Gabe Weller is not Isaac Clark, or is he?
While both the studio that was formerly known as EA Redwood Shores, and its publisher Electronic Arts would rather have us believe differently, a quick reality check confirms that the original Dead Space lacked a truly engaging and deep story construct, and Dead Space 2 did little to change my opinion on the subject of this, in other aspects, great franchise.
Despite everything above being true, there was one thing that made playing Visceral's latest project especially frustrating. Almost meticulously hidden throughout the adventure, there were hints of narrative genius that flashed across the screen in my approximately 10-hour run through the game, flashes of genius powerful enough to keep me engaged until the very end, letting me dwell in foolish hope to eventually be rewarded with some form of a clever story twist or simply satisfying narrative conclusion.
It was Visceral's chance to create a genre, and perhaps medium defining experience, one that could have told an incredibly emotional and subtle story of two lovers having to let go of one another in the wake of an impending apocalypse. Dead Space 2's potential, if had been used properly, would have turned it into a piece of modern pop-art that goes beyond the simple formula so many videogames and movies make use of these days. Visceral would have effectively created a new sub-genre to survival horror.
In an attempt to not lose myself in too much detail, as this review is on the brink of turning into a post-mortem analysis of Dead Space 2, let me just conclude by saying Visceral failed dramatically to capture the emotional impact they so apparently set out for, and as someone who had fallen in love with the first game, I couldn't be more disappointed.
Dead Space 2's first piece of downloadable single-player content aims to correct this mistake, as it lets us spend another two hours on Titan Station (lovingly called Sprawl by its inhabitants, both human, and eh,... alien mutant zombie thing), this time in the space boots of Gabe Weller, a Sprawl Security officer who in the midst of the Necromorph outbreak is desperately trying to get to his pregnant wife Lexine at the other end of the station.
Weller's story takes place parallel to Isaac Clark's in Dead Space 2, and while unfortunately we never get to interact with, nor see Isaac, the dismembered Necromorph bodies scattered throughout the two additional chapters continuously remind us of his prior presence.
Like Isaac's story, Gabe's is heavily focused on the attachment to a significant other, which for the most part works well to keep things interesting. Unlike Isaac's story, however, Gabe's is brought to an arguably more satisfying conclusion. However, it's also less complicated, and in the end similarly fails to achieve its full potential.
In the gameplay department, absolutely nothing has changed. You fight the same enemies with the same guns, in a bunch of the same locations you've already seen through Isaac's eyes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those of you who can't get enough of Dead Space 2, yet it also means there won't be any surprises waiting for you along the way.