I beat Dead Space 2 over the weekend and I am ½ way through my second play through (I love New Game + modes! All games should have it as an option!).
Overall, very solid game, although I don't see it as a GotY candidate. I did enjoy it, I just wasn't playing it with the same awe as I did the first one. I'm probably just desensitized to the "experience" the first one provided. The super-slick interface and HUDless gameplay of the original is no longer new and unique (although still totally awesome). The visuals are fantastic and better than the first one for sure, yet I'm not as "wowed" this time. The Necromorphs are still ferocious and scary, but not as terrifying and alien. The heavier reliance on combat (and improved combat mechanics) actually make your frequent encounters with enemies not as intense, since they seem more frequent and dispatching enemies is easier now (aside from the super cheap "scorpion" necromorphs, which are just bastards). The game also resorts to kinda cheap tactics (enemies spawning behind you 80% of the time) and predictable sections of you getting bombarded by waves of enemies while you wait for something to happen (a door to unlock, an elevator to arrive, etc.). All these factors do dilute some of the great atmosphere the visuals and sound do such a good job of setting up.
The gameplay itself is pretty similar to the original and while they did eliminate backtracking, to me that actually gives the game a more linear feel. I did not mind the backtracking in the first game, as it made the Ishimura feel like a real ship and not just "levels". They also removed the cool 3D map from the first game and I am not sure why, because I used that map quite a bit before and I found myself wishing I had it back.
The one gameplay area that did receive a major upgrade (aside from combat) is in the zero-gravity sections. Isaac can now freely move around these and they really are a lot of fun to navigate and experience. And like in the first game, I absolutely love the way Visceral Games gets across the feeling of being in the vacuum of space. The sound design in these sections is awesome and the free-flying gameplay only adds to the experience.
My one hope for any possible sequels is to change the formula a bit to make the game world feel more organic and not as scripted. I'd say about 95% of the enemies you encounter in the game are scripted to jump out and "scare" you after you trigger some kind of event. Whether it is just crossing an invisible line on the floor, pressing a switch, picking up an object, or some hidden timer while you wait for something to happen. There are rarely just enemies roaming around the levels. Maybe there is some story-related reason for this. Maybe necromorphs by nature only hunt with the element of surprise and by hiding in vents. That's cool, I don't mind that. It wouldn't be very scary if every time you entered a room there were a few necromorphs just standing around. If they like hiding in vents and walls, then by all means, let them be in the walls, but let them actually be in there when you enter a room, watching you, waiting. Maybe you can hear them if you are an acute listener. Maybe you can even pin-point their location and get the upper-hand with a pre-emptive attack. Let them freely move around the ceiling and walls while they stalk you and wait for the best moment to attack, but that attack should not be scripted and the same each time. Absolutely keep some of those scripted moments as they can be highly effective, I just think that removing the majority of the totally scripted attacks will do wonders not only to the general gameplay by making everything feel much more organic and random (which in turn will increase the game's replay value), but will make the actual scripted sections much more exciting.
Also, more sections that take place in the vacuum of space. That is all. Thanks.