When “Dead Space 2” was released, something miraculous happened -— video games actually became scary again.
Ever since “next generation” consoles began spewing out generic survival and action horror titles, each masked with equal layers of testosterone and uneven pacing, finding a game that could actually make you squirm with fear became almost
“Resident Evil” turned into “Gears of War.” “Silent Hill” devolved into that bad episode of “General Hospital” where Robert fell into a coma. And don’t even get me started on that game of repetitive flashlight tag that was “Alan Wake.” I still have nightmares from the boredom.
With its predecessor “Dead Space” lacking in variety and requiring the main character Isaac Clarke to constantly backtrack his way into the same scripted scares, Electronic Arts and Visceral’s newest installment does the opposite. “Dead Space 2” keeps you moving through a psychosis-inducing horror house, filled to the brim with some of the scariest monsters only a team of incredibly sick human beings could invent.
Beginning three years after the final events of the first game, Isaac awakens in the Sprawl, a civilian bubble built into one of Saturn’s moons. Instead of finding himself trapped on an abandoned “planet cracker” like the USG Ishimura from the initial installment, Isaac must navigate a massive station that was once home to happy families, supermalls and daycares. That’s right, there are evil babies.
In the first few seconds, we learn that Isaac hasn’t escaped from what he thought was once destroyed. His nightmare has followed him and he must now fight for his own sanity while trying to destroy the illusion of his dead girlfriend that haunts his mind. Is she really talking to him, or is it a figment of his imagination? Or perhaps, is it an alien marker trying to trick him so he can’t foil its evil plot a second time?
In this round, Isaac isn’t only equipped with a full arsenal of goodies. He has a voice and it’s an incredibly interesting one. The player can now not only become Isaac, but care about him as well. He’s smart, clever and has balls of steel. But best of all, his gadgets get the job done as long as you’ve got the ammo to use them.
What really makes “Dead Space 2” so frightening is its incredible design. There is absolutely no way to tell when and where the next baddy is going to jump out at you. The level structure is so intricate and detailed, not a single moment can be predicted. But best of all, it’s not the enemy that’s in front of you that you should be worried about. It’s the one you can’t hear that’s slowly sneaking up behind you that always manages to require you to pause the game and rush to your underwear drawer.
All of the best necromorphs – or reanimated corpses – are back and they’re even a few extra foes to look out for. The scariest of all are called “stalkers” and they do exactly what you think they do. When Isaac enters a big room, you can almost guarantee their Velociraptor-like growling to fill the air. They hide behind boxes and other large structures just waiting for you, watching you like easy prey. You can only see them if you look carefully enough to notice their heads peeking over, begging you to make the next move. If you don’t time your movements perfectly, these Jurassic Park-inspired creatures will dash at you faster than you can say “Steven Spielberg.” And not surprising in the least, when you survive your first encounter with them, you unlock the achievement “Clever Girls.”
Another nice addition to the franchise is the improvement of zero gravity gameplay. Isaac can now move through the vacuum of space with more freedom than ever before. But, like many things in “Dead Space 2,” space can also provide a very painful death. Windows located throughout environments are incredibly fragile and when shooting at necromorphs, it’s wise to carefully aim your shots. One misplaced bullet will send Isaac flying into the vast nothingness.
The audio in “Dead Space 2” is without a doubt its finest attribute and contains some of the greatest detail of any video game to date. Somehow, the masterminds behind the sound design have figured out a way to perfectly utilize mundane noise like a morning alarm clock or a drippy faucet to make the player sweat with pure, unadulterated fear.
“Dead Space 2” can only be experienced one way: with the volume turned way up and lights turned way down. Not even the bravest person would be able to leave that room emotionally intact, and that’s a guarantee. It’s a true test of character to see how long one can last without whimpering when navigating the sadistically designed hallways of the Sprawl. Visceral has now set the standard for how horror games should be made. Bring on “Dead Space 3.”