As a game, Dead Space 2 really isn't all that special. There's some decent shooting, sure, but if you've helped one necromorph with that pesky “having legs” problem of his, you've helped 'em all. No – what truly rockets Dead Space 2 from “good” to “fantastic” is the atmospheric, foreboding shell around shooting's chewy, gore-soaked center. Dead Space 2 is a game that's greater than the sum of its parts – but its parts aren't half-bad to begin with.
Dead Space 2's premise is remarkably similar to that of the original. You're still Isaac Clarke, falling-apart-at-the-seams necromorphs are still invading, and you're still coping with visions of your corpsified girlfriend. The devil, however, is in the details, and that's where Dead Space 2 really shines. For one, Isaac's no longer doing his best Gordon Freeman impression, and his struggle's much more cinematic as a result. The main plot's not Oscar-worthy or anything like that, but its twists and turns will definitely keep you on your toes.
Besides, the real story guiding Dead Space 2 is your timid crawl through the game's expertly arranged house of horrors. Make no mistake: Dead Space 2's level scripting and design are light years beyond its predecessor's. The Sprawl's residential areas feel like places that could actually exist – unlike Dead Space's sterile corridors – which makes seeing them populated by corpses all the more unsettling. The school, especially, is an amazing contrast, coating colorful classrooms in blood and an aural skin of eerie silence.
And that's where the scripting comes in. Yes, Dead Space 2 is largely linear, but it uses that to excellent effect. The game wields build-up and tension with a subtle mastery, dropping all sorts of unnerving sights and sounds into periods of “downtime.” No joke – an in-game alarm clock went off and we nearly screamed. Sure, at the end of the day, most of the scares come down to variations on leaping out and shouting “boo,” but the constant air of tension keeps the game from falling into a predictable rhythm.
When you finally come face-to-rotting-claw-appendage with your freaky foes, things are suitably intense. During our playthrough, we were only really in danger of dying a few times, but it always felt like we were one tiny slip-up away from certain death. Again, it all comes back to the game's atmosphere, a combination of sound design and scripting that few games can claim to match. New enemies types like the swift, evasive Stalker spice things up nicely as well, but there's still not a whole lot of enemy variation. Similarly, new weapons like the proximity mine-launching Detonator are great, but old favorites hog most of the spotlight.
More substantial, however, is the addition of multiplayer to the mix. All things considered, it's solid, but hardly revolutionary. Necromorphs come in four varieties and can spawn from vents all over each map, while humans are encouraged to work as a tightly knit team. Aside from a Call of Duty-style experience system, there's not much else to it. It's certainly decent, but it won't keep you hooked for more than a few days.
On the whole, though, Dead Space 2 is really about scaring the space-pants off you anyway, and it's damn good at it. The game's action-packed from start-to-finish, yet still manages to keep you dreading what's around the next corner. Sure, in some areas it's “Dead Space, but better” to a fault, but on the whole, that's far from a bad thing.