Why Dead Space 2 is One of the Best Sequels Ever Made
Playing Off the Strongest Vibes
The original Dead Space largely consists of just wandering through an industrial, cold ship space, hoping nothing jumps out at you and seeing evidence of the horrors that happened before you arrived. Bodies, blood stains, audio logs depicting the last moments of many characters’ lives — all of them serve to remind what can happen to you, and create the game’s wonderfully dark and spooky atmosphere.
In Dead Space 2, players find themselves on a space station filled with the living spaces of its inhabitants, and the game manages to ratchet up that tension established in Dead Space. The best levels are undoubtedly the most domestic and ordinary: the early sprint through an apartment complex in which you can hear monster attacks taking place as you pass; a later level that takes Isaac through an abandoned daycare center that ends up being filled with former children turned into various monstrosities; a church that holds a vast morgue of frozen bodies.
These sections of the game take players through familiar territory to remind them of how close to home the tragedy of the game’s premise is striking for many characters. It also opens up the necromorph threat, showing it twisting and capitalizing on unrelated innocents and children as much as religious fanatics or illegal miners (as in the first game).
But the game’s highlight is the return to the first game’s setting, the USG Ishimura. For one chapter, players return to the ship and run through a number of areas they saw in the first game, with much of the area altered aesthetically by effort to repair and clean the ship. There’s a lot of time in the beginning of the chapter spent navigating the Ishimura with no incident — giving players lots of times to remember the attacks and jump scares they faced in certain locations, only to have no payoff coming, which further adds to the tension. When enemies finally do descend upon the player, it’s in droves, with the first two attacks coming from the formerly boss-level Brute enemies.
During this whole sequence, Dead Space 2 expertly plays with your mind. First, it takes you through areas you’ll remember vividly from the first game, where tough battles were fought and you may have even died a few times. You go into these rooms expecting the worst, only to find — nothing. Over and over again, nothing happens where you expect it to, and eventually, you’re lulled into a sort of comfort. Just as you’re starting to think the Ishimura chapter is going to be all dread and atmosphere, the game uses your memories against you in exactly the opposite way. After leaving the gravity centrifuge, for example, the player opens the door and is immediately attacked by a huge tentacle: the exact scene from the first game. But it’s a hallucination this time out, and quickly fades away, leaving only the memory of the event and the knowledge that the player can’t necessarily trust Isaac’s perceptions aboard the ship.
Later, players return to the medical bay, where a good chunk of Dead Space takes place. Rather than rehash that level as players remember it, Visceral flips it on its head by leaving cleaning gear everywhere. The maintenance crew was attempting to remove the blood from the last game, and so is using infrared lights and Luminol to make the blood more apparent. The result is a trippy, glowing level absolutely covered in green glowing blood — the implication of which that what went on in this area was worse even than you remember. When you return to familiar areas, they’re rendered less familiar by the changed look and the darkness, which makes them perfect new ambush points.
Visceral does a brilliant job of making Dead Space 2 a natural evolution of the first game’s content, even referencing the first game’s content directly in order to create that evolution. And it works beautifully. In every way it can, the game escalates what made Dead Space enjoyable, without going too far or weakening the core formula.
The result is a perfect sequel: More of what you love, but better. For whatever else Dead Space 2 is, it’s a great example of how to make a game that’s exactly what fans want, even before they know they want it.