PAX 10: Dead Space 2

deadspace2_gc2Dead Space 2 feels like Dead Space, which is easily one of the best compliment anyone could give any horror game.

You’ll still wander through dark corridors, you’ll still be freaked out by flickering lights, and you’ll still be ambushed at the perfect moment to make you wet you pants. It embodies the idea “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but that’s not to say there’s nothing new in the game.

The demo I played at PAX managed to strike a nice balance between new and old mechanics. In interviews, the developers have said that the sequel will be more action-oriented, with Isaac going on the offensive this time. This is somewhat represented in the demo, but for the most part Isaac still feels like an underdog, a small man fighting a large alien army. And it’s still scary as hell.

Dead Space knew how to use lighting, or a lack of it, to create fear, and Dead Space 2 is no different. There were multiple times when I’d enter a room and the screen would seem to fade to black; I actually thought a cut scene was going to start. Darkness has a tangible presence, and even though the many dim, flickering lights are scary in and of themselves, I found myself drawn towards them because I was more afraid of the dark.

Thankfully I was prepared when the darkness came alive with monsters. For the demo I was given three old guns (the always-reliable plasma cutter, the line gun, and the pulse rifle) and one new gun: The javelin. The javelin is a single-shot weapon that fires a big spike, a spike that doesn’t stop moving if it hits a necromorph. The monster flies back until it hits a wall, where it will hang indefinitely. It’s incredibly satisfying to be ambushed by a necromorph only to send it flying across the room. One second it’s an inch away from your face, the next second its 30 feet away and hanging 10 feet off the ground. The fact that the javelin gun can only fire one shot at a time prevents it from being a super weapon; if you’re surrounded it’s a bad gun to have equipped. Even though it’s powerful, I never felt safe with it since necromorphs still tend to ambush you from all sides, and that’s scary no matter how big your gun is.

There was only one part of the demo that felt more “actiony” than horror. I was exploring a Unitology church when I was suddenly attacked by swarms of a new enemy. They were more human-like than other necromorphs; short, pale, bald, naked, with rows of sharp teeth. They looked like children. Because there were so many of them I switched to the pulse rifle and just sprayed the horde while running backwards. This kind of “spray and pray” gameplay sounds antithetical to Dead Space, but in this case it worked as a nice change of pace. As long as these moments of pure action don’t overtake the slower moments of corridor-crawling, Dead Space 2 will be more of a horror game than an action game.

Halfway through the demo the gravity was disabled and I got to experience moving in zero gee. To move, Isaac turns on a jetpack and can fly anywhere. Movement controls are exactly the same as they are on foot, which makes flying instantly intuitive. The only difference is that looking up or down now moves you up or down. You can’t fly faster than you can run, but you can still shoot. While I didn’t encounter any necromorphs, the PR guy showing off the demo assured me you will fight in zero gravity.

The demo ended with Isaac being attacked by a massive creature. It grabbed his legs and swung him around, and every time it paused I had to shoot at its tentacle to make it let go. The first Dead Space was filled with moments like this, but they actually felt more violent here. It felt like I had less time to aim but was given more chances to shoot to make up for it, so that means Isaac was being thrown around a lot more than before.

We were fighting in front of some big windows, and soon a military ship flew by and opened fire. We were both sucked out into space and crashed into the ship. The camera shake was insane, it was almost impossible to tell what was happening, but this disorientation felt immersive since I was watching Isaac bounce across the ship, frantically grabbing at it. Debris was everywhere, and I had to shoot an explosive canister as it sailed past the monster before it swatted me into deep space. As fire and shrapnel and a giant claw flew at me the screen went black, the demo ended.

Dead Space knew how to pace itself, and this demo suggests Dead Space 2 will be just as good. There were quiet moments of tension, explosive action, puzzles, and zero gravity, all in the span of 15 minutes, and none of it felt forced. In that short amount of time I was sucked so deeply into the game my hands were shaking, and the loading screens after death were welcome moments of calm. Dead Space 2 will wreak your nerves early next year.

Dead Space 2
Visceral Games/Electronic Arts
Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows
Available January 25, 2011

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