teamwork was explained to our fledgling team, things changed. The humans moved as tight-knit group of four, a formation that covered all the angles instantly dropping any low-health necro who dared poke their face out.

When moving like this the necros have to use more disruptive tactics to break up the group - slowing down one human with the Puker, sniping from a distance, dropping from the ceiling - and pick their moment before moving in. So it works better when you play like you're meant to: no surprise there. But is it a contender? Sadly not.

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In our four hours or so of multiplayer, the five arenas quickly proved a meagre allowance: clearly there's DLC on the way, but for an upfront £50 five multi-player maps feels a little bit shabby.

A level set on the Ishimura (the iconic ship from the first game) has you trying to get the escape pods up-and-running again before sprinting for those very pods. We were branded a traitor for abandoning ship (even though it won our team the game) at the right moment, leaving our erstwhile companions to drown in necromorphs.

In the Marker Labs, meanwhile, the humans have to dash through while destroying Markers (Big Rocks) - time your leaps for their reloads. Other locations see you assembling bombs, standing still while holding X, and picking up an item so heavy it manages to slow your movement to a walk.

Level variety aside, the objectives are different, of course, but they don't feel different enough to keep things fresh - and each level only lasts between ten to fifteen minutes, meaning you'll see everything in one short session.

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