Isaac's newly-found voice adds to the tension by transforming him from a passionless bystander to a character we come to care about. This isn't his fight, this isn't his fault, but he's there, and he's going to do the best he can to help. When wave after wave of necromorphs forces Isaac into a corner, you're concerned about a person, not an avatar. It's a subtle difference, but an important one that elevates Dead Space 2 above its predecessor.
Dead Space 2 is full of such small changes that make a big difference when it comes to overall enjoyment of the game. The new navigation system, for example, is incredibly simple: Press in the thumbstick and a line on the floor points you to your destination of choice, whether that's your next objective or the nearest save room. The map in the first Dead Space was a 3D hologram that looked great and fit beautifully with the game's setting but was incredibly difficult to use. The new system, which is there when you want it and invisible when you don't, makes the game far more fun to play because you never have to interrupt your experience to peer at the map and figure out where you made a wrong turn.
Dead Space 2 does an admirable job of keeping the action feeling fresh and taut, but the later stages of the game do start to feel a bit samey. You can only play through so many levels where you have to survive endless necromorph waves before they all feel alike. For the rest of the game, the necromorph attacks have a certain amount of context, but just standing in place and killing thing after thing after thing loses its charm after the first few times you do it. It's a minor complaint, and just highlights how deftly the combat is handled throughout the rest of the game.
One quick note about the multiplayer before we wrap up: I never got the chance to try it. If you've given it a shot, please add your observations to the comments.
Bottom Line: If you like to shoot things, you should absolutely have this game. It builds upon its predecessor in all the right ways, delivering a healthy gaming challenge. Fans of movies like Aliens and Event Horizon in particular will enjoy the game's blend of sci fi and horror elements.
Recommendation: The single player campaign is a bit on the short side, which may drive this into "rental" category if you don't care about the multiplayer. That said, Dead Space 2 does offer New Game +, which adds to the game's replayability.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: Dead Space 2
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Available from: Amazon
Susan Arendt wants to thank Visceral for not having to adjust the camera at all while crawling through the ducts of The Sprawl.