When one imagines the scene for a survival horror game, one may think back to psychological thriller Silent Hill, or perhaps even the action-counterpart Resident Evil. Both games were certainly different on quite a few levels, but they shared very same core values. A character wandering through a world filled with supernatural terrors, collecting items, and attempting to piece together a mystery. These days it seems like every protagonist out there is searching for something in their past, and often times that 'something' is shrouded in suspense and mystery. These are gameplay elements however, and while most games are completely defined by them, the Survival Horror genre of gaming is really unified by a different theme: pacing.
A second play-through of Dead Space was enough to reveal that its delivery of action and suspense was choreographed in a phenomenal fashion. The enemies would jump out at the same spot, events would trigger at a certain section, and there was never any change in how many necromorphs would be around any corner. It was completely and thoroughly scripted, but so well done that it wasn't easy to discover. In fact, the world was so engrossing that it was hard not to get caught up in it.
It's this type of world design that has been missing from horror games for the past few years now; a large step away from the spooky Japanese houses and generic-zombie ridden action games that have plagued store shelves. The basic gameplay elements are still there: looking for items, upgrading 'things', searching for the truth buried in a world writhe with terror. Only in the world of Dead Space, the enemies have far more interactions with the main character. From the ways they're spawned to the ways they're dismembered, Dead Space has managed to create a recognizable enemy that players care about. Not in the fact that they want them to survive, but in the fact that players actively want to interact with them.
Goals within Dead Space don't merely consist of 'beat the game', but rather exploring the various ways one can tear apart an enemy. It's different, and while Dead Space is certainly not the first game to explore this sort of thing (Siren did a wonderful job in creating an opponent worth being afraid of), it's the first to do it in such an exciting, interactive way. Resident Evil assumes that keeping zombies in a game with guns still qualifies as scary, but action-horror titles need opponents that are dangerous by themselves, let alone in a large group.
The point is, if Dead Space 2 manages to successfully keep the dark world and superb pacing of the first game in addition to building upon the frantic and thrilling action sequences that defined combat, we may just be looking at the next generation of survival horror. For a genre that's been watered down into 'a third person shooter that takes place in the dark', this is a pretty huge deal. With luck, the current developers out there will take a hint and learn some aspects of gaming truly should move on. Archaic game design has been weighing down horror games for years now, and if the most recent showings of Dead Space 2 are any indication, the industry can do far better.