Xbox LIVE and PSN members enjoyed an early Christmas present today, as EA released a demo for Dead Space 2 in advance of its release early next year. The original was a solid, genuinely nerve-wracking experience, and its success prompted a mass-media onslaught of all things Dead Space, so the announcement of a sequel wasn't a surprise. But what can we expect from a sequel? Read on to discover if I was suitably terrified, or just scared off.
The Dead Space 2 demo begins with a rather ominous retelling of the series' origins, how we dispersed into space to 'crack' planets and mine their resources, only for the ill-fated voyage of the USG Ishimura to discover The Marker, a seemingly alien artifact which can cast out a terrifying influence. Engineer Isaac Clarke, on-board a rescue ship investigating the silent, drifting Ishimura, managed to quell the monstrous infection embedded in the ship and escaped, although seemingly at the cost of his sanity.
You see, as you wander the frozen cryo-sleep compartments in the Dead Space 2 demo, Clarke experiences abrupt, disturbing hallucinations of writhing corpses bound to walls in small, choking rooms. It's typical shock horror, but very effective, as the developers wisely lull you into boredom as you explore room after identical room, only for a sudden nightmare to strike and jangle your fragile nerves.
I was a little worried when Dead Space 2 was announced that it would take a more action-shooter approach, but thankfully the dread-soaked, creeping horror vibe is intact. It's amazing how much mileage EA manage to get from simply corridors or atmosphere-exposed cryo-chambers, as you're acutely aware of the menace lurking behind every corner or air vent.
He Can Talk!
In the original Dead Space, EA took the Gordon Freeman approach to protagonists, with Isaac Clarke's actions doing the talking. Utterly silent and largely faceless, Clarke was a vessel for the player to inhabit, and while it meant zero character development, at least he wasn't poorly written and voiced. With DS2, EA have set out to build Clarke as a character, giving him a face and a voice for the audience to relate to. Personally, I'm not fond of the result so far. Clarke sounds far too young and wet behind the ears for a grizzled, veteran engineer who's witnessed the most terrible of things and is suffering accordingly.
At least he's got a new suit then, I suppose. Around halfway in, Clarke reaches an upgrade station familiar to fans, steps inside only to emerge decked out in a slimmer, more fancy suit. Personally, I prefer the original's 'medieval-future' vibe, but the Iron Man-esque transformation and moving parts do make the new suit seem like a proper upgrade rather than a simply aesthetic shift.
It's not totally clear what Clarke's goals are so far, either. A quick look in his inventory reveals he is attempting to rendezvous with a woman named Dana, who contacts Isaac once and helps him in his journey. Dana seems to be in possession of the cure to Clarke's hallucinations, and considering how traumatic and debilitating the visions are, it's obvious why he's so intent on finding a solution.
Cut Off Their Limbs
Perhaps its the brief bite the Dead Space 2 demo offers, but so far it appears very, very similar to the original, almost to the point of feeling identical. The pacing and scripting is largely the same, with Clarke wandering corridors, Necromorphs suddenly leaping out only to be cut into pieces, and the engineer solving a few rudimentary puzzles with his Stasis and Kinesis abilities.
At least it's solid, and Clarke has four weapons at his disposal from the very beginning. It's still fun to slice off Necromorph arms and legs, only for them to crawl towards you, talons snapping, and Clarke's visceral stamp mechanics is a gruesome way to execute enemies or discover pick-ups. You can mire 'Morphs in slow-motion with Stasis and sever their limbs with measured precision, or grab random debris and hurl it at them with Kinesis. Like I said, it's solid and refined, but I see little improvement or difference from the original.
The art is fantastic, however. You begin in the frozen, creaking innards of a cryo compartment, the walls lined with glass chambers hiding what I can only assume are sleeping passengers. You progress to an engineering area, where Clarke must solve a simple puzzle and remove the gravity, allowing EA to showcase the new zero-gravity mechanics. You can now glide about and land with careful precision. The final area, a cathedral-like chamber with Marker-inspired architecture and a looming boss-type creature, shows what Dead Space 2's new setting, the space-station Sprawl, can offer. The demo ends on a perplexing note, as what appears to be a spaceship pulls up next to Isaac in a glass room and opens fire. He escapes into the ventilation shaft, only to encounter a bristling, blood-soaked creature inside. Oh well.
What did you think of the Dead Space 2 demo? Will you be picking it up on release, or did it put you off completely? As always, sign off in the comments section below.