For our money Resident Evil 4 is the most accomplished survival horror game ever released. And although the ways it achieved this are numerous, it was the transition from clunky controls to over-the-shoulder precision that turned Resi 4 into a masterpiece. But while Resident Evil 5 offered us more biohazard shenanigans, there was an intervening terror that encapsulated this new style of survival horror action even better: Dead Space.
Rather than a tenacious journalist or super cop, Isaac Clark was an unassuming engineer who went about his day-to-day business fixing spaceships. However his career path quickly went astray when he boarded the USG Ishimura, a vessel whose crew had been corrupted by an alien relic known as the Marker – turning them into homicidal maniacs before reanimating their corpses into grotesque Necromorphs. These monstrosities were keen to make Isaac an honorary member of their shambling club, but thanks to his talents with plasma-powered mining equipment, Isaac was able to escape that intergalactic hellhole. The only question was: had he survived with his slender grip on reality intact, or had this horror rendered him insane?
Dead Space 2 is set to answer this question by pitching Isaac against a new Necromorph infestation. What this translates to is another psychological struggle for survival as we dust off the trusty Plasma Cutter and get ready for more tactical dismemberment.
Our hands-on kicked off in a residential area as Isaac made his way through overrun walkways and living quarters. The rampaging Necromorphs on show included the familiar mutilated-faces of the Slasher and the bat-like Infector, as well as a new strain of beastie called the Pack.
The level continued through industrial locations as we dispatched more enemies before reaching a broken down train that needed fixing to enable our progress. Obviously the train’s carriages were far from empty, so we re-familiarised ourselves with the Line Gun. Then, once we’d made it to the rear carriage, we were presented with a new hacking mini-game that had us looking for a sweet spot by turning the analogue stick within a set time limit. It’s a fairly basic addition, but it doesn’t feel intrusive.
With the expressway working we then ran the Necromorph gauntlet back up to the lead carriage, only for the train to inadvertently crash, leaving us dangling upside down while suspended from a cable. Unfortunately for Isaac, the sound of the derailing attracted the attention of every unspeakable horror within earshot, so we did our best to avoid a piñata situation by blasting frantically. But what saved Isaac’s skin was the surprising arrival of a lumbering Brute, who knocked him to the floor after we severed one of its shoulders. Suffice to say we didn’t stick around for the favour to be returned.
After this strategic retreat we encountered another familiar Necromorph, the Exploder, who in this case was perfectly positioned amongst a group of friends. So with a smile of reassured certainty we carefully aimed for the Exploder’s combustible sac and pulled the trigger, with the ensuing explosion turning the group into a smoking pile of gristle, much as we expected. However, we didn’t anticipate that the blast would also shatter the glass behind the Exploder and drag everything – including Isaac – towards the deadly vacuum of space. As we edged closer to the window it seemed like decompression was inevitable, but at the penultimate second we noticed and desperately shot at a flashing switch, bringing the emergency shutters down mere inches away from Isaac’s feet.
If Isaac’s second nightmare has one prevailing weakness, it’s that it looks and plays very similarly to the last game. Nonetheless, there were a few subtle differences that helped identify this as a sequel rather than an expansion. One of which was the new Launch and Latch system used for zero gravity exploration.
In the first Dead Space, Isaac could venture outside of the Ishimura by entering an airlock and then carefully spacewalking along the ship’s hull, all the while keeping an eye on both his oxygen supply and any silent Necromorphs. He could also transition from one platform to another by hurling himself about. But for Dead Space 2, Isaac is now sporting an Advanced RIG suit that has built-in thrusters and an afterburner, allowing him to fly through zero gravity with 360 degrees of movement, so it’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic is used as the game progresses.
Our preview of Dead Space 2 drew to a close in the Church of Unitology, which fans will remember as the fanatical religious sect introduced in the first game.
Exploration of the church led us to a vent that Isaac was able to crawl through. At this point we were somewhat disconcerted when the right trigger didn’t ready our weapon, but our fears were quickly laid to rest once we found the vent was only a few feet long. With our guard momentarily lowered we clambered outside, only to be faced with a hallucinogenic projection of Isaac’s deceased girlfriend who grabbed him by the throat and attempted to stab him with a hypodermic. The screen then flashed to reveal that Isaac was the one holding the syringe, and as he struggled to regain his composure our hands-on with Dead Space 2 came to an abrupt end.
Dead Space 2 E3 Trailer
In terms of gameplay Dead Space 2 is just as compelling as the first game, with a familiar focus on ammo conservation through the strategic separation of Necromorph appendages. There’s still a reliance on invisible trip wires to deliver the game’s scary moments, but otherwise this is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up that subtly tweaks an already winning formula. It remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome will be and what monstrosities Isaac will face in the darkest depths of the Sprawl, but from a personal standpoint, we’re looking forward to leaving a severed trail of arms, legs, heads and tentacles as we blast our way towards Dead Space 2’s bloody conclusion.
What does our test driver think of… Dead Space 2?
The original Dead Space was one of the few games to receive a perfect score in these hallowed pages because it created a seamless sense of fear while offering a fantastically gratifying combat system. Based on the evidence we’ve seen here, Dead Space 2 isn’t deviating far from the original, but everything is in place to make this an equally absorbing experience while delving further into the fractured mind of the tormented Isaac Clark. So far we’ve only seen one new weapon and barely a hint of the epic boss fights that will surely come into play as the game progresses, but with little else on the immediate horizon, Dead Space 2 could be the perfect game to kick off 2011.
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