It's been three years since Dead Space, both for us and for protagonist Isaac Clarke, who wakes up with no memory of what's happened since we last saw his simple spaceship-engineering assignment turn into a fight against undead monsters called Necromorphs. For those who aren't familiar with the story: these monsters exist because of a religion called Unitology, which worships manmade towers called Red Markers - structures that have been reverse-engineered from an ancient artifact called the Black Marker. Proximity to Markers causes people to lose their minds and, after death, reanimate as Necromorphs. Why would anyone worship, let alone duplicate, these Markers? The promise of eternal life, even as a zombie, would seem to be just that tempting.
Isaac needs to play the hero once again, but overexposure to Markers has started to affect his brain. He has one particular memory that haunts him: his girlfriend, Nicole, committed suicide when the previous game's Marker took her sanity. A new Marker uses Isaac's guilty conscience to its advantage by manifesting as hallucinations of Nicole's ghost and urging Isaac to fulfill his true purpose as a good Unitologist: kill himself and rise again as a Necromorph.
In the first game, Isaac never spoke, and his silence made him seem stoic; his newfound voice in Dead Space 2 emphasizes his investment in the collapsing world around him. As Nicole's ghost stares him down with icy, glowing eyes and lays on the guilt, he can now answer her with everything from hushed pleas to heated denials.
Isaac's weapons and powers haven't changed much, and he still must dismember Necromorphs to kill them, but Dead Space 2 has other new tricks. The game now lacks a map, so Isaac must trust anyone who's willing to guide him, no matter how treacherous that person seems; this will either frighten or frustrate you. Your locator directs you to save points, upgrade stations, and objectives, but it's fallible, so if you stray from the path, you'll be rewarded.
There's no shortage of monsters, but you'll also cope with unpredictable stretches of time when nothing jumps out. You never can be sure when or where the peace will be broken by a guttural scream, Nicole's whisper in your ear, an air vent collapsing, or a nursery of wailing Necromorph toddlers. If all else fails, there's a horrifying sequence close to the end involving a needle and no opportunity to look away.
Dead Space 2 has added multi-player, and it's fun but forgettable. The one available mode involves two teams of four switching off between playing Necromorphs and human engineers, with just a handful of maps.
I love team-based multi-player and co-operative play, but this game should do without either. The Dead Space world focuses on Isaac's terrible trip through an eerily quiet nightmare in which there's no one he can trust. A story like that works best when you're all by yourself, in the dark.