Allow me a contradiction, dear readers.
Last year, I lambasted Halo: Reach for being a great technical achievement, but a poor sequel for not expanding on its source material enough to warrant the high marks critics were giving it. And boy howdy, did I hear from the fanboys about that one. No one seemed to care I said it was good on its own.
Now I'm going to praise Dead Space 2 for doing the exact same thing. My e-mail address is below; start your hate mail now.
Released Tuesday for 360, PS3 and PC, Visceral Games' sequel to the 2008 original picks up three years after Isaac Clarke escaped the U.S.G. Ishimura. Details are scarce at first, but you are dropped directly into the very scenario fans of the first game had always wanted to see: the full-on onslaught of the Necromorphs on a space-going populace — in this case, aboard a space station orbiting Saturn called the Sprawl.
The game itself is more of the same, but marginally improved. Zero-g sequences feature booster jets to control Isaac. Weapons have become a tad more varied, and available earlier. The controls remain a bit sluggish, especially compared to other third-person actioners such as Gears of War, but not frustratingly so (although they are difficult to use in multiplayer, an element that feels like an afterthought). There are still the same thrills — grotesque foes, cheap scares and excellent audio and voice acting — yet it is superior in ways that far exceed the sum of what has been changed.
Most of that lies in the fact that Visceral seems to have done what its devotees asked them to do: Isaac now speaks and interacts with NPCs, instead of being a mute errand boy. There are many more fluid, dynamic setpieces, moving away from the typical linear level structure that detracted from the movielike quality of the first game. And the story, while still a befuddling mess at times, stays faithful to the mythos Visceral has set forth. The fact that Isaac has clearly gone insane from his exposure to the marker makes it that much more fun.
This is unfair, I know. Reach's strong suit was providing much greater detail about the downfall of the Spartans (going so far as to throw in an Easter egg of the Master Chief on the Pillar of Autumn for the nerdery to slaver over). But beyond a dogfighting stage and improved multiplayer, the gameplay didn't change much from the usual pop-and-shoot style the series has had since 2001.
For Dead Space 2, I simply enjoyed another go-around of blasting and stomping, with a few spacewalks and jumpy moments thrown in. Maybe that's because I'm such a sci-fi dork, or because I dig survival horror games like Resident Evil. Or maybe it's because there have been five Halo FPS titles, and only one other version of Dead Space (which also has had an FPS, 2009's Extraction). In any case, Visceral did exactly what they needed to do for their tentpole release of 2011.
Just be warned that when part three rolls around, I'll be grading on a much higher curve.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.