|System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
|Dev: Visceral Games|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: January 26, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
Finally, scenes in total darkness, something the original was somewhat oddly lacking in, are far more prevalent this time around, and the comparative whimper of light Isaac's flashlight casts in pitch blackness, if not a direct nod to Doom 3, has the same effect on your psyche. Without getting into spoiler territory, about a quarter into the game you're introduced to a new breed of necromorph that sound and behave like velociraptors, running back and forth behind cover to avoid your shots, tracking Isaac's position, and charging with a bloodcurdling scream only when you're not facing them or are otherwise vulnerable. These encounters, as many scenarios throughout the game, will likely leave a terror pit in your stomach and make your chest hurt, at least when played in the dark, for sometime afterward.
The more varied scenarios and better atmosphere are of course endemic to EA's typical multi-million dollar production values, and as a result Dead Space 2 unsurprisingly looks a great deal better than its already good-looking older brother. The graphic details of the necromorphs (the game opens with a close-up of a transforming victim, a process which literally leaves the tissue of the man's face visibly exposed beyond the ragged, limp skin that's left hanging around it) are especially horrifying, with even the most basic enemies presented as a disgusting mess of ripped and rotting flesh, exposed bone, and other unnatural mutations. The violence is important to maintain combat intensity, but even just the aesthetic improvements to the necromorphs' appearances go a long way in creating a nerve-racking feel.
It's safe to say that Dead Space 2 is the somewhat rare case where the sequel is better in just about every way than the original. Not everything it does works perfectly—it's kind of a shame that (minor spoiler alert) Isaac's dementia (rather than being a potentially more interesting case of full-blown PTSD) doesn't really reach the point of truly becoming its own mechanic used to, say, screw with your psyche, and traveling through vents, an opportunity Half-Life players know is ripe for exploitative scares, never really goes anywhere. But other additions of agency you may be worried about, like Isaac's improved total-freedom Zero-G navigation, don't detract from the game's solid horror feel, and thankfully Visceral doesn't get too bogged down in its own narrative mythology, either. Though you can theoretically buy as much ammo and health packs as you can afford at store kiosks, I would advice against doing so: just as this game is meant to be played in the dead of night, you should also treat it as the true horror game Visceral worked so hard to create. (The game seems to give you even less supplies from combat that the original, though, and I was frequently struggling to survive in the last third of the game.)
Survival horror may be a dead genre, or a dying one, and other than improving its personal formula (which it does very well), Dead Space 2 doesn't offer that much in the way of innovation. Chances are likely that once you start playing it though, you'll be scared enough that you won't care—or even be aware of a difference.
CCC Freelance Writer