It takes a very particular kind of game to make someone jump and squeeze out a small yelp when surrounded by several hundred bustling gamers in the near vicinity. It's somewhat embarrassing for the person involved, particularly if they're a rather large bloke who looks around quickly to see if anyone noticed his moment of terror, only to find that the girl and the next station is beaming wickedly at him. 'I hope you packed a change of underwear,' she remarks. I laugh and say that I was hiccuping. She looks far from convinced.
My apparent lack of manliness aside, Dead Space was a pretty creepy game. I'm not talking Doom 3 scripted jumpy bits (Doom was never really meant to be a scary franchise), I'm talking oppressively tense, deliciously dark and pervasively scary. It put the 'horror' back into 'survival-horror'. But it was also rather satisfying, too. Slicing, blasting, cutting and sizzling the limbs off of the grotesque Necromorphs was a lot of fun. Isaac might have died a fair few times on his travels, but he took a whole bunch of them down with him.
Dead Space, then, was a resounding success, its Wii incarnation criminally overlooked and still one of the finest games on that platform. A sequel was inevitable, this is EA after all, and so we got to business at the Eurogamer Expo following our look at the game out in Cologne to see how the thing played.
The first thing you'll notice is just how good everything looks, best captured in your first scripted encounter with a hidden Necromorph. The enemies now look like slightly less of a mess, allowing you to behold them in all of their gruesome glory and making them rather more intimidating.
Speaking of the monsters themselves, there are a few additions to the mix. Stalkers, disgustingly spindly things, can move with some serious speed and, if working in pairs or more, will attempt to flank you. Lop off an arm though, and their spiky bits become the perfect tools for a spot of impaling. Tactical dismemberment is back in all of its gory glory and, true to form, encounters will devolve into bloody surgeries and messy dissections. Creepier by far, though, are the Crawlers - little demon babies, like hideously mutated Rugrats, that scuttle along the floor in packs, hoping to swarm and overwhelm their enemies.
Thankfully, though , Dead Space 2 is all about giving you the tools to approach situations in a myriad of ways, approaching combat sections - and there are more of them in this game than there were in the first - from a number of different creative perspectives. You'll be able to shoot out windows and have you enemies sucked out into the ether (although you'll have to be careful so you don't find yourself swimming in the black), the environment on The Sprawl - the space station upon which Isaac finds himself in this game - is far more interactive than before.
There'll be weapons at Isaac's disposal that can beat, blast, slice and dice as well as a new Detonator. Affix it to any surface and it'll send out three beams as a barrier. If one of your disfigured chums happens to cross them they'll be blown into chunky kibbles. Necromorphs can also be used against one another too - decapitating a Crawler with a well placed shot and then sending it back at its mates was particularly satisfying.
Although my time with the game was pretty short, one thing certainly stood out: this is definitely a tougher sequel. You'll need your wits about you far more to deal wit the increase in difficulty, something that will only serve to ratchet up the grim tension even further. It was a little hard to sink into the atmosphere in such a bustling environment, to play any sort of horror game right you've got to set the mood (lights down, sound up, bass that can shake your organs), but it's still very much a heart-pounding lesson in claustrophobia at times.
That's contrasted now, though, with larger, more open, zero-gravity sections. No need for Isaac to tone up his quads and calves to get the maximum push-off thrust he possibly can. He seems to have found himself one of Iron Man's seasonal cutoffs and can now blast his way around the vacuum of space with thrusters. It's actually possible for the little guy to work up some speed but, by and large, we were told that the zero-g sequences would relate for more to puzzles, of which we saw a few basic examples, rather than combat.
The build I was was playing on felt a little clunky, and Isaac was occasionally pretty unwieldy at times, but swapping to a new station made it much smoother. There's no doubt that Dead Space 2 will be a solid title, but there wasn't really enough time to fully whet the appetite for early 2011 just yet. That said, it's promising enough that we'd love to see more of it, though preferably in a darkened room. I'll remember to pack spares, too.