Just so everyone knows where I’m coming from, let me start with this caveat: I didn’t like the original Dead Space very much. After hearing endless praise of the game I eventually got around to trying it and I wasn’t impressed. Maybe the bar had been set too high by that point, but I thought the controls were clunky, the alone-on-a-spaceship setting was trite, and the ammo limits created artificial tension. Most of all though I consider the pop-out scare–where something is frightening just because it jumps in your face when you don’t expect it–to the be the cheapest way to make something scary. As a tool, it’s not an effective way to maintain tension over an extended period of time.For these reasons I wasn’t super excited for Dead Space 2, despite the fact that I knew the game would be extremely well done. I knew to expect a triple-A effort with top-notch graphics and probably a number of improvements where shortcomings had been found in the past. But the original game was too successful to expect any drastic changes. As it turns out I’m glad that they didn’t make any because Dead Space 2 is quite good.Dead Space 2, to me, is survival horror done right. This has never been a genre that I’ve been particularly fond of, but this game brings it to its peak. Again, the story isn’t the finest, but this time there is more depth than before and I cared a lot more about Isaac Clarke’s survival. The story pulled me along but the polish was really why I kept with it–this game is well handled in almost all respects.The sound, lighting (especially), and graphics each grabbed me in their own way. The sound is hugely important as it creates anticipation and generally sets the mood, while the lighting is crucial to creating the right tone and, obviously, to keep things scary. The game does have a habit of letting things feel too foreboding and forecasting when something big is going to happen, but it has a very good sense of pace so these don’t seem to be a problem.This may seem like something strange to bring up when talking about reasons to play a video game, but I really enjoyed the user interface. From the real-time inventory system and the placement of Isaac’s health bar on his back, the game is just a pleasure to control, even as Isaac plods along. The game does a superb job of giving you the information and controls you need without bogging you down with too much or insulating your from Isaac’s fight for survival. Even the game’s loading felt seamless because it was done while I was in an elevator looking at my inventory, not by stopping the horror with a preloader.On the graphics front Dead Space 2 is excellent as well. It manages to be colorful and varied despite the fact that you spend a lot of time on the same ship. And let’s not forget the this is an area where the original game was lacking–it felt like corridor after brown corridor. And the setting is very detailed. Most rooms are destroyed with all sorts of smashed machines and flashing signs to keeps things visually appealing. The ships felt lived in, and as is something genuinely terrible had happened there. I’m not sure if this is blasphemous, but I’ll go ahead and say it: the game reminded me of BioShock at times.Not too keep gushing but I like the in-game store as well. Isaac’s weapons are all highly upgradeable, but to enhance them you have to spend power nodes, which are relatively uncommon. Nodes are also useful for opening storage closets though, so if you are in dire need of ammo or medical supplies you’ll have to consider spending one to get those supplies. And one of your main sources of credits is selling excess ammo which you can use for medicine and, of course, for power nodes. It all fits in quite well and the result can be some pretty effective upgrades for your weapons cache.Not everything is perfect with the game: the jumping out enemies can get annoying (or at least keep you on the edge of your seat), and when there is too much action things can feel overwhelming, basically hectic and out of control instead of scary. Also I didn’t think the boss fights were great (especially when I was repeatedly dying while looking for the yellow part of its body). What was great though is that all the important story elements were handled in-game, not with cinematics. Another nitpick I have is with the secondary uses for weapons. They felt extremely wasteful to me and I was rarely compelled to use them. Ammo is scarce enough that I didn’t experiment much with them either, so they never really had a chance to become something I was comfortable using and instead they were simply a last resort.Also, I’m not the biggest fan of horror gaming so this wasn’t a problem for me, but I think a case could be made for Dead Space 2 just not being that scary. Feel free to count that as a downside if you’d like but I think it is a result of the game trying to be well-rounded and the developer’s desire to make something bigger than just a survival horror game.So when you have a chance, put down your iPad version of Dead Space and give Dead Space 2 a chance, I think you’ll be happy you did.dead_space_2_04dead_space_2_04dead_space_2_03dead_space_2_02dead_space_2_01The article was writing using a retail copy of Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360), provided by EA.