Dead Space 2 made me angry.
Not actual anger, obviously, but that particular variation of it that's reserved for video games. I spent a lot of time shouting at my television screen, and after a few hours, I wasn't playing out of curiosity, accomplishment, or excitement; it was pure stubborn determination. I did not want to let this damned thing win.
It starts off as a reasonably interesting, tightly paced action-horror game, with at least an attempt to build some atmosphere. Isaac Clarke wakes up on a space colony called the Sprawl, built out of the ruins of Titan, to find out it's been three years since he escaped from the Ishimura. He quickly discovers that he doesn't remember much of the last three years; the necromorphs that killed everyone aboard the Ishimura have apparently followed him to the Sprawl; and they're killing everyone here, too.
So far, so good. You spend seven chapters scrambling for gear, being totally unable to save even a single person, meeting your supporting cast, and murdering undead monstrosities with whatever you can get your hands on.
Then you hit Chapter Eight and the whole thing goes straight to hell.
Dead Space 2 obeys a lot of strange, unspoken rules, and if you go in cold, you probably won't realize they exist. Ammunition is theoretically randomly determined and is actually, as far as I can tell, given out by somebody who hates me personally. You're given space to hold four weapons, and if you actually buy four weapons, you are guaranteed to be loaded down to the point of absurdity with ammo for whatever gun is the most objectively worthless for the situation you are in at the time. The "real" way to play the game is to pick two guns you like the look of and invest heavily in them, but no one tells you this. If you actually decide to pick up multiple weapons and play around with them, you're punished for it.
The game is, like its predecessor, mostly about monsters jumping out of air vents. Unlike its predecessor, an enemy who shows up in front of you is immediately joined by at least one other guy who just popped into existence directly behind you - not coming out of an obvious monster closet or bursting through a door or window, but actually spawning there, like that old Daffy Duck cartoon where a particularly sadistic Bugs is painting the backgrounds - and who will claw at least one buttock off before you have the chance to react. Most enemies have either suspiciously accurate missile weapons or the horizontal reach of a basketball player; practicing evasion against them is the fine art of only getting eviscerated once before you're able to run past. If you want to run away from a monster, you have to hit it with the stasis module first, or it simply isn't going to work.
You have regular access to vending machines and workbenches, as in the first game, which allows you to sell off what you don't need, stock up on whatever you're low on, and upgrade your gear. In theory, it's a great idea, but the flexibility it offers you is made irrelevant by the fact there are too few of them in the game, and they show up at irregular intervals. For as crucial as they are, you should be running into a store two or three times in each chapter, or they should be available in centrally located "hubs" that you can backtrack to at any time. That's the way they were in the first game, when the mechanic actually worked.
Instead, stores and benches are a rare and precious event, forcing you to limp through stages for extended periods with a pocketful of credits you are completely unable to spend. In that situation, every time you smash a box or kill a monster in search of a random drop you can actually use, and it turns out to be a couple of hundred credits instead, feels like somebody in a distant control room is laughing at your misfortune.
Dead Space 2 emphasizes precision and careful conservation of resources. You're supposed to be using the kinesis module to kill monsters whenever you can, by throwing whatever's handy into their face, up to and including parts of their own bodies. In practice, on the 360 version, you'd have to have the precise reflexes of a brain surgeon combined with a little bit of pure luck, allowing you to pick up an actual sharp object and not a moist slab of recently-disemboweled hellbeast. This is one of the few games I've ever played where I genuinely wished I was doing so on a PC, because this has to be better when you're using a mouse.
The upgrade system is a lot more flexible than it was in the first game, and the weapons are all genuinely useful, allowing for a lot of customization as to how you play the game. You can also respec your guns for a fee, in case it turns out you screwed up early on. You did. The latter half of the game is effectively impossible without tricking out your stasis module, and all other upgrades are of secondary importance. The game doesn't tell you this, and by the time you realize it on your own, you're miles from the nearest bench.
Several situations throughout the game are deliberately built to kill you instantly and cheaply, forcing you to prepare for them ahead of time if you intend to survive. If you've got the wrong gun in your hand, which is to say anything but the plasma cutter or pulse rifle, and a window blows out, you're dead. There's a room about halfway through the game where a monster with an explosive nodule on its arm shows up directly next to a fragile window that opens on vacuum; if you shoot the nodule for a one-hit kill on sight, like you're conditioned to by the rest of the game, the window blows out and you're at the wrong angle to save yourself, so you're dead.
If there's one word for Dead Space 2, it's "counterintuitive." There is a certain way to play the game, and if you don't play it in exactly that way, you're in for a long, painful ride. There are no hints towards that, and in fact, the game starts off pretending like you can do pretty much whatever you want and still do okay. After the seventh chapter or so, the kid gloves come off, and that's when the entire game takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
At that point, you're apparently supposed to sell your third and fourth guns, respec into the stasis module, use kinesis to kill monsters whenever possible, and smile prettily whenever something comes out of literally nowhere to disembowel you. Enemies start showing up in groups of half a dozen, throwing themselves at you in waves, so when you kill the first five, the sixth hits you while you're reloading and rips out your collarbone. It's not a carefully designed encounter or a clever use of game mechanics to provide a thrilling or challenging action sequence; it's a blatant attempt to use up as many of the player's limited resources as possible, through waves of high-damage monsters with unavoidable attacks.
I could probably forgive a lot of that if the game was actually scary, because I'm like that. If there's a compelling story attached to it, especially in a horror game, I'll slog through for some reason. Dead Space 2 isn't scary in the least, though.
In the first game, you were alone against a visibly supernatural threat, using improvised weapons and dealing with a completely unknown quantity. The logs and diaries painted a picture of a situation going slowly to hell, and everything worked towards a slowly building sense of wrongness and uneasiness that was actually a pretty good example of how you're supposed to do horror. Yeah, it had a lot of monster closets and jump scares, but it properly put the focus of the story on the humans caught within it, which gave the Ishimura a strong sense of place that the Sprawl doesn't have.
In Dead Space 2, a lot of that atmosphere has been replaced with gore, gunfights, and monster closets. Things jump out at you, you blow them into wet chunks, and you move on, secure in the knowledge that you know exactly what's going on. There's an alien artifact somewhere on the station that's causing shenanigans. Big deal. There's no suspense or drama attached to it, and instead, the game devolves into an action game where you're constantly half-dead, low on ammunition, and limping towards yet another inevitable six-monster lynch mob.
There are a couple of interesting levels or sequences throughout the game, and the production values are obviously high, but Dead Space 2 is blatantly uninspired. The first game had a real problem with feeling like it was designed by committee ("Let's make Resident Evil 4... in space... with a gravity gun and a time-slowing mechanic!"), and DS2's deliberately omitted just about everything that made the original game at all interesting or potentially frightening, and replaced it with fight scenes.
I can't recommend this game. I know a lot of people who are having a lot of fun with it, but it just makes me tired.