I got a sneak peek of the spine-chilling sequel at E3, and came away impressed, scared, and anxious to lop off some alien limbs. The Necromorph-crawling follow-up retains much of what made its predecessor so appealing, including combat driven by dismemberment-delivering weapons, monster-in-closet moments, and a very un-Space Marine protagonist. One of the cooler, fright-ratcheting qualities of the original was that the man in the slick sci-fi suit (or RIG) wasn’t your typical Master Chief ripoff; Isaac Clarke was a skilled engineer, who just happened to be the right guy in the wrong place. Now with more face time--you see his mug when he changes RIGS--and a speaking voice, he’s still the everyman, but admittedly a more hardened badass following the hell he survived on the USG Ishimura.
For starters, the alien-slaughtering hero has picked up some new toys. During my demo I watched him use a Javelin Gun to great effect, proving there’s always fresh ways to tear into a nasty Necromorph. Firing lengthy spear-like projectiles, the weapon pins baddies to walls with a satisfying aural “plunk”, followed by the equally pleasing screams of your now-dangling targets. Of course, Isaac’s still packing his Line and Plasma cutters for encounters requiring a bit more surgical precision. Kinesis and Stasis powers also return, guaranteeing you’ll get an eyeful of hacked limbs flying through the air in slow motion.
As much as I enjoyed watching rampaging creeps get nailed to the wall, it was actually a less lethal item in Isaac’s arsenal that excited me most. His new RIG comes equipped with thrusters, allowing him to handle zero gravity situations with more grace and strategy. The first game’s most frustrating moments arguably came from the limited control players were given when all gravity was sucked from a room; this new trick addresses that, but also opens the door for more complex and creative puzzling and combat sequences. Before, all concentration was spent on simply getting from one location to another, but with this added navigation, I’m guessing we’ll be doing a lot more puzzle-solving and eviscerating while floating through space.
Isaac’s going to need all the new gadgets and powers he can get his hands on, though, as the sequel’s also adding new Necromorphs to its ranks. I got to see the appropriately named Puker stop Isaac in his tracks as a torrent of time-slowing vomit spewed from the nasty’s maw. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of up-chucking baddies in other horror titles, but this one’s ability to temporarily incapacitate makes it an interesting new breed of bile-spitting beast. This series is all about cranking up the fear factor, and I can’t imagine anything more frightening than being attacked while helplessly bound in vomit.
Well, there is one thing more frightening: creepy children. From F.E.A.R’s ghostly Alma to Dante Inferno’s bladed-arm babies, nothing sets my skin crawling like mutated, demonic, or spectral tykes that want to eat my brain. Dead Space 2 makes its bid for the most terrifying toddlers with The Pack, a ravenous mob of child-looking Necromorphs that you’ll almost feel guilty about wasting, well, at least until they charge you like a class of zombified third graders running to recess. I just got a glimpse, but these little monsters have already taken up residence in my brain for future nightmares.
In addition to the new gear and fresh meat-bags to use it on, this fright-filled sequel is opening up its levels to be more open-ended. The first game stuck to lots of cramped corridors and close quarters combat, but Dead Space 2 is moving the blood-bath off the confines of a spacecraft and into an entire city. My demo took place in a church--the first game’s crazed religious cult plays a larger role this time out--with a tight interior supporting similar claustrophobic gameplay. However, with an entire space settlement to play in, I’m expecting Visceral’s got some large set pieces and epic scripted events up their sleeves.
The demo’s conclusion did hint at this promise a bit. Battling a screen-eclipsing boss, Isaac is tossed around the church like a rag-doll, just before being sucked out a window; the big bad follows, and soon the two are tangling in the stretching expanse of space, where Isaac sets his sights on explosive oxygen tanks. That’s when the demo goes black, but I’d bet my Line Cutter that a screen full of flame-engulfed alien innards was no more than a second away. This entire concluding segment was as impressive as a big budget sci-fi film sequence...and it will be playable. Based on my hands-off perspective, it looked as though some God of War style quick-time events will make this possible.
While I loved the action and story of the original, it was ultimately its ability to set my neck hairs on end that made it an all-time favorite. My only concern with the sequel is that it could lose some of this suffocating fear by giving the previously silent protagonist a voice and by setting the action in more open spaces. That said, Visceral proved the first time around that they know a thing or two about utilizing audio and visual cues to send our hearts into our throats. If they can duplicate that tension-amping atmosphere, while also making the expected bigger-and-better sequel, then gamers are in for some sleepless, sweaty-palmed nights come next January.
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