Dead Space's production values and presentation still deserve to be counted among the best of the current generation. Fantastic lighting effects and creepy environments help conjure up an atmosphere of pure dread, and everything is topped off with a slick user interface that keeps you properly grounded. It's difficult to tell if Dead Space 2 could have improved on the tech. Even the little things impress; I cheered at each instance when Isaac's helmet assembled over his face or reintegrated into his RIG. The lack of room for improvement on the technical side of things leaves the ball in the artists' side of the court. And, no surprise, Visceral delivers. Titan Station is a bold departure from Dead Space's USG Ishimura. This place isn't exclusive to mining and engineering personnel; entire families live here. That basically gives the art department a license to throw in as many interesting places as possible. As a result, Isaac Clarke's twisted journey takes him through commercial shopping zones, the interior of a runaway train, a nursery school, and much more. There's a great surprise level towards the end, but I won't spoil it -- it's just too cool.
Of course, different kinds of people mean new necromorph types for Isaac to slaughter (or be slaughtered by). Just about all of the necromorphs from the original Dead Space return for the sequel, but the new types are standouts. First, we have the Pack: a group of hideous mutant children who are easy to put down on their own, but relentless in numbers. There are also Pukers, which are self-explanatory. My favorite new necromorph is the Stalker, I'll leave it to you to decide how they work, but it's obvious that someone at Visceral is a huge Jurassic Park fan. All of these monstrosities die in numerous and disgusting ways, but if they ever kill you, you'll be equally impressed and appalled at what the developers did to poor Isaac.
An experience like Dead Space 2 should feature sound design rich enough to make you want to invest in a wicked awesome set of speakers. And hear you me, this game does just that. Jason Graves' score has more range than his taut, moody, and undeniably great contribution to the first game. Of course, there are far more "in your face" moments this time around; unassuming violins and the occasional timpani glissando are great, but they don't sync up well with a high-velocity HALO jump. Turns out, borderline silence is more effective for situations like that.
One of Dead Space 2's more noteworthy departures from its predecessor has to do with the fact that series protagonist Isaac Clarke actually speaks. Gunner Wright makes Isaac believable enough, but I'm not sure anyone but the writers could have made him particularly memorable as a character. Unfortunately, that's one of the few areas in which Dead Space 2 comes up short. Luckily, the rest of the characters give the guy something to do with the role, and as a result, it's not bad.