After finishing Dead Space, I took away two big things. The first being that it’s a flawed experience, despite being a good game, and the second being that if its problems were ironed out, a sequel could be truly groundbreaking. After watching some retrospectives before playing Dead Space 2, my expectations were high. It released to critical acclaim and was once again developed by EA Redwood Shores, now rebranded as Visceral Games. Dead Space 2 released on the January 27, 2011, and confidently cemented itself as one of the best horror games ever made.
Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the events of the first game, with Isaac Clarke awakening in a mental asylum aboard a giant space station called the Sprawl. This time things kick into gear much faster, as a Necromorph outbreak occurs almost instantly. After being contacted by a new character named Daina, the player is tasked with getting to her so Isaac can cure the mental health condition he now suffers from following the events on the Ishimura.
I said in my Dead Space review that the plot is relatively simple and, for the most part, unsurprising. Dead Space 2 quickly sweeps this mentality away within the first few hours. While it answers some questions posed by the original, it creates even more in the process. It’s far more in-depth than the first game ever was, and it plays with some genuinely intriguing concepts. It also manages to throw in a few emotional moments in the mix too. The new characters are interesting and well-developed, though the focus is clearly on Isaac and his mental condition after the first game.
Gameplay hasn’t seen any significant additions aside from one I’ll jump into later, but the tweaks and small changes are meaningful in all the right ways. For starters, there are four new weapons in addition to all the old ones, some of which have more effective secondary fire modes. This means there are technically twenty different ways to kill Necromorphs, and that’s not including the wonderful things you can do with the returning stasis abilities. You’re still severing limbs as the primary way to deal damage, but the constant introduction of new enemies keeps you on your toes in terms of strategies.
The most glaring issue I had with Dead Space was that it didn’t do much with the space aspect in the first game. Dead Space 2 took note of this and overhauled it for the better. Isaac can now freely fly through zero-gravity environments, which opens up a whole new array of verticality options for both you and the Necromorphs. It makes for some tense action sequences as you scramble all around the place to avoid incoming damage while still outputting your own.
I played Dead Space 2 on one of the harder difficulties, and I found it to be the perfect level of challenge. Each time I made a mistake, I was punished for it, but smart use of resources and upgrades saw me through to the end. It’s significantly harder than Dead Space and ramps up a lot in the last two chapters, but the satisfaction I felt for clearing the game is unrivalled in recent memory. It’s well-paced, and the inclusion of big, bombastic set pieces helps to pump up the adrenaline from time to time.
One thing Dead Space has in spades is atmosphere, and Dead Space 2 is no different. In fact, I felt that it’d dialled it up to eleven. It didn’t take me long to forget about everything else and become completely enthralled in the experience. Almost every component of the sequel feels like it’s handled effortlessly. The Church of Unitology, to my surprise, is a highlight and will most likely stick with me for a long time. The absence of overused jump scares and emphasis on tension and built up atmosphere also helped to always keep me on my toes. One type of enemy, in particular, hunts in packs. They’ll try to distract you while another tries to sneak up on you, peeking their heads out and making eerie noises. It’s a genuinely terrifying and well-crafted enemy.
None of the horror would be as effective as it is without the graphical fidelity and performance on display here. The Sprawl Station is the complete opposite of the Ishimura. It’s quickly established as a modern, sleek, and well-inhabited environment. There’s still heavy use of shadows, fog and lighting, but noticeably less so than Dead Space. There are so many different areas to be explored here, and they’re all varied enough to keep the game fresh. It’s easy to forget how old this game is due to its gorgeous visuals and flawless performance.
When I think of what a sequel should be, Dead Space 2 is the embodiment of the very definition. A title that builds upon what was great about the original while fixing its most significant flaws. It took a simple, one-note narrative and did something interesting with it, retained the same great combat, and expanded upon the sheer terror of being stranded in space with an unknown force. Dead Space 2 is an experience I was unprepared for, and one that blew me away despite my high expectations. I cannot recommend this game enough. It’s one of the few gold standards for modern survival horror, and I’m sure it will be for a while to come.