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It’s two years since Visceral Games and Electronic Arts unleashed Dead Space on an unsuspecting world – which, hopefully, is just about enough time for your shredded nerves to have recovered. Which is just as well, since the second instalment of the space-survival-horror game is significantly better than its predecessor in every way imaginable. Which means that, no matter who you are, it will scare the pants off you.
The action resumes three years after the events of the first game, with a more seasoned, embittered (and, apparently, mentally unstable) Isaac Clarke waking up in the Sprawl, a giant, dystopian city on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. He must, of course, overcome deranged behaviour and betrayal from his fellow humans, plus hordes of the most disgusting, rotting, blood-crazed necromorphs ever seen in a videogame.
This time around, Isaac is better equipped to do so: he moves quicker, and has better melee attacks and weapons (the Javelin Gun and the Ripper are particular highlights) than before. His Kinesis has been improved so that you can pick up necromorph limbs, for example, and fire them off in combat. And if you decide you’re not so keen on a weapon after all, you can re-spec at a workbench, reclaiming your Power Nodes which can then be used to upgrade the weapons you prefer.
The necromorphs are even more fearsome than in Dead Space, with new varieties which require very different strategies if you are going to dispatch them. The fairly self-explanatory Pukers, for example, need to be taken out with head-shots if you want to avoid being sprayed with acidic bile. The Pack – swarms of mutated children – must be kept at arms’ length, and are best dealt with by a weapon with a large blast radius. The terrifying noises made by the necromorphs as they attempt to rip you limb from limb contribute massively to Dead Space 2’s already terrifying atmosphere, adding to chilling lighting, music and sound effects, and small but effective devices such as vents which suddenly spew steam in your direction.
Thankfully, there are breaks from the relentlessness, provided by a decent amount of the clever puzzles for which Dead Space is famed. Many of which, naturally, feature negotiating deadly traps or aligning crucial objects in zero-gravity conditions, or dexterous manipulation of objects using Kinesis and Stasis. Dead Space 2’s storyline – which we won’t divulge as we don’t want to spoil it for you – hangs together and flows magnificently, with some real edge-of-the-seat cliff-hangers and set pieces marking the ends of individual chapters.
The Sprawl itself has a huge impact on gameplay: as it is set on an atmosphere-free moon, you can often shoot out windows triggering a catastrophic decompression; time it right, and you’ll be able to shoot a switch to close emergency shutters after any necromorphs present have been sucked outside.
And finally, Dead Space 2 features a four-on-four multiplayer mode, in which a team of humans seeks to achieve objectives, while teams of necromorphs attempt to eviscerate them with their distinctive attacks. The game’s multiplayer mode has been likened to Left4Dead, which should excite all gamers in the know.
If you like horror, you’ll love Dead Space 2 – and if you like third-person action-adventure games, you’ll love it, too. And if you’re a particular fan of survival-horror games, then Dead Space 2 will be the biggest treat you will be able to get your hands on this year.