Welcome to the Sprawl


It is the opinion of this writer that Dead Space is one of the best games of 2008. The game boasts a brutally innovative combat system, superb visuals, and something you don't see from most horror-themed games: a fantastic story. Dead Space 2 was at the top of my "Must-See" list for E3 this year. The showing I attended only made the January 25 release date seem further away.

Dead Space 2 takes place on the Sprawl, an enormous space station built on the fragments left behind by the successful cracking of Titan, one of Saturn's moons. The Sprawl bears more of a resemblance to Mass Effect's Citadel than Dead Space's U.S.G. Ishimura. EA and Visceral Games are keeping very quiet about the specifics of the story, but all you need to know at this point is that Isaac Clarke has found himself in the middle of yet another Necromorph infestation.

The demo opens as Isaac finds himself in the icy crypts of the Sprawl's Church of Unitology. It's a seriously creepy place that's adorned with everything Marker-related. The work of the geophysicist-turned-martyr Michael Altman is worshipped and furthered here. Specimen samples are seen frozen in stasis pods and placed in rows. All of this never bodes well for science-fiction horror; it's only a matter of time before something breaks out. Things do end up breaking out, and Isaac makes use of his engineer's tools to blast them into piles of nasty red giblets.

The combat looks identical to that in Dead Space, but the exhibitors took the time to show off an interesting new mechanic. The fact of the matter is, Necromorph limbs are long, spindly, and razor-sharp. Visceral Games has paired that fact with the franchise's Strategic Dismemberment system and come up with an interesting new way to fight -- which they should call "Strategic Impalement." Isaac can slow down a Necromorph, amputate its right arm, grab the limb with Kinesis, and hurl it into the creature's chest. A successful application of this strategy results in a Necromorph mounted on the wall. There's even a new weapon that specializes in long pointy objects. It's called the Javelin, and it's capable of more than impalement. If the Necromorph on the business end survives the shot, Isaac can trigger a blast of electricity to finish it (and surrounding Necros) off.

In Dead Space, the U.S.G. Ishimura was crewed by engineers, scientists, and military personnel. The Sprawl is a civilian station. Different kinds of people mean new Necromorph types to eviscerate. Dead Space 2's E3 demo shows off a number of them, including the Puker and the Pack. Pukers are self-explanatory, but the Pack are just plain creepy. They are infected children with bald heads, small dorsal spikes, razor-sharp claws, and faces not even mothers could love. Individually, they don't seem difficult to put down, but then again, they're called the Pack. In numbers, these enemies can tear Isaac apart.

Towards the middle of the demo, Isaac makes his way to what looks like a drive core. His contact, Dana, is trying to relay information, and, in a departure from the first game, he actually responds. Isaac Clarke is a silent protagonist no more. This is indicative of Visceral's attempt to flesh out the story. Giving their flagship action/horror franchise a sympathetic character is a huge step towards achieving that goal, and it's difficult to connect with a character who doesn't say anything.

After Isaac rips out some wiring and makes use of his Kinesis module, the core is turned off and the room enters zero-gravity. This is the team's chance to show off yet another new feature. Isaac's RIG has been fitted with jet propulsion technology. He no longer has to make linear jumps to stable targets. He can float in whichever direction he wants. In the demo, they only use the system to help him progress to the next area, but it's hard to ignore the combat possibilities.

Isaac seems to have made very few friends between the end of Dead Space and the beginning of Dead Space 2. Not only is he being stalked by the terrifying "Tripod" Necromorph, but it would appear that he's also being hunted by a human organization. Isaac reaches a panoramic window offering a beautiful view of the Sprawl... but then a gunship comes out of nowhere and opens fire on Isaac's position. The room decompresses and Isaac is nearly sucked out. A few Aliens-worthy moments later, and Isaac is safe. Or so he thinks. That's when it becomes apparent that the Tripod has followed him every step of the way. He tries desperately to escape, but as he reaches the end of a long hallway, the gunship is back. This time, Isaac and the Tripod are both sucked out of the window. It isn't long before the huge Necromorph has Isaac in its clutches. Isaac notices a conspicuous-looking fuel tank hovering close to the Tripod. He aims and fires. What happens next? We'll find out in January.

PlayStation 3 owners will be offered an exclusive Limited Edition of Dead Space 2. It will include a Move-compatible version of last year's Wii exclusive Dead Space: Extraction. Considering the quality of that game, the PS3-exclusive Limited Edition may very well be the one to get.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Isaac Clarke's next adventure. How did the Necromorph infection reach the Sprawl? Why was that gunship hounding Isaac so mercilessly? Just what is the Church of Unitology trying to do? Did Isaac survive his dual encounter with the Tripod and the gunship? If we get our hands on any more information regarding Dead Space 2, you'll be the first to know.

Dead Space 2
EA Games