I've always considered Dead Space's association with survival-horror to be a funny one. When the act of shooting is inherently awesome, how does anything about Dead Space fit the bill of survival-horror? For the sense of nastiness and atmosphere the game managed to muster, it was a satisfying, cathartic shooter at heart. With Dead Space 2, I think Visceral Games really understood that it needed to be a game with a greater understanding of itself, which means it’s a game that’s much more action bent. It's got bigger and more set-piece moments and it's got a much more driven, action-packed story and that just seems like what Dead Space as a series was always meant to be – a really sweet shooter.
Despite Dead Space 2 relying on the events from Dead Space 1 for its story, there's a nice little video that lets you catch up on every relevant detail in less than five minutes. It's well-done, allowing you jump ahead to the better game of the series. Jumping three years ahead of the original, Dead Space 2 puts glutton-for-all-horrific-kinds-of-punishment Issac Clarke in a psych ward on a moon-colony called the Sprawl, where things go wrong immediately. Another necromorph outbreak has occurred and Issac, knowing all too well of the dangers of sharp claws combined with blood thirsty mobs of pure evil, decides to put a stop to that nonsense.
It's that drive from Issac that really gives Dead Space 2 a different tone. It's less of desperation and desolation, and instead more about taking care of business. Since Issac has a voice, it gives the character a proactive characteristic and it does a lot to drive the game's plot. He's frustrated when appropriate and the miniscule bits of humor work well to humanize him. As a character, Issac goes through a dramatic arc that really does go a long way to keep him and the narrative interesting and it makes it all worth paying attention to.
It's bigger in scope too, introducing a lot more live and sane human characters. The conflict is bigger with different agendas from a few groups and some of that escalates into some tremendously awesome set-pieces that really do take the breath away. Diving into a underground vent, running away from a necromorph monstrosity and then being sucked into space and finally being blasted back into a hundred-story apartment complex in a span of three-minutes is the kind of stuff that you have to just see to believe.
"…this is Dead Space with a shot of pure adrenaline to the heart."
So, Dead Space 2 is definitely bigger and better, but just mechanically, it's still very much the same. Cutting limbs is still the order of the day and most fights boil down to shooting everything but the head. It's still immensely satisfying and nothing's really been done to make that core game all that different. The ability to puncture necromorphs with their own blades is a nice addition, but outside of a handful of new weapons, this is Dead Space with a shot of pure adrenaline to the heart.
It's exactly what the series always needed – Dead Space 2's incredibly linear with point A to B objectives, instead of taking you through the larger BioShock-esque levels that the original did. It just makes for a tighter, focused game. Dead Space 2 still definitely carries over some of the pacing and predictability issues that its predecessor had; expect things to go horribly wrong when things are looking up, expect monster closets to the point that it seems like parody and expect the middle of the game to lose the momentum that the first-third of the game had, but on the whole, it's a whole lot of fun.
Its multi-player, on the other hand, bears mentioning simply because it has one. A team of four engineers and four necromorphs go head-to-head. Engineers attempt to complete an objective, while the necromorph team goes to stop them. There's little nuance to it and there's little interplay between the available necromorphs, unlike, let's say, a game like Left 4 Dead. It's really just trying gang up on the engineers before they bunch up into an unstoppable cluster of plasma cutters. It's a pretty throw-away addition to the game and it's one of those modes where it begs the question: Why?
It's the one part of the game that lacks punch, because the rest of it is seriously impressive. Dead Space 2's production values are through-the-roof ridiculous. Every environment, every animation and every little bit of everything is meticulously put together to create a visual and auditory presentation that represents some of the very best game's currently have to offer. A few blurry textures and a few low-res shadows crop up here and there, but it does little to really jar you out of the gorgeous Sprawl.
There's little to pick apart about the audio, too. Dead Space 2's audio goes a long way in setting the tone. It's environmental and ambient sounds are convincing and the voice-acting is delivered in a way that sounds natural – people simply sound like they're having an actual conversation. The audio starts to falter musically, because practically any and all necromorph encounters come with music cues. Eventually, it gets annoying and contributes to the predictability.
Dead Space 2 clocks in at 8 hours and considering the irrelevance of the multi-player and the $60 price point on a platform where there's no real justification for it other than “Let's try to make more money.”, it might be enough to deter you away from the game. That would be a shame though, because the game encourages multiple playthroughs to upgrade all weapons, gather all the suits and to transfer your progress throughout different difficulties. It's addicting and it might make it well worth the $60 if you're trying to justify a purchase by calculating overall playtime. You think about that, but I'm telling you, Dead Space 2 is pretty damn good.