The very last game I saw during this year’s E3 was Dead Space 2. I was tired, cranky, and ready to get as far away from the Los Angeles Convention Center, but once I started checking out the sequel to one of 2008’s best, I caught a second wind and perked right back up. This time around, players still control Isaac Clarke, protagonist of the original game, but a huge slew of improvements and refinements have been made. Along with that, the core elements that made the first so extraordinary (fun gameplay and stunning audio) are back, and when combined with the tweaks made to the game, Dead Space 2 becomes something truly stellar.
Rather than using the Ishimura's claustrophobic space ship as its setting, the game takes place on Sprawl, a giant mining settlement built outside the moon of Titan. The game will still take place indoors, but you’ll be able to peek out windows and take a look at this sprawling, silent setting. Along with this new aesthetic comes the fact that Isaac is no longer a silent avatar. He’s a proper character, with quite a bit of experience when dealing with the necromorphs, and he’s not afraid to say it. He’s fairly bold, as he’ll point out dumb ideas when someone from on high proposes them. He can also refuse missions, or make suggestions on a better strategy. He’ll also always be chatting with his team, monitoring the various situations he’s tossed into. And lastly, you’ll get to see his face, helping you to connect with the character, rather than the man in a suit of armor with a glowing helmet.
Dead Space 2 uses a faster pace, and to keep up with that, the control scheme has been reworked to accommodate this approach, making something that’s a lot more intuitive and dynamic. Little things like a quick reload button or access to your telekinetic and stasis abilities with the push of a button (while aiming) really help make the gameplay that much cleaner, and help out with the necromorphs. Along with that, some abilities have also seen upgrades in several really cool ways, allowing for some extra panache while slaying these killer aliens. In the case of your telekinesis, you’ll be able to shoot off a razor-sharp limb of a necromorph, pick up the severed appendage and hurl it back at your enemy, stabbing it and sending it flying backwards with the force of the attack, and it’s a welcome touch.
Some other new abilities are, again, refinements on the original. The melee attacks are back in Dead Space 2, and while they’re good in a pinch, they now feel a lot smoother and more organic. While in the original Dead Space, you could punch or stomp enemies, there was a sizable delay between these attacks, even when you’re spamming the proper button. This time around, you can punch and kick in a way that’s faster and makes a lot more sense, matching the quicker tempo of the game. Another new improvement comes into play when you’re in zero gravity. While in the original, you could only jump from structure to structure in a straight line; this time out, Isaacs new suit comes with jet thrusters, allowing you to control your movements on all three axes, enabling for a little more precision when floating through space.
While you’ll still have access to your plasma cutter and pulse rifle, you’ll also be able to use the new javelin gun, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun. Basically, the gun fires a giant javelin and disposes of most enemies with a single shot. Along with that, if you line things up properly, the javelin will pin enemies against the walls, and though it may not sound like much, it brought a great deal of fun to the game. However many weapons you’re equipped with, you’ll still have the various creatures in the game to contend with, and they’re no slouches either. While the standard enemies from the original are around to try to kill Isaac, new, burlier enemies will try to take you down, either from a distance, or even mere inches from you, creating a range of attacks to keep you on your toes. More frightening than those enemies come in the form of the pack, a swarm of necromorphs that look like babies who try to overrun you, but so long as you don’t panic and make good use of your weaponry, you’ll be fine.
The demo ends with a boss encounter--a necromorph so big, I couldn’t even get a good look at it. However, it provided a glimpse at the clever ways in which developer Visceral Games is handling some of the more cinematic moments. While I was looking out from a giant temple of the Church of Unitology overlooking the entire city of Sprawl, a helicopter descended and begin firing through the window, opening up the vacuum of space. All Isaac could do was hang on to a railing as players used quick time events to pull him to safety. As Isaac pulls himself into a nearby vent, he falls to a lower level, only to come face to face with said giant necromorph. Rather than using manual controls or quicktime events, it’s sort of a mix of the two. While this monster will pick up Isaac and toss him around, you’ll spot weak points on the monster’s limbs while hanging, which you'll then have to shoot off as fast as you can. Once the enemy collapses, you both get sucked out into space. But it's not over yet: while he’s still coming after you, you’ll notice tanks of gas floating around, so you’ll have to take precise aim and do to him what Police Chief Brody did to a certain pesky shark. Instead of sticking around to see what happened, that’s where our demo ended, and it was a hell of a ride.
The original Dead Space was one of the best games of 2008, providing a fantastic balance of different elements (story, setting, gameplay, and especially audio) ever seen in a game. Dead Space 2 is not only shaping up to be a solid sequel, but simply a truly impressive game. It’s improving on everything that made the original so great, and then some, which is creating something that’s well worth keeping an eye out for. I was truly impressed with what I saw, and considering the game’s not due out until January of 2011, there’s still quite a bit of time to polish things up before it launches, and that’s hardly a bad thing.
Developer: Visceral Games
Genre: Shooter, Action-Adventure
Release: January 25, 2011
Available On: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Dead Space: Liked
Resident Evil 4: Loved
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories: Liked
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