Back at E3, we took a sneak peek at Dead Space 2, but the whole thing was a hands-off affair. More of a "we came, we saw, but the demo guy wouldn't let us play" kind of thing. Not anymore. We recently stopped by EA HQ and got some honest to goodness hands-on time with Visceral's nightmarish adventure.
The game is based on the Sprawl, a massive space station set on one of the moons of Saturn. Created a good 60 years before the events of the game, the Sprawl has evolved into a massive colony, complete with all the amenities of a large city. It also features a well-established branch of the Church of Unitology, those crazy marker-worshipping cultists that caused so much trouble in the prior games.
In a nod to the hallucinogenic horror that the marker caused among normal humans, the demo opens with a flash of a Rorschach-like ink blot to remind us that Isaac Clarke has been a little mental over the past three years, ever since the incident on Aegis VII and the USG Ishimura. Hey, seeing reanimated, mutilated, mutant corpses murder everyone you know would probably mess you up for a bit, too. Unfortunately for Isaac, the madness is back. A Necromorph infection is rapidly spreading through the Sprawl, and it is up to Isaac and an unnamed mystery woman (seen only in a video link during the demo) to prevent another catastrophe.
We first catch up with Isaac (who now has both a face and a voice) as he is exploring the tunnels underneath the Sprawl, leading down into the cryogenic crypt of the Unitologists. Necromorphs wasted no time in going toe-to-toe, with some slowly ambling around corners and others bursting out of the cryo-tubes lining the hallways.
New to the Necromorph ranks is a creature that those crowded around the monitor referred to as a "vomiter." This bile-spitting fiend launches globules of acidic fluid across the room when at a distance and then switches to melee when up close. In order to effectively combat it, we need to properly time the stasis gun, freezing the bile shot in mid-air and then strafing to the side to dismember the vomiter while staying out of range of its spew.
Fighting our way through the crypts, we see the return of some of the classic Dead Space weapons, including the plasma cutter, line gun and pulse rifle. Not everything in the arsenal is a rehash, though, as Dead Space 2 has a javelin gun. It's a nasty bugger that fires a massive spear that can impale Necromorphs. Hit them just right, and the javelin gun will knock back the Necromorph and stick it to a wall. The javelin gun's secondary fire is an electrical burst that fries everything in the immediate area. In addition to the weapons, Isaac also retains his TK (telekinesis) power.
After making it through the crypts, we hit what looked like a dead end. Instead, it's a puzzle for Isaac to complete. As the developer told us, the puzzles are there as obstacles for Isaac to highlight the fact that he's an engineer first. He may have fought the Necromorphs before, but he's not a space marine.
One puzzle is a hacking minigame that involves using the left thumbstick to move an indicator into the green zone and then pressing a button to initiate the hack. It's simple but effective. In the next puzzle, we're faced with something that looks like an open engine with power flowing through it: the gravity generator. Since the only way out is up, Isaac needs to disable the generator and shut off the gravity.
The trick is to use Isaac's TK power to grab opposing arms and lock them into place. Take too long to get a pair locked in, and they reset automatically. Most of the paired sets simply require running back and forth, but locking in the last set is impossible with the standard run. By the time Isaac makes it to the other side of the generator, the previous arm had already reset. The solution is to lower the arm and fire the stasis gun at it once it's locked into place. Those extra few seconds give Isaac enough time to get around the generator and lock down the remaining arm.
With the gravity off, it's time to fly. Isaac can navigate across the full range of motion while in zero-G. It was a neat feeling, oddly reminiscent of the PC classic, Descent. The demo doesn't have a very large zero-G area, though we're assuming that the full game will have some larger zones without gravity. At the top of the tower, there is one final obstacle to pass: a supply door that constantly drops crates. Again, it's the stasis gun to the rescue, holding the door open so we can slip through before the next crate drops. Up top, Isaac hits another control panel to restore the gravity before moving on to the temple area of the church.
Before crossing into the temple area, Isaac speaks with a woman on a video link. The developers won't say who she is or how she is connected to Isaac, but it's clear that both are on the Sprawl, and the two seem to know each other. It's an indication that Isaac won't be totally alone on his quest.
Inside the temple area, we were treated to a mini-boss fight where the old Dead Space standby of, "Always shoot the yellow!" came into play. It was a short, scripted battle, and after a few solid hits, the creature ran off to nurse its wounds, leaving Isaac to fight the babies of Hell. The Necromorph babies are small and easy to deal with individually, but when they swarm, they can be right bastards. If you're not careful, the sheer numbers can overwhelm you in no time.
Finally, it's time for the climatic boss battle. This started out with a close-up of nasty-face. The creature looks like something bigger and nastier had thrown it up just before the battle. Blood is oozing, raw muscle is exposed, and tattered flesh and bone are everywhere. No doubt the initial scripted battle is there just to show off the twisted creature in all its grotesque glory.
The first scripted bit involved shooting the beastie's weak spots, causing it to drop Isaac. From there it was a flat out run down the hall, while keeping the creature back with a well-timed stasis blast. Unfortunately for Isaac, the room you run to is a dead end, but it has some extra large bay windows, which make it very easy for the gunship on the other side to see the creature bearing down on you and start shooting at it.
This leads to both Isaac and the creature getting sucked out into the vacuum of space. In an incredibly sweet touch, the game goes nearly silent as soon as the window breaks, leaving only muffled low-end noises emanating from the speakers. It's a nice bit of sound design. Back to the battle, as Isaac and the creature are fighting on the side of the gunship, some fuel canisters come loose. A well-placed shot leads to a big boom and the end of the demo.
For a first time hands-on with the game, the demo provided a nice taste of what to expect. Though we didn't get much in the way of story, the core game mechanics all seem to be here, and the visual design makes us wonder how warped some of the art directors at Visceral really are. If grotesque is your thing, then Dead Space 2 has it in spades.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any hands-on time with the PS3 port of Dead Space: Extraction, but we did take a peek at the PSN/XBLA prequel game: Dead Space Ignition. Presented as an interactive comic, Ignition promises to be a story, wrapped around three different minigames. Completing Ignition rewards you with an upgraded suit (better inventory and armor ratings) for Isaac that can be used in Dead Space 2.
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