'Dead Space 2' - A well-designed and well-crafted work of art that provides a genuinely enjoyable gaming experience

"Dead Space 2" is a well-designed and well-crafted work of art that provides a genuinely enjoyable gaming experience

Three years after the first game, "Dead Space 2" reacquaints you with engineer Isaac Clarke -- who has apparently lost his mind.

Waking up from a drug induced slumber, he finds himself being rescued from his cell in the asylum by a character whose name I never cared to learn as he dies faster than an action movie cop who's one week from retirement. Players then control Isaac's straitjacketed body and flee the asylum as its residents turn into horrible monsters and take chase.

In "Dead Space," Isaac was essentially his companions' slave as they'd send him off to do every little errand while they sat in a cozy control room somewhere. (I never understood why the other members of the repair team weren't wearing repair suits and wielding laser cutters, as well.)

Instead, in "Dead Space 2," Isaac wants to get off this sinkhole of a space colony before its 1 million-plus population all turn into monsters and start forcibly inserting things into his body.

Fans of the first game will either be annoyed or thrilled to find that "Dead Space 2" has changed quite a lot of gameplay mechanics while sticking to the core gameplay that initially attracted fans. For starters, the useless map was thrown away and the controls were redone. Reloading and picking up items have their own buttons now, as do Healing and Isaac's Stasis and Kinesis powers. It's a little tweak, but it means that players no longer have to frantically fiddle with the controls while trying to both pick up and use a healing item and fight off a horde of monsters. There are a few new weapons to play with, but you most likely will never use them as the game can easily be beaten using only the Plasma Cutter (the default weapon) and the Ripper (the Dead Space version of a chainsaw).

The Zero-G areas of the game make a comeback, but rather than jumping from wall to wall, the game actually tries to mimic the effects of a low-gravity environment by letting Isaac zip around through space using jets built into his suit. The levels are darker, the flashlight is brighter, and most of the annoying mini-games (like the asteroid shooting game from "Dead Space") are gone.

While "Dead Space 2" is golden when compared to its predecessor, it's still the same game in many fundamental and unpleasant ways. "Dead Space" wanted to be a spooky horror title like "System Shock 2" and it failed miserably. "Dead Space 2" though, has come to terms with the fact that it will never be a suspenseful or scary game and has opted instead to go with the action horror/gorefest genre. This isn't "Silent Hill" in space; it's a mix of "Hellraiser" and "Aliens." Monsters will still jump out at you, but at least this time they won't do it from the other side of the room and give you two minutes to get ready for the attack.

The downside though is that much of the core gameplay mechanics that made up the original make their return in the sequel. "Dead Space 2" sticks with the "Resident Evil" system of forcing tension by artificially restricting weapon usage. Players are limited in their options by a restrictive inventory and ridiculously small item stack sizes for ammunition.

In terms of plot, "Dead Space 2" makes no sense whatsoever. There's a new Marker that's apparently causing problems, but then they never actually explain why or how the the monsters actually got aboard the space station. I still have no idea what "Convergence" is. After beating the game, I actually had to go online to the "Dead Space" wiki in order to understand what was going on, and even then the answers weren't clear. Is the Marker good or evil? What does it want? Where are these monsters coming from? And why does the government want the artifact?

The story confused me so much that I actually went out and bought a copy of "Dead Space" again (which was the only game I've sold back to the store in the past three years) just so that I might understand what's going on. In other words, "Dead Space 2" is compelling and interesting enough to make me play its lame predecessor.

So is "Dead Space 2" worth your time and money? Oh, yes. It's not an amazing game that redefines the survival horror genre, but it's a well-designed and well-crafted work of art that provides a genuinely enjoyable gaming experience. And rather than ending after a single playthrough, you have the option to play the game again with New Game Plus (start again with all of the items from the last playthrough).

There's also a new multiplayer mode in which players race to complete objectives as either Sprawl Security Officers or Necromorphs. If you're interested in playing a good, mature game and you're a fan of "Resident Evil"-style survival horror, then "Dead Space 2" might be perfect for you. If you're not sure, I'd recommend renting it first though.

Otherwise, I recommend you buy it.

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