Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what Aliens was to Alien. Higher impact, higher intensity and higher bodycount: yet just as good as its forbear. If, perhaps, for different reasons. It's a game that cashes in a slice of Dead Space's overloaded repository of survival horror, yet uses it to pay for mind-blowing sci-fi spectacle and action sequences that could make your endorphin glands weep for a year.
The claustrophobic ghost ship of the Ishimura has been abandoned in favour of The Sprawl, a floating mess of a city found poised above the rings of Saturn. With this new location comes a swathe of imaginative locations and set-pieces in which returning hero Isaac Clarke can strategically slice and dice his foes. The game begins with a mask-free Isaac waking up in the asylum wing of The Sprawl's hospital - and with a fully-fledged Necromorph outbreak underway, it soon becomes clear that the most sensible attire for the occasion probably isn't a strait-jacket. With both arms restricted, the first thing you get reacquainted with in Dead Space 2 is the sprint button...
Walk this way
As you make your way through the hospital (full of flowers and balloons for those who, up until recently, were expected to get well soon) you're swiftly gifted with your trusty light-source, enemy-slowing stasis device and limb-chopping plasma cutter. Necromorphs could be anywhere, and survival is the name of the game. Meanwhile, you're swiftly discovering that, as you might have noticed from the mention of flowers and balloons, this isn't entirely a return to 'generic sci-fi corridor A' and 'dank service tunnel B' of the original Dead Space's planet-cracking spaceship.
Isaac's newfound surroundings really are quite imaginative. Sure, corridor A and service tunnel B get their look-in (what would Dead Space be without them?), but they're used to link up some fascinating places. Quite brilliantly, Visceral uses a thinly veiled riff on Scientology as the societal force at fault for the Necromorph onslaught - and as such an early walking tour for Isaac is through their primary religious centre, indoctrination chambers and crypts. They're fascinating to explore, beautiful to look at and feel strangely real. In fact, the game's sci-fi homes and municipal locations very much remind you of the way BioShock themed its areas (or indeed the F.E.A.R. 2 approach to authoritarian institutions within a futuro-city) as the game winds on through shopping centres, crèches and school halls.
Oh god, the crèches. Oh god, the school halls. Oh god, the naked dead children tumbling out of kiddie-garment stores in that shopping centre. You know how other games are a bit timid when it comes to offing the pre-teens? Dead Space 2 isn't so fussed (although, in its defence, Dead Space 2's kids were already dead). The piercing screams of The Pack, coupled with the way they flock towards you in gangs with whirligig arms make them a terrifying proposition for both combat and mental state. On top of this, they have younger siblings that crawl slug-like towards you before exploding. It's a troubled family, essentially. If Social Services weren't already a part of the Necromorph host, you'd be on the verge of calling them.
It's behind you...
Another brilliant addition to the Dead Space menagerie is the Stalker - a fast-paced charger built of ripped flesh and bone that lives wherever there's a maze-like network of columns or crates. They peek over the crates and they peer from the sides of columns (quite adorably), and then they hunt you down like the dog you are. They're immense fun to fight - even if elder gamers will recognise them as a direct (perhaps loving) rip-off of the lady assassins in the original Half-Life.