Poor Isaac Clarke scraped through the events of Dead Space only to wind up on Titan with barely time to pull on his new RIG before wading into a fresh host of necromorphs. The gruesome space zombies abound on Titan Station, where Isaac is caught between the twisted Church of Unitology and a corporation out to exploit the madness-inducing Marker artefact, all while being tormented by an apparition of his late girlfriend. Poor Isaac Clarke.
Titan Station, a colony on Saturn's largest moon, is overrun with fleshy abominations even before our luckless engineer escapes the hospital in which he awakes. In the first couple of hours of the game, we steered him through apartment complex Titan Heights and onto a train; then, one train wreck later, through a shopping concourse, a zero-gravity garbage compactor, the Unitology Recruitment Centre, and into the creepily opulent Church of Unitology itself.
As a civilian settlement, Titan Station makes for environments that contrast with those of the spaceship-set first game; though the spaces are still mostly enclosed and corridor heavy, they include compact apartments, laundrettes, shops, and an elementary school, with the pupils of the latter reborn as screeching infant demons. Areas are occasionally linked by claustrophobic vents through which Isaac has to crawl. On other occasions, he draws on his engineering experience to hack electronics, represented by an analog stick-twiddling minigame. The halls are decked with gore and spidery alien scrawl, but beyond the windows, the station is practically scenic: a gleaming space-cityscape with Blade Runner-esque vehicles to match the "futuristic" electronic signage inside.
Team necromorph has diversified since the first game, counting spitting and vomiting horrors among its ranks, as well as the demonic kids and the classic, stabby variety. Some creatures resemble heads with tentacles, while others feature explosive yellowish growths to avoid while you're going about strategically dismembering them. Otherwise, dismemberment is still the way to go, and to that end, there's the usual plasma cutter with vertical-to-horizontal alternate fire mode, which is best used in conjunction with the slow-motion stasis power, plus a satisfyingly destructive pulse rifle coupled with grenades. There's also the powerful line gun, like a plasma cutter with a wider spray, that plants mines in its alternate fire mode, and there's the javelin gun, whose spikes can be remotely electrified. Weapons can be purchased from the automated stores dotted around the station and upgraded with upgrade nodes at workbenches, as can the new, nimbler-looking RIG exosuit.
Zero-gravity movement, encountered a couple of times in the first few chapters, has Isaac launching, landing, and boosting--flying, that is--through slowly drifting debris, with floating globules of water a nice visual addition. One zero-g segment takes place inside a powered-down waste unit, while another takes place inside the huge Church of Unitology complex, after disabling the spinning rings of a gravity generator. Those Unitologists don't lack funding--the complex is packed with lavish studies and training rooms; around a gift shop and vast cathedral hall, atop a network of frozen crypts; and all scattered with sly, parodic pokes at Scientology.
The cathedral is the stage for a face-off with a giant clawed necromorph and The Pack (the kiddie demons) that may be familiar from trailers and the demo. That is one of the action-focused beats that break up the slower, creepier traversing of the station, but it's not as extended or spectacular as the train set piece. In this, we fought necromorphs on a moving train that became a crashing, falling train--with Isaac dropping through the carriages, blasting necros as he went. Other action beats are based on explosive decompression; a window is broken, giving you seconds to shoot an emergency switch before Isaac is sucked out into space.
Along with the action, there are the subtler scares, with lights failing and elevators halting in readiness for nasties to leap out of vents. The impressively unsettling ambient sound and contextually triggered music returns from the first game: whispers, giggles, spooky distant lullabies, crying behind locked doors, breathing inside the RIG helmet, occasionally punctuated with tense orchestral stings. The nightmare soundscape of real and imagined noises heightens the impression of Isaac's tattered sanity; some of the most sinister moments aren't playable but are flashes of hallucination, mostly starring the girlfriend-turned-demonic-tormentor.
For Isaac Clarke, then, things only go from bad to worse. It's just as well--you couldn't base a Dead Space 2 on pottering about in early, stress-related retirement. The game launches on January 25 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, and there's a console demo available now.