As with any scary game, the lighting (or lack thereof) plays a very important role in Dead Space 2. The flashlight you carry and wield when taking aim with a weapon is often brighter than most everything else in the environment, adding a sense of claustrophobia when all you can see is constrained to a relatively small illuminated circle. Dynamic shadows dancing on the walls will catch your eye from across the room and make you wonder whether thereís a Necromorph hiding somewhere or if itís just a swinging lamp. Fear of the unknown is an old horror trick, and itís used well here. Dark environments also help to hide the textures, which certainly arenít the sharpest Iíve ever seen.
One of the main draws of the franchise, along with the genre as a whole, is the graphic depiction of blood and gore. Dead Space 2 has it in spades, a fact that was exploited by EA in creating a controversial advertisement campaign that involved showing middle-aged, conservative mothers the most abhorrent and disgusting visuals they could put together, just to film their reactions. Needless to say, Dead Space 2 is not for the faint of heart, but even the most hardened and desensitized gamer is likely to experience several OMGWTF moments. Youíll watch some highly disturbing scripted events involving NPCs, as well as some truly gruesome death sequences, which are usually a consequence of failing a quicktime event.
There is no traditional HUD or UI in the game, which works wonders for immersion. Everything you need to know at a glance (health, Stasis charge, ammo) is displayed either on your suit or the weapon itself. When you access your inventory or journal, it appears as a hologram projected in front of you. Youíll also communicate with NPCs and read various texts in this way. A new addition in DS2 is a device that works sort of like a virtual compass. Even though itís mostly unnecessary due to the gameís straightforward, linear nature, you can bring up this navigation aid and select whether you want it to point you to the objective or the nearest save station, workbench, or store.
Dead Space 2ís soundscape is phenomenal. In a game that deprives you of so much visual information, you come to rely on your hearing a lot more, and it will betray you. Out of the dozen or so times I practically jumped out of my chair throughout the game, probably half were caused by noises, and there wasnít always something there. Occasionally youíll come across a staged event meant to scare you -- such as an oxygen tank rolling across the floor from around the corner -- but itís even more likely that you will be bumping into things in the dark and scaring yourself! Youíre always alerted to the presence of enemies, but itís the quiet uncertainty of anticipation in vacancy that will really get to you.
It doesnít help that there is almost always some damned eerie music playing. It gets you on edge and seamlessly blends between imbuing different tones like ďthereís nothing going on right now but you should be worried,Ē ďsomethingís waiting for you up ahead so be careful,Ē or ďaw, here it goes, youíre screwed!Ē The worst is when the music is building up and youíre freaking out, hesitant to move forward, then you do and the crescendo makes you flinch, but thereís nothing there. You relax, and five seconds later BLAMMO, something happens. Not only does the composer have an amazing talent for this stuff, but Visceral integrates his work with the game to toy with your mind in a way thatís almost sadistic.
Aside from the usual deficiencies a console port exhibits compared to a game designed for PC, Dead Space 2 actually isnít so bad in this department. The worst is probably the need to navigate in-game menus, such as the inventory and store, using the arrow keys. Most PC games donít use them at all, so it takes some getting used to. Weapon selection uses a cross configuration designed for a D-pad, but on PC itís bound to the 1-4 keys. It doesnít clearly label which number corresponds to which direction, though, which made things awkward enough that I just stuck to scrolling through my guns with the mouse wheel. I have to give Visceral props for keeping the promise they made to improve mouse aiming, though; it is a hundred times better than it was in the first game, very tight and responsive.