Now that Dead Space 2's first DLC pack is out, critics' adulation for the franchise has cooled a bit. According to Metacritic, game journalists gave Severed a 56/100, compared with the 90 they gave the full-length game. Oh, and that 90? It includes seven perfect scores, as well as a 94 from your very own Cheat Code Central.
Partly, the difference in the scores happened because the DLC isn't as good as the game. But another reason is that Dead Space 2 was overrated to begin with.
To be sure, Dead Space 2 has a lot going for it. The graphics are great, the storytelling is far better than we've come to expect from video games, and the limb-shearing idea hasn't become any less fascinating since the original game. But this isn't a 90/100 game, not even close. It's certainly not a game that deserves a perfect score. This is a 70/100, 75 at most.
For starters, virtually nothing has changed about the single-player gameplay. Most of the weapons and enemies are the same, the process of upgrading your machinery is no different, and the environments give one a sense of deja vu. Some of the reusing is downright lazy, including taking us back to the Ishimura for part of the game and having the same protagonist improbably lead a second large-scale alien massacre. If I were shown a random minute of gameplay footage, I'm not sure I could tell which game it came from. Seriously: The developers added a new hacking mini-game and hired a voice actor for Isaac, and we're supposed to pretend they revolutionized the survival-horror genre?
Second, the first half of the campaign is insanely frustrating, unless you turn down the difficulty to Casual (which I, like any self-respecting gamer, refused to do). Ammo, health, and currency are in short supply, leaving you constantly underpowered as you face enemies that can kill you in a few hits. It's not uncommon to find yourself with a few rounds of ammo and a bar or two of health, trying to take out large beasts with melee attacks and dying over and over. Making all of this worse are the high-pitched alien shrieks that serve as the game's "sound effects." I guess they're supposed to sound fearsome, but instead they're just grating, especially when your blood pressure is already on the rise.
And it's not just the raw difficulty. I can deal with difficulty; Splosion Man is easily one of my favorite games from the last few years. What makes me want to scream profanity at my TV -- a temptation I sometimes fail to resist, to my wife's dismay -- is that every death seems custom-built to waste your time. The kill scenes take far too long, and they're usually carried out to the worst of the game's screeching noises (though fortunately you can pause and restart from a checkpoint instead of watching Isaac meet an untimely end for the 10,000th time). And far too often, when you restart from a checkpoint, you won't begin at the first enemy of the sequence. Instead, you'll have to ride an elevator for twenty seconds, or walk through a few rooms, or open the same item boxes you already opened, before getting back to the action.
What were they thinking? What does anyone gain from this, unless you see it as a "time out" for getting killed? I, for one, do not like the results when an M-rated videogame starts acting like I'm a child, and it's the parent. (Maybe this usurpation of disciplinary authority is why your mom hates Dead Space 2. Or maybe she hates it because she played it and knows it's overrated.)
In short, until you upgrade your weapons and save up some money, single-player Dead Space 2 is a total slog. What about the multiplayer? Well, I haven't gotten to try the multiplayer, because I'm on the receiving end of EA's giant middle finger toward renters and used-game buyers. The first time I played, Dead Space 2 gave me two days of access to the online modes before I had to pay. Since I spent those two days in the single-player campaign, I'm locked out of some of the modes in the game I paid to rent (and which Gamefly, in turn, paid EA for) unless I fork over additional cash. EA has every right to set up the system this way, but I have the right not to pay for it. And so I won't.
Don't get me wrong. Dead Space 2 is a solid game. If you enjoyed the first one, you'll like this one, too. But see it for what it is: a standard sequel that offers a few minor improvements to the franchise formula, has more than its share of flaws, makes you pay to play its multiplayer modes, and won't be much remembered a decade from now. Resident Evil 4, it is not.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*