Despite its shameless plundering of Alien and The Thing, Dead Space stands as one of the best horror games of recent years.
Its claustrophobic corridors, grotesque necromorphs and sense of loneliness produced one of the most nerve-racking adventures of modern video games.
Dead Space 2 picks up the story three years on. Isaac Clarke, the hero of the original, has been committed to an asylum aboard a space station that orbits Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
He wakes wearing a straitjacket and with no memory of the past three years as the necromorph nightmare begins again. And with the residents of the space station being slaughtered left, right and centre, his only option is to run.
And from then on the pace of Dead Space 2 rarely lets up. Necromorphs leap out from behind doors, drop from above, and creep up from behind.
Windows explode, exposing you to the vacuum of space, and residents are torn limb from limb by marauding monsters. The interludes in the action bring not so much relief as a sense of dread, a feeling that something really bad is going to happen any moment now.
It’s a white-knuckle ride of a game and one executed with more skill and thought than the original Dead Space.
The original, for all its positives, slid into repetitiveness as one shadowy corridor gave way to another. Dead Space 2 avoids the same trap, chopping and changing pace throughout so that you never can be sure what lurks around the next corner.
One moment you are dismembering necromorphs in tight corridors, the next you’re trapped, hanging upside down, fending off disorientation as the abominations close in. Or figuring out how to unlock a malfunctioning door, or being thrown around like a rag doll by an enormous, snarling mess of blood, flesh and fangs.
The space station setting, meanwhile, brings a wider range of environments than the original and there are new forms of necromorph to contend with including swarms of mutant children that scamper towards Issac with terrifying speed.
Even the bold decision to give Issac a voice, which run the risk of alienating those used to the previously silent hero, adds rather than detracts from the experience.
The result is a game that is better in almost every way than the original.
And yet, despite standing head and shoulders above its prequel, Dead Space 2 never quite terrifies as much as the original. And that’s down to the way it treats ammo.
In the first game, ammo was a scare resource. Hard to find, easy to waste with careless shots. As a result there lurked a constant, needling fear of running out of ammo throughout the original, a fear that set players on edge as much as the anticipation of a necromorph attack.
Dead Space 2 turns its back on this approach. Ammo is now plentiful and so the clashes with necromorphs feel less dangerous. So while Dead Space 2 has plenty of frights and moments of dread, it rarely matches the emotional intensity of the first game.
But despite losing the peaks of the original's raw horror power, Dead Space 2 more than makes up for it with dramatic twists, polished action, refined pacing and superior visuals.
The first blockbuster game of 2011 has set a high standard for the rest of the year.