If, ten years ago, you had told the gaming community that the legendary "kings of horror", Resident Evil and Silent Hill, would be replaced by a new franchise developed in America in a few years...You'd probably have been laughed at.
The original Dead Space borrowed heavily from Resident Evil 4 for its gameplay, and heavily from The Thing for its monster design, but most people didn't seem to mind. What mattered to most people was that it was a new, frightening series that managed to keep you on the edge of your seat much better than its founding fathers. It wasn't without its share of flaws, and of course, no game is perfect. What mattered was that it was solid, though. It was responsive, fun, replayable, and effortlessly unsettling.
The leap from Dead Space 1 to 2 reminds me of the leap from Mass Effect 1 to 2, in which I was expecting more of the same with a few new features, and what I got instead blew me away. Dead Space 2 is far more cinematic and engaging than its predecessor, and I was literally yelling "best game ever" within five minutes of starting it up. Maybe it was because I was playing a character with character, whose fate, for once, I legitimately cared about.
This was one complaint leveled against Dead Space 1 that I saw often, a lot of people simply wanted the main character to speak or react to the world around him. Often, when you combine that with simply not knowing when your character might die, you are given the sense of vulnerability that forces you to care about what you're doing. Remember Demon's Souls?
The most interesting thing about Dead Space as a franchise is that it is hectic, but never unfair. You may be trapped in an airless chamber, the timer on your back ticking down, face to face with an enemy you aren't capable of killing, but there is always a way out. Also praise-worthy is the game's ability to force you to shoot from positions you never thought you would be shooting from, such as while danging upside-down, or while sliding. This kind of variety is what makes Dead Space 2 so captivating, and even though it's longer than the first, it's also much less tedious.
Even more satisfying is the game's replayability. The very first thing I was compelled to do once I'd completed it was go through it again, and I proceeded to do so twice, trying different weapons, suits, and difficulty levels, constantly discovering new details and things I didn't catch the first time around. The multiplayer can be surprisingly fun and captivating when played right, but this is a rarity on Xbox Live, where the concept of teamwork eludes most players.
There were two flaws in my first playthrough of note, though I consider this to be nitpicking when I realize how great the game is. First and foremost, to train you to use Stasis, the enemy-slowing tool in your arsenal, they present you with an enemy who is simply unkillable unless you use stasis on him. I know from browsing various e-forums that the vast majority of players die here, as the enemy is so blatantly open to attack (and already being slowed by stasis anyway.) that nobody decides to slow him down first. To make things worse, his attack, for some reason, is an instant-kill, no matter what.
Secondly, the final segment of the game involves a rigorous chase scene with a very powerful enemy, and if you don't figure out what you're supposed to do quickly enough, you will soon find yourself out of ammo. This, of course, is a problem, when coupled with the fact that you are expected to fight throughout the chase. I think this area could have benefited from more playtesting, as I know several people who ran into the same issue, and were rewarded with a string of deaths they had no way to prevent. In my case, I actually had to switch the game to easy and beat it that way, which is something I tend to refuse to do in games, and pretty much ruined my first run through the game.
All in all though, even ignoring multiplayer, I consider Dead Space 2 to be well-worth the price of admission. At least on 360. I have heard of the usual "things not working" on the PC side, which is actually why I picked up the console version in the first place. The more you know!