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'Dead Space 2' is scary, limb-slicing fun

The necromorphs are back, and even scarier, in "Dead Space 2," a follow-up to the 2008 survival horror hit.
The necromorphs are back, and even scarier, in "Dead Space 2," a follow-up to the 2008 survival horror hit.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Dead Space 2" is even creepier than the original as mutant necromorphs return
  • Space horror game offers multiplayer action, lets players be mutants
  • "Dead Space 2" is rated M for mature audiences; it's available on Xbox 360, PS 3 and PCs
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(CNN) -- I'm nervous. As I peer into a slightly darkened room with its hidden corners and unknown sounds, I'm sure big baddies are lurking.

But I smile a bit because that means more decapitations and limb slicing as well as more fun to be had in "Dead Space 2."

A follow-up to the 2008 survival horror hit, "Dead Space 2" (Visceral Games, Electronic Arts) continues the gruesome adventures of engineer Isaac Clark and his battle against necromorphs -- humans who have mutated into undead, alien monsters.

This time, the monsters are tougher, smarter and more diverse. Isaac is placed on the moon Titan at an installation called The Sprawl, which houses a terrifying secret.

The story picks up three years after the conclusion of "Dead Space." If you didn't play the first version, Visceral Games provides a movie that recounts the original adventure for proper background.

Isaac has been rescued and taken to a military medical facility, where he undergoes experiments as others try to find out the secret of the Marker, the alien artifact responsible for the necromorph virus.

As he breaks free, with some help, the adventure into mayhem and psychological terror begins.

The necromorphs are strikingly realistic and grotesque. They can only be killed when their limbs are cut away from their bodies. They also pop out from every direction of every nook and cranny.

There are new necromorphs that will swarm Isaac, trying to outthink and outflank him, and some that will attempt to overpower him.

The detail with which the creatures were designed is realistic enough that you can still see portions of them that used to be human and figure out in your mind what their twisted parts and limbs have become.

The tension sticks with players throughout and forces them to think about strategy, weapon strength and tactics.

Steve Papoutsis, executive producer of the "Dead Space" franchise, said designers wanted to ratchet up the thrills but also wanted to pace the story so players didn't get fatigued from being on the edge all the time.

"(The pacing in 'Dead Space 2') is much more of a roller coaster," he said. "People thought the first game was great in its relentless tension throughout, but we did hear from some people that it was overwhelming at times.

"So we decided we wanted you to go from the white-knuckle terror moments to these 'Oh, my god. I can't believe I'm making this Halo-type jump moments.' "

Isaac faces internal struggles and external battles as different factions seek control of the Marker.

Papoutsis said the team tried to weave these two elements into the game's story to give players a greater sense of immersion. He also said both would be key as the action winds down to an exciting conclusion.

The horror in the game is not just visceral.

Designers also ramped up the mind games by bringing back Isaac's deceased girlfriend from the first game -- as well as hallucinations that look like they are attacking you.

"Terror is the act leading up to the horrific moment," Papoutsis said. "There is something neat when you are expecting it and it doesn't happen. Then it is like, 'Uh oh, something really bad is going to happen.' "

Isaac is armed with some familiar weapons to help him dismember his foes. The plasma cutter and the line gun return from the first game but are retrieved in interesting, and, sometimes, bloody ways.

There are a few new, effective weapons such as a detonator that leave laser mines as traps for sneaky necromorphs.

Weapons and abilities can be upgraded by using nodes found scattered throughout The Sprawl. (Word of advice: Always keep one node in your pocket. They are also used to open supply room doors that contain lots of ammo and items that restore health.)

Objects can be picked up and flung with devastating results, while stasis powers hold opponents in place temporarily so Isaac can gain an advantage (or beat a hasty retreat).

Both powers slowly regenerate as the game moves forward, a change from "Dead Space" but a welcome and needed difference in combat.

Players stay more immersed in the game's world thanks to the absence of disruptive loading screens. In the previous adventure, trips on the tram or in an elevator usually meant loading time. In "Dead Space 2," those areas are just as active as the rest of the complex.

The game is split onto two discs on the Xbox 360 version, so there will be a brief load after switching to the second one.

Of course, the game will reload to a save point if you should die. However, the action and flow of the story never takes a break for any other loads.

The storyline is well-written and has good pacing. Events keep the plot moving along, and the story introduces new characters seamlessly.

" 'Dead Space 2' isn't intended to be a feel-good story," Papoutsis said. "It is supposed to be a very scary and kind of a believable future."

While the single-player action is enjoyable, Papoutsis said the No. 1 request from players of the first adventure was multiplayer action.

The multiplayer portion pits humans against necromorphs but gives players the chance to play as one of the undead mutants. The action is still tense and scary and remains true to the overall "Dead Space" feel.

On the human side, you are playing as The Sprawl's security force. On the necromorph side, players can choose from one of four playable necromorphs.

Teams have four players who need to work together to succeed across five maps.

"We wanted to give people the opportunity to create their own stories in the 'Dead Space' world," Papoutsis said. "That's what's really interesting about multiplayer gaming and how it is becoming social behavior for us." "

"Dead Space 2" delivers a truly epic horror experience that raises the levels of psychological thrills in deep space to new levels. Whether facing off against necromorphs or dealing with the inner demons of Isaac's mind, the adventure will keep players on edge and startle them out of their seats.

This review was based on game play for the Xbox 360 version. "Dead Space 2" is rated M for mature audiences 17 years of age and older. It is available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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