Dead Space 2 wastes little time acclimating you to your new surroundings (and Isaac’s newfound personality) before plunging you back into the ice cold nightmare that is the Necromorph infestation. Little more than five minutes will pass before that “M” for Mature rating is smashed right over your head in what may arguably be the swiftest mindfuck ever delivered in a video game’s opening sequence, if not in a video game, period. It slows down a bit after that as you get back into the swing of things, waving your flashlight wildly about as you proceed through the darkness and are reintroduced to basic gameplay mechanics like Stasis and Kinesis, quicktime events, and “strategic dismemberment.”
As in the first game, combat with the Necromorphs is largely contingent upon your ability to target specific weak points, usually the limbs or head. Since ammunition is not particularly plentiful, it’s best to conserve what you have by taking careful aim before shooting. For unique threats such as bosses, weak points are highlighted in yellow, and you can use Stasis to slow their movement temporarily to help you hit them. Unconventional tactics are made possible by using Kinesis, the anti-gravity utility that acts just like Half-Life 2’s gravity gun, which allows you to pick up and throw most physics-enabled objects. While debris such as boxes, chairs, or fire extinguishers can be tossed to stagger or knock down an opponent, other, more pointy or explodey objects can be used to dismember and/or kill much more efficiently. Because of this, you can still be quite effective in a fight even after you’ve run out of ammo.
You can still stomp corpses to find loot like so many gory piñatas, but items and credits are also scattered throughout the environment. Inventory space is limited at first (better suits have more pockets), so sell or vault what you don’t need to carry with you. The store terminal allows you to do both of those things, as well as purchase ammo, health, weapons, and suits. Many of the big-ticket items must be unlocked first by collecting its schematic from somewhere in the Sprawl. The Workbench also returns as a way to use those valuable power nodes that you find or buy to upgrade weapons and other equipment. Save stations are common enough that you can quit at almost any point, and are even supplemented by hidden checkpoint saves that were very helpful on a couple of the occasions I died.
The story is not particularly strong, consisting mostly of recycled elements from the first game, but the characters, including Isaac, combine with tried-and-true atmospheric elements and a new setting to make up for that. A completely self-contained ecosystem for what must be hundreds of thousands of people like the Sprawl simply has far more unique environments to exploit in scaring the crap out of the player than an abandoned mining barge. Although, much of what you experience is more creepy or unsettling than frightening, in that it poses no threat to you yet will still send shivers down your spine.
The sheer quantity of encounters you’ll have with the ordinary Necromorphs means it will eventually become routine and almost predictable (Doom 3 syndrome), but Dead Space 2’s saving grace is that it also manages to come at you in unexpected ways throughout the whole game. I don’t want to spoil anything, but what I’m referring to generally has you re-thinking the idea that there are some areas or moments in a game that are “safe.” It’s this constant state of fear that maintains your adrenaline high in between bouts with the formidable bosses and puts more stress on the ol’ ticker than some may be used to. The resulting blend of action and terror is a marathon thrill ride that few other games are able to duplicate.