Dead Space was easily one of my favorite games of 2008. The setting and storyline blended seamlessly with a visual and aural direction that evoked a sense of constant dread wherever I turned. Right up until the game's final moments -- where the previously brilliant story takes a cliché turn that would be unforgivable in almost any other title -- I found myself utterly enraptured.
Getting a look at the sequel was a very high priority of mine at this year's E3. EA's presentation of the game took place in a closed room dressed up to resemble a church, complete with pews for the audience and electric candles flickering.
The window dressing was quickly revealed to be highly appropriate, as the portion of the game we were to be shown took place in some sort of church facility controlled by the game's fictional religion centered around death and rebirth. Running throughout the infested rooms were a variety of nasty Necromorphs and one well-armed engineer. It didn't take long to see that Isaac has a few new tricks up his sleeve this time around.
Several of Isaac's weapons will be returning in Dead Space 2. The Plasma Cutter looks like it will still be your best friend and the Line Gun is present as well, but that's nothing compared to the Javelin gun. This beast of a firearm propels a long spike at great speed and pins enemies to walls. Or, perhaps, only part of an enemy as the game's dismemberment is also back in full effect.
Perhaps one of the most interesting changes to the game is how it will handle zero-gravity. In the original Dead Space, Isaac would stand attached to surfaces in a zero-G environment, aim at a new location and then jump to it. For the sequel, more freedom has been afforded to the player and Isaac can now drift through the empty space and control his speed and direction with small jets.
Of course, the new goodies have to be tempered with new Necromorphs and EA showed off a couple of the beasties in the demo. The first is the Puker. While it's hard to give points for originality when it comes to an undead, vomiting monster, they certainly seem to be a threat. Scoring higher on the creepy scale are "The Pack," toddler-sized creatures that run in groups to overwhelm Isaac. They're really unsettling to watch, as they're less alien than most of the other Necromorphs, and it's just creepy to think about dismembering children on the whole.
The demo took Isaac through the depths of this church up to its chapel, with a few puzzles on the way. These seemed like more of the same stuff from the original game, using stasis to hold things in place and activating panels. Nothing revolutionary in any of that, but neither was it offensive.
What may offend some players is a dramatic change in Isaac's behavior. Once a silent protagonist, our hero now has a voice and communicates directly with support characters via his Rig. The demo did not feature enough of this for me to make a judgment call on whether or not I liked the voice itself, but I'm not particularly opposed to Isaac speaking. It didn't feel out of place and it took me a second to even remember that he hadn't been voiced prior to this point, so they're probably on the right track by making this change.
The closing moments were an epic showdown between Isaac and a massive Necromorph in the chapel. As happened so often in the first title, Isaac is grabbed by a massive tentacle but, rather than a short dragging sequence while attempting to dismember the offending limb, it becomes a long and involved combat sequence combining QTE elements with target shooting. Isaac runs, dodges and is ultimately flung hither and thither by the monster, eventually breaking through the wall of the church and into the vacuum of space.
As he and the beast crash around the walls of the colony, struggling both with each other and the environment, it was a bit challenging to keep up with everything that was going on. From a gameplay perspective, you could easily see what needed to be accomplished if you were playing. As an observer free to view the full picture, however, the pace and activity was exhilarating in its own right, ending with a thrilling conclusion as Isaac, gripped by the monster, observes two oxygen tanks floating past. Taking aim, he fires and that shot signaled the end of the demonstration.
What I've seen has only proven to bolster my excitement over the Dead Space series. The addition of new zero-gravity gameplay looks fantastic, the new guns and Necromorphs appear deadly and the art direction feels just as strong as in the original. Provided the story can make effective use of the established setting while adding more to the mythology, 2011 will be off to a very strong start indeed.