You're space miner Isaac Clarke three years after the events of the first outer-space horror game Dead Space and you are again low on ammo. What do you do? Cower?
In Dead Space 2, you thank yourself for not being in Resident Evil, in which the scares build as ammo becomes more scarce. You shoot your slicing mining lasers at the dangling arms of the mutant aliens you're once again fighting in this Visceral Games-developed sequel. Then you use your telekinesis to pull that severed alien limb or talon toward you. Finally, you shoot that limb back at the alien for a killing blow. No bullets, no problem.
UPDATE: Several readers have pointed out that severed limbs could be thrown by the player in the first game, a detail I did not remember clearly despite having finished the original Dead Space. I contacted an EA spokesperson who provided the following clarification:
"In Dead Space you could use the severed limbs but they would just push the enemy back and give little damage (the Exploder's yellow pus sack was the only exception since that would blow the enemies up).
"In Dead Space 2, telekenesis has been sped up so you can use it more effectively as a weapon and the severed limbs do more damage now. For example, the Slashers' arms will actually impale enemies and pin them up on the walls, like you saw."
Last week I played a small mid-game section of late January 2011's Dead Space 2. The sequence was set in the darkened halls of compound or church dedicated to the maddening Unitology religion that has spread, like the alien swarms, through the Dead Space fiction and onto the Saturn moon of Titan on which Dead Space 2 is set. The portion I played, for the record, matched what our Brian Crecente covered in June.
What Crecente saw, I got to play, a sign of EA's rising confidence in a game that is now six months from release. Dead Space 2 shows that the series is still dark and attractive. It is still a game about Isaac Clarke walking through an eery chamber full of man-sized frosted tubes, noticing one has been shattered open and realizing that its inhabitant, an awful angry mutant alien is around the corner waiting to maul. It's a game in which you wind up floating through the zero gravity of some sort of crypt as caskets float past you. It's a game of a Blade Runner bleak future, this time with at least one helicopter-like thing shooting at you and many giant monsters trying to rip your hero's head off (which they will if you fail).
The developers at EA's Visceral Games have tweaked their control scheme, putting health recharges on the circle button and assigning telekinesis to circle + shoulder button. Stasis, used to freeze enemies, is now triangle + shoulder button. Reload gets its own button this time, square. The new mapping is intended to allow for swifter, smoother play. Also to that end, the old melee stomp from the first game can now be a somewhat rapid series of stomps, the old "stomping a mudhole and walking it dry" kind of thing, for those who watched WWE in the 1990s.
The biggest control changes are in the zero G.
Zero gravity in the first game was a tightly managed gameplay system. At times gravity would be deactivated in a room and then Isaac could jump from one position to the next, launching himself only in straight trajectories. Isaac can now propel himself in any direction in zero-G, sort of like controlling a levitating super-hero or even a helicopter in a game. Kotaku intern Aulistar Mark completed a puzzle in Dead Space 2 that turned gravity off, so he got to try this too. As soon as gravity was off, debris and canisters floated into the air along with Isaac. As Aulistar aimed the camera, he could then move Isaac in any direction, or just leave Isaac to levitate. He could shoot at any time. A separate button press makes Isaac land.
The control tweaks and the limbs-as-bullets thing gave the impression that Isaac will feel like a more capable hero in Dead Space 2. That is EA's intention. A company rep said that the game will even include a few more hero-moments than the first one, moments when Isaac finds a great gun or some other way to momentarily feel like he is empowered and has the advantage. That won't always be the case, though, because Isaac is supposed to be overhwelmed. We need to be scared.
The main man of this game should feel like more of a person this time. The studio is giving Isaac more lines of speech in this game, and they are pitching Isaac as a more independent-minded hero who will talk back if he doesn't like what people are asking him to do. I was told that he won't be quipping one-liners but that he will feel more like an everyman... so maybe he'll be a little more Nathan Drake, I guess? But not all the way?
A lot of Dead Space 1's best stuff appears to be back for the sequel. In the section I played there were wonderfully tense confined-quarters shootouts against aliens, for example. The floating heads-up-display that lets Isaac talk to hologram versions of people he's associated with in the fiction is back. There are once again wild moments that have Isaac being dragged around, the camera shaking and shifting to all sorts of extreme angles, all the while the player retains control of Isaac's gun and has to shoot whatever alien tentacle monster is tormenting him. There are more hacking and physics puzzles that are built believably into the sci-fi infrastructure of the Dead Space environment.
Some of the big mysteries that remain involve what is actually happening. Why is Isaac back in a mining suit? What has gone wrong in this massive city, which is known as The Sprawl? Why is Isaac there? What's up with the Unitologists?
And what is with the multiplayer, which has promised but not yet detailed by the developers?
Dead Space 2 is already looking well-polished, far as it is from completion. EA's Visceral Studios did an acclaimed job on the first game. The sequel appears to be on the right track.