The announcement of a sequel to Dead Space is one that immediately inspires mixed feelings. Dismay because the original game told an uncommonly engrossing story that stood entirely on its own, and joy because that game was a hair’s breadth away from being a full-tilt masterpiece; a taut and brilliantly structured adventure, Dead Space was a game that left everyone who played it (surely) wanting more. There are countless opportunities for Visceral Games to sully that original experience, which had the air of a tightrope-walk about it; a mass of bright ideas and shrewd homage that could easily have collapsed under the weight of either, but never once did.
Such an assumption arrogantly suggests that Visceral do not understand their own intellectual property, and anyone who harbours similar fears should be prepared to completely discard them. Dead Space 2 is looking absolutely fantastic, and lead producer Steve Papoutsis, who presented the game at this week’s EA Showcase in London, was just as eager to show off his new baby as he was to resolutely ensure that everyone’s fears about potential sequel pratfalls are put straight to bed.
Plot details were sketchy, which is to say almost non-existent. Dead Space 2 is set three years after the original, and takes place on Saturn’s moon of Titan. Isaac is the hero once again, but the development team have apparently begun referring to him as Isaac 2.0. His aiming is noticeably faster, his general moveset has been refined (including a toughened-up and immediately repeatable stomp move) and he’ll now both speak and reveal his face.
If these last two facts raise minor alarm bells then you aren’t alone, but (commendably) Papoutsis couldn’t be more aware of that skepticism. His team’s desire was to encourage deeper empathy with Isaac whilst still maintaining the sense of mystery that surrounds him, and Papoutsis repeatedly exclaimed that not only would Isaac not be voiced by some gravelly hardcase, he also wouldn’t ever attempt to lighten the mood with a flippant wisecrack. He’ll also be more take-charge, as one quibble that was apparently voiced about Isaac in the last game was that he occasionally came across as a compliant “errand boy”.
Three new enemies were also introduced. The ‘Stalker’ is a spindly, grisly and lightning-fast nightmare that constantly flanks you at terrifying speed. Slimy ‘Cysts’ can be found on floors and walls, and eject exploding pods on contact that can either damage you or be strategically used against other enemies. And the ‘Pack’ are small bunches of scurrying infant-like necromorphs that are easily dealt with when they’re alone, but fiendish when they’re together.
There is also much more variety in the surroundings this time, with one gameplay demonstration taking place in a well-lit office environment. Another minor quibble that was leveled at the first game was that the environments weren’t interactive, and not only are they now fully destructible, actually destroying them results in stray pieces of debris that can all be used as weapons. Discarded or off-target ammunition, and bloody necromorph limbs, can also be used in the same fashion.
The massively atmospheric deferred lighting techniques return, the upgrade system has been improved, and the game will now feature a (still under-wraps) multiplayer component. One fantastic new mechanic we saw in action involved the usage of the glass panels that separate the sequel’s world from outer space. The seemingly ever-present option – best taken when ammunition is low and enemies are on the verge of overpowering you – is to shoot out a window, sucking your oppressors into the vacuum of space. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly however, as you’ll end up joining them if you aren’t sharp enough to fire a round into the emergency shutter switch; a task that definitely doesn’t look to be as easy as it sounds.
Papoutsis capped his presentation off by saying that if the demand remains, then he’ll happily continue making Dead Space titles for as long as he has his job. If they’re all as focused and intelligently refined as Dead Space 2 appears to be, then it doesn’t matter whether he wants to continue with the franchise or not. Nobody will allow him to stop.
Watch the trailer for Dead Space 2 here…