Isaac Clarke, the unluckiest space engineer of the 26th century, is more unfortunate than ever in Dead Space 2. 2008’s superb Dead Space took the style of survival horror shooter action exemplified by games like Resident Evil 4 and meshed it with an atmospheric deep-space setting and some terrific, distinctly sci-fi gameplay elements, creating something that felt simultaneously familiar and unique. Dead Space 2, on the other hand, will feel thoroughly familiar to those who have played the original; its few improvements over Dead Space are minor tweaks rather than game changers. But blasting the limbs off of hideous necromorphs remains tremendously satisfying, and although the pacing lags a bit during the game’s middle portions, this second outing packs more than enough scares and surprises to make stepping back into Isaac Clarke’s suit extremely worthwhile. In addition, a new multiplayer component successfully translates Dead Space’s particular breed of dismemberment-focused combat into a pulse-pounding team-based experience that casts you as both humans and as the foul necromorphs. And, at least at the time of release, the PlayStation 3 version includes a hefty bonus: the great on-rails shooter Dead Space Extraction (previously a Wii exclusive), at no additional cost. As long as you’ve got the stomach for it, Dead Space 2 is one sci-fi horror thrill ride you definitely want to take.
The first few moments of Dead Space 2 smartly accomplish a good deal in a very short amount of time. We get a glimpse into Isaac’s psychological state, his psyche still tormented by the painful loss he experienced on the Ishimura during the events of the first game. We also learn that the three years since then have been little more than a blur to Isaac–he’s in some kind of hospital facility, but has only the vaguest memories of his time there. And almost before you can say “necromorph outbreak,” you take control of Isaac as he runs for his life from the hideous creatures who, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, have suddenly appeared and started slaughtering the human population here in the Sprawl, a vast urban area on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Isaac, who said not a word in the original game, has a voice here, and although he’s a bit bland as a character, the intensity of the action that surrounds him makes you feel invested in his desperate struggle for survival. Revealing glimpses into the world of Dead Space–such as a trek through a Unitology center that sheds light on the inner workings of the church whose activity is inextricably linked to the necromorph outbreaks–keep the momentum rolling during the early chapters. The game later falls into predictable rhythms for a while, but it picks up steam again toward the end, as the story goes to some unexpected and exciting places and puts almost as much emphasis on Isaac’s struggle against his own demons of guilt and regret as on his battles against the necromorphs.