Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is a fine example of a video game sequel that improves on what the original game offered without actually doing anything too revolutionary. It is again a polished, enjoyable, refined experience, one that takes few real risks but is solidly enough built that it is fun regardless of its lack of ambition. The biggest thing the game tries that the original didn't is turning protagonist Isaac Clarke into an actual character, giving him a voice and more obvious motives, and having his actual face appear much more often. It's a change that works, and helps give the game a bit more weight, as Isaac feels more like a person than a cipher through which to shoot a bunch of monsters.
Making Isaac into a person improves the game's ability to tell a story in general. The first game had an excellent presentation, with nice graphics and a lot of effective sound design that sold the brutally gory sci-fi horror concept despite a lot of the bare essentials not being very original. The way every bit of the interface is built into the game world itself sells the setting as a believable place, and helps you look past the obvious inspirations from previous games on movies. It was hard to care about the story though, and Dead Space 2 improves on that by characterizing Isaac and giving him more people to talk to and larger stakes for him to actually care about. It's still not a particularly intriguing or unique story, but I was at least more invested
The gameplay is pretty much exactly along the same lines as it was in the first game. You stalk your way through various corridors and rooms in a space station that has been overrun by freakishly mutated people, compelled to kill you by alien technology you don't quite understand, by any means necessary. You find a plasma cutter early on, a tool which doubles as a weapon, and use it to slice off the monsters' limbs in order to kill them. You will buy improved armor and new weapons at store kiosks, a lot of which you'll recognize from the first game, but some of which is new. It's a constant balancing act, as sometimes you'll find yourself with an inventory full of ammo and health kits, and at otherwise you'll be desperately scraping for any items you can find and hoping the next room has a save point instead of another swarm of enemies. Once in a while you'll come across a basic puzzle to solve in order to advance, usually in the form of some kind of machine you need to get working. It's all very familiar, but a bit more refined and balanced to keep you challenged but not too frustrated.
Where the game is definitely improved is in the segments where the gameplay dramatically changes and forces you to do something else. This might take the form of a zero gravity segment, which features improved controls and maneuverability over similar areas in the first Dead Space, or something else entirely. The more dramatic moments rely less on familiar video game tropes such as boss fights or the original's dreaded turret sequences, and more on creating exciting scenarios straight out of an action movie and having you struggle through them on your wits and reflexes. It's both fresher than a more typical divergence and simply more fun to experience, and definitely something I'm glad they worked on, as it was the biggest issue with the first game.
The Dead Space franchise is never going to win awards for originality, and the extent to which they expect you to play all kinds of other games and watch movies and so on to actually get the entire story, when the story itself is far from the real draw, is a bit off-putting. But you can't deny that the games are well made, and deliver on their promise of bloody shooting action in a fun and occasionally creepy setting. Some of its attempts at horror are cheesy or just downright exploitative, but you can't say they aren't trying, or making a boring product. A third full game is supposed to be on the way, and I wouldn't be surprised to find myself playing it in a couple of years.