Turn off the lights, crank up the surround sound and fire up your high-speed circular saw. It's time to hack some necromorph limbs.
Systems engineer turned reluctant action hero Isaac Clarke returns for "Dead Space 2" ($59.99 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC), EA's follow-up to its 2008 surprise sci-fi horror, third-person shooter hit.
The sequel offers another intense ride, fraught with ultra-violent attacks, grotesque projectile vomiting and enough creepy lighting and sound-effect tricks to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Isaac, still haunted by the horrifying events on the USG Ishimura three years earlier, begins his next installment by waking up in an asylum on the Sprawl, a huge space station orbiting Saturn. He's slowly going insane, and that story line plays out through the game.
But there's little time for back story because before he can even remove his straitjacket, he's thrust into mayhem. Isaac must make a mad dash toward safety when the mental ward is overrun by monsterlike reanimated necromorphs, and the action doesn't let up for a while.
Isaac is still a systems engineer, and those skills remain in need as he's forced to troubleshoot and fix his way through the Sprawl. But he's faced these monsters before, so he comfortably slips back into the action-hero role as he sets out to destroy the Marker, a religious idol responsible for the reanimated monsters.
The plot follows a linear track, but the Sprawl's expanded environments, including a hospital and a mall food court, provide plenty of variety.
Like its predecessor, "Dead Space 2" scraps the standard heads-up display, placing on Isaac's backpack color-coded meters for health and stasis, his special ability to slow down the necromorphs. It's all good if the meters stay bright blue, but as he takes damage or uses his powers, the meters drop to yellow and then red.
The no-HUD approach avoids cluttering up the screen, keeping your eyes on Isaac or an approaching enemy. And that plays right into the developers' hands, allowing them to use time-tested haunted house scare tactics to continually catch you off guard.
Ammo level is displayed atop a pointed weapon, and Isaac can stock up on supplies by stomping on the carnage he leaves behind.
The game features a great selection of weapons - the Plasma Cutter, the Line Gun and the Ripper to name a few - that are essentially re-engineered mining tools. Weapons, as well as Isaac's protective suit, can be upgraded throughout the game.
The key to survival, once again, is cutting off the monsters' tentacles to keep them from coming back to hurt you.
"Dead Space 2" adds a multiplayer mode in which a team of humans battles a team of necromorphs in several map settings. Humans try to complete a list of objectives while four necromorphs - the pack, the lurker, the puker and the spitter - do whatever they can to stop them.
It's a multiplayer formula that worked well in "Left 4 Dead 2," and it translates reasonably well here.
But the main draw is single-player mode, and as with any good horror flick, "Dead Space 2" is best enjoyed in the dark with your heart racing a few beats-per-minute above normal. It's fast-paced, it's scary and it's a heck of a lot of fun.
Four stars out of four.