The original Dead Space was the recipient of the games marketing equivalent of a full-court press, with a six-issue comic book, cross-platform video game, and an animated direct-to-video movie all appearing within the same few months.
The game itself is decent; it mostly relies on jump scares and has a few too many scenes that feel like blatant padding (I am unsure as to why one of the final levels largely devolves into an escort quest, except you are telekinetically "escorting" a five-ton chunk of alien granite), but it had some truly creepy moments and the sections in zero gravity were genuinely entertaining.
With that said, it was groomed to be a franchise from the moment it was conceived, and now Dead Space's inexorable march toward franchise status begins with Dead Space 2: Somehow, Things Get Worse.
Specifically, a deeply post-traumatic Isaac Clarke has wound up on a colony city called the Sprawl. In the aftermath of the outbreak aboard the Ishimura, Isaac has inexplicably remembered how to talk.
Perhaps more relevantly, the necromorphs have managed to follow him to the Sprawl, which may owe something to the presence of a massive outpost of the Church of Unitology. Unitology, the first religion created since mankind's colonization of space, involves worship of rare alien artifacts called Markers, one of which almost certainly caused the outbreak aboard the Ishimura. (Dead Space 2: Please Do Not Hug the Alien Monolith.)
The important thing is that Isaac is, once again, up to his faceplate in mutated human corpses. You retain access to his kinesis module, which allows short-range telekinesis as both a problem solver and improvised weapon, and his stasis unit, which dramatically slows down enemies for a short period of time. The kinesis module has actually been powered up to some extent, as now, when you lop off an enemy's talons, you can immediately grab the severed limb and use it to staple a necromorph to the nearest wall. One major upgrade is that your mining suit now includes short-range rockets, which allow you to maneuver in zero gravity without having to throw yourself in a direction and pray.
Isaac's improvised arsenal also makes a return. The E3 demo reel showed off the pulse rifle, plasma cutter and line cutter, as well as a new weapon called the Javelin. Like the kinesis-propelled talons, the main shot from the Javelin hits with enough force to impale a necromorph and send them flying wound-first into the nearest vertical surface. (Dead Space 2: The Impaler.) The alt-fire makes a fired javelin heat up, delivering damage to all necromorphs around it in a set diameter, making it useful to enforce a perimeter or as an improvised trap.
The combat retains its focus on severing limbs above all else, with a couple of new enemies. The Puker does exactly what it sounds like it does, showering Isaac with acidic vomit at range, while the Pack is a small horde of what appear to be fanged zombie children. When they jump on Isaac's back, he frees himself from their grip by grabbing them and pistol-whipping them until their heads fall off.
(I think this is the first horror series in video game history that doesn't just pretend all children immediately teleport to Happyland the moment zombies or zombie-like monsters appear; between the tentacular wall-crawling babies in the first game and this, Isaac Clarke is the current all-time infanticide champion. I guess somebody had to step up.)
Many of the features from the first game make a reappearance in Dead Space 2, including the holographic light trail that points to your next objective, puzzles involving the kinesis module, and anything that could potentially hold a homicidal monster doing so. Dead Space is a game about dismemberment and monster closets, and we've got 'em both on display.
From the demos EA is showing, the general theme seems to be one of comfortable familiarity, with the single most massive change being the decision to make Isaac less of a cipher. He talks now, as I mentioned, although not terribly often, and you occasionally see his face; one of the major images of the game's marketing campaign is Isaac's helmet assembling onto him bit by bit. I did an interview with Chuck Beaver, one of the producers, back in 2008, and he told me that Isaac's relative anonymity in the first Dead Space was a deliberate decision, made to allow the player to more readily identify with him. For whatever reason, in Dead Space 2, Isaac is slowly being made more of his own man.
All in all, this is a very safe sequel. It keeps the original game's trademark features, adds a few tweaks and new weapons, and ups the ante a bit. They aren't letting us actually play Dead Space 2 here at E3, but I'm reasonably confident that it will do everything the original game did, plus a little bit more. I am also confident that unless there is some manner of global catastrophe in January of 2011, Isaac will be severing limbs and stomping skulls for quite a long time to come.
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