Isaac Clarke (Fun Fact: He's named after the Sci-Fi writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke) gets all the luck. After dealing with a missing girlfriend, an alien outbreak and a religious cult in the first Dead Space, you'd imagine he'd want to settle down for a bit, maybe get a house by the beach or something. He'd probably want to stay as far away from any space stations and aliens as possible.
If you're new to the Dead Space story, and all this talk of girlfriends, aliens and cults already has you a bit baffled; don't panic, as the Dead Space 2 disc features a "Previously on Dead Space" video that explains the story from both the original Dead Space, and its prequel, the Wii lightgun game Dead Space: Extraction. While it doesn't cover the backstory of the series entirely (the story covered in the movies and the comic books, for example), it gives you all you need to understand what's going on, and the inclusion of the backstory of Dead Space: Extraction is useful for those with a Wii (or a PS3) that they could play it on.
Three years after the events of the first Dead Space, Isaac awakens from some kind of coma on the Sprawl, a sprawling (hence the name) metropolis built on the remains of Titan, one of Saturns moons. And, unfortunately for Isaac, the Sprawl is in the middle of a Necromorph (humans mutated by an alien virus) outbreak.
To make matters worse, Isaac is completely defenceless, and stuck in a straitjacket. So without any weapons, and with no way of attacking any would be assailants anyway, there's no choice but to run from the hordes of Necromorphs invading the hospital. Soon Isaac regains both his telekinesis module and the use of his arms - and, as you've got no other weapons to fight with, this leads to a rather practical introduction to Isaac's powers. Using kinesis allows you to pick up any objects scattered around the area and use them as weapons; tables, chairs, boxes, lights, and even the razor-sharp claws of fallen enemies can be used when ammo's running to low to fight your way to safety. While in the original, kinesis was used more as a way of solving puzzles and picking up unreachable items, in Dead Space 2 it's evolved into a weapon in it's own right, and an effective one, at that.
blob is explosive. Shoot it, and it explodes, taking out any enemies
around. And you, if you're not careful.
Eventually, Isaac manages to find a handy plasma cutter, and the real intricacies of what the developers have termed Dead Space's "Strategic Dismemberment" combat system show themselves. Whereas in other games you're encouraged to aim for the head (The classic zombies of the movies, for example, can only really be defeated by destruction of the brain), the Necromorphs are a whole different story.
Take the head off a standard Necromorph and rather than collapsing, it'll keep coming at you, only now, it's even more dangerous, blindy swinging its gigantic blade arms to try and land a hit. Take off the blade arms however, and as the old saying goes - "He's 'armless". It's a different way of doing things, and while it might take a few tries to get used to going for the arms instead of the head, you'll soon be cutting limbs off like a qualified surgeon - after all, these things are trying to kill you. As well as the plasma cutter, there are various other weapons you'll find lying around the spaceship (well, find the schematics for, which unlocks that weapon at the store) that have their own amputating advantages. You'll want to keep the Line Gun with you for any fast moving enemies, as it's wide horizontal beam can remove both legs of an enemy in a single shot, and I've heard that a fully-upgraded Javelin Gun makes the final section a heck of a lot easier.
While the first Dead Space focused on the Unitology cult (and gang of religious nutters that's apparently a sly dig at scientology), and the hunt for the Red Marker (an artifact believed by the Unitologists to hold the key to eternal life), Dead Space 2 focuses more on Isaac himself, and the deterioration of his mental state after the revalation at the end of the original game (which we won't spoil if you haven't already played it). And, obviously, as there's a much more personal focus this time around, they've given Isaac a voice. At the beginning of the game, it doesn't really add much, with the only words he utters being expletives when he's rushed at by another gaggle of Necromorphs. But as the game progresses, and Isaac's mental condition worsens, there's some genuine character development, and in a single conversation you learn more about Isaac than you ever did throughout the course of the entire first game. It makes it a lot easier to connect with the man, so you actually start caring for his story, and what might happen to him, which, unfortunately, makes the death scenes even more disheartening.
These twerps are probably the most annoying new enemy in the game. Luckily they're not that strong, but get swarmed by them and they can do a surprising amount of damage.
Dead Space 2 is a rather dark game, there's no questioning that, but most of the time it's more for atmosphere than anything. The bloody messages left by those who came before you often do well to set the scene, it features the most effective breach of the fourth wall I've seen, and the child trapped in the washing machine leaves hundreds of questions unanswered, the most pressing of which being "what was he doing in there?". Unfortunately, when it comes to Game Overs, the subtle haunting tones go out the window, and Dead Space 2 gets almost too graphic for it's own good. In certain rooms with large panoramic windows, a misplaced shot blows the glass out, sucking any enemies, and you, out of the room. There's a red panel at the top of where the window used to be that you can shoot to close the emergency shutter, but if you don't shoot it in time, instead of simply being flung out into space like the enemies would've been, the emergency shutter closes at just the wrong time, sandwiching Isaac in the gap and bludgeoning him in half. Even if you're right next to the window when it goes, it still decides to close just as you cross the border, which just doesn't make sense. And with Isaac now showing his face, there's a whole new list of orifices that enemies can exploit in the cutscenes. Lose to a tripod, and you're treated to a wonderful(!) scene of it ramming it's arm through Isaac's mouth, and the less said about the final death scene, the better. But it's not the fact that they're overly gory that's the problem, it's the fact that they aren't easily skippable, you can't just press A to skim over the long cutscene that (if you're anything like me) you've already seen about 4 times. You'll have to pause the game and select "Checkpoint Restart" to get back in the game as quickly as possible, which ruins the cinematic effect that they've been going for throughout the rest of the game.
Presumably if you did get sucked out of the window completely, Isaac would just do this, and float back in. Still doesn't make it any better, though.
With the rest of its presentation, though, Dead Space 2 towers above similar games. There's no "Heads-up display" in any of the corners telling you how much health or ammo you've got, and no radar always on screen rotating to keep north facing upwards. But the information these displays convey is all still there in front of you, easy to see. Isaac's health is displayed on the spine of his RIG ("Resource Integration Gear", or his suit, for normal people), while his remaining ammo is displayed by a holographic projection on the weapon he's got equipped. To find the location of your next objective, or your nearest save point, upgrade Bench, or Shop, you can click the right analog stick and a holographic line appears on the floor, leading you to the location in question. Inventory management is also done via a holographic projection, meaning that you never really have to pause the game, which helps to make the game a lot more cinematic, and also means that you're never actually safe when you're rearranging your pockets. The load times between each chapter are gone too, so the game flows seamlessly from area to area, and if you're anything like me you'll sit down to play a chapter and only realise 3 chapters on you've been playing it for a good few hours.
Unlike the first game, which was pretty much a one-chapter-a-night affair, due to it's one trick pony nature of drab spaceship environments and enemies, Dead Space 2 is a lot more varied, so you can sink a lot of time into it without getting bored.
Look at it. It just oozes awesome.
One of the areas which has seen the most improvement are the Zero-G sections, which now give you full 3D movement in space (thanks to jump jets in Isaac's new suit), as opposed to the leaping-to-suitable-surfaces-and-sticking-to-them Zero-G environments of the original. It's extremely well done, and the muted sounds of the vacuum of space make it incredibly believable. It might not be what space ACTUALLY sounds like, but it's certainly how I think it'd sound. Without wanting to spoil anything, I'll just say the section with the solar array is superb (and if you look down there's a glimpse of what's yet to come). Jetpacks really do make everything awesome.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the game Dead Space 2 becomes almost too action-y, and while it makes sense in the grand scheme of the plot, it doesn't lead to a terribly enjoyable ending. The last few chapters throw so many enemies at you it quickly becomes a slog (including a cameo from the most annoying enemy from the original Dead Space), and then leads to one of the most infuriating final bosses ever (here's where you'll need your fully upgraded javelin gun), before finishing with probably the best ending of recent years. The last few chapters are, figuratively, a rollercoaster of quality.
In the end though, the decreasing quality of the last section isn't enough to detract from the brilliance of the first half (well, first three quarters, really). It takes almost everything from the original Dead Space, and makes it better: the combat, the story, the characters, the setpieces, the zero-G environments. This is how you do a sequel - and, with the "Previously in Dead Space" movie making it so you don't even need to have played the original, you've really got no excuse. Pick it up, now, and prepare to be scared.