If Dead Space 2 has one thing that I don't remember seeing in any other, it's exploding babies. Halfway through the game, you need to disable some forcefield or wreck a power conduit or something, like you've done plenty of times already. This one is hidden away inside the scholastic area of the Sprawl, the stellar city Dead Space 2 is set in.
It's a perfect example of what developers Visceral Games have been trying to do with the sequel to 2008's surprise survival horror smash hit. Many questions have been raised about how different the second game was going to be, could it really deliver a genuine new experience or would be end up with another BioShock 2, a tired, rather pointless pseudo-expansion that delivered virtually nothing except increasingly ugly visuals and an irrelevant multiplayer.
Thankfully, though Dead Space 2 is very, very similar to the first game – definitely too much so on occasion – it doesn't suffer from the chronic fatigue shown in BioShock 2. This is far more vibrant an effort from Visceral, demonstrating at least a desire to move on, even if their efforts don't always bear fruit.
Our strangely armoured buddy from the first game is back, good old Isaac Clarke finding himself haunted by visions and strapped up on a gurney wearing a strait jacket. Three years have apparently passed since the events on the Ishimura and there's an Aussie temptress yelling at you to get the hell out of the psych ward. Primarily because the necromorphs, the squishy, oozing baddies from DS1, have turned up and are turning the locals into kebab meat.
This intro section works quite well, slowly introducing you to all the concepts, both new and old, without ever swamping you or dragging things on too long. There's always something new to (re)learn and the drip feeding of information, plot points and action is well handled. For a game that's so similar to it's prequel, it's surprising that you don't feel you're just going over old ground.
Well, not too much anyway. Naturally you are, essentially, but it's a credit that enough breaks in the general combat or exploration are provided to keep things from getting stale. Whenever you think this is happening, the game will throw something at you to keep you on your toes, be it a huge creature forcing you into a pseudo-QTE section where you have to shoot hot spots or hanging you upside down helplessly, forcing a desperate defence against encroaching necromorphs (a personal favourite section, actually).
It won't throw anything scary at you, though, because it isn't. At all. Not once. It's clear Visceral have really tried to put the shock moments in, to get players jumping out of their seats, but it's ineffective. The nature of fear lies in the unknown and there's only a few moments in the game where you aren't quite sure what's lurking around the bend – the exploding babies, for example, is one such bit. Coming from something like Amnesia, this is tame stuff, no matter how many times it tries to go “BOO!” or how much gore is sprayed across the screen.
Much as they've tried, it's impossible to completely ignore the similarities between the first game and this. Some have made the comparison that this is Aliens to the original's Alien, which is a fair comment, but it's worth our while discussing some of the similarities here. As it's still set on a big floating metal tub in space, there are times when you'll be traipsing through rather tedious metal corridors for a while, which was a problem in the first game.
Visceral have tried to add some much-needed variety this time with the gothic Church of Unitology to explore, the aforementioned school area and a shopping mall, and even though some of them are navigated more than once, it marks a welcome change from featureless corridors.
Upgrades to your weapons and equipment are still conducted using workbenches and purchased using store machines. Speaking of weapons, the arsenal you collect during your time on the Sprawl is pretty much identical to the loadout in the first game, with a couple of additions. Perhaps the most important is the use of telekinesis to throw objects at the necromorphs, using a system very much like that employed in Half-Life 2 with the gravity gun. You've still got the rather ludicrous stomping on corpses thing going on too.
One pleasing aspect of Dead Space 2 isn't related to combat at all, but is just that you actually get to see living humans and talk to them. Leaving aside Isaac's new-found voice – typical American hero-style – you're no longer alone in the game. It's a nice feeling to finally meet someone who doesn't instantly get slaughtered, as is the norm in survival horror titles. Some might be nutcases and some might be blatantly in there for the 'twist', but to actually see and interact (albeit very briefly) with these people is a good thing.
And, of course, there's the multiplayer. It's too early to tell whether this will be seen as a success or a failure, so do please check back in the near future when we'll have had the chance to really put it through its paces. It would be unfair to comment after only a scant few minutes of play.
Ignoring that for the time being then, Dead Space 2 has, it's fair to say, avoided the potentially fatal trap of just being a cynical cash-in sequel designed to crowbar a popular game mode into a resolutely offline experience. There's enough evidence here to suggest Visceral have tried hard, within a clear publishing framework of “don't fuck it up, it's not broken”, to create something vibrant and genuinely new.
There's enough that's new here to thicken and engorge the member of any dedicated fanboy, but even those who have a passing interest in the series can expect to have their seats moistened a little due to excitement. It would have been so easy to just “do a BioShock 2” with this one, but it hasn't happened, a collective sigh of relief being breathed by millions of players all around the world.
Yes, they've reused 90% of what came before. Yes, you're still plodding around in a clunky engineering suit laser-slicing the limbs off slimy creatures. Yes, it is, essentially, the same game again. But no, that isn't a bad thing this time.
Second Opinion: If there was an issue with Dead Space it's that once you'd seen the first hour, you could pretty much tell what was coming up for the rest of the game. The sequel improves on this slightly, there's far better pacing here - the heightened action elements serving to complement the horror not dilute it, and it actually makes dead Space 2 a scarier proposition than its predecessor. Unlike Dave's brave fearlessness, my nerves are shot to hell and Visceral manage to push all of the right buttons. Remember that feeling of paranoia? Now the game will lull you into a false sense of security. There are little tweaks here and there that tune the game up, the efficacy of the kerb stomp being one of them, but primarily it's the Sprawl that really stands out in this game. The Ishimura offered us claustrophobic cat-and-mouse, playing on popular tropes and genre staples. The Sprawl evokes a certain sense of the familial and therefore the familiar, and is all the more disturbing for it. Anyone who gets freaked out by those talking baby adverts is going to have a hard time with Dead Space 2. The multiplayer is scrappy and chaotic, but we'll return in a couple of weeks once there are a few more people getting stuck in online to give you a verdict on that.  - Matt
- Doesn't break what wasn't broken
- It's still fun to slice the legs off a mutant
- Enough new material to keep things interesting...
- ...but is there enough for you specifically?
- Isaac's new voice
- Quite a few tedious metallic corridors
The Short Version: A sequel that does enough to convince the doubters and thrill the faithful. As compelling and interesting as the first game, and still as completely non-scary.