Do we really need a sequel to Dead Space? Wasn't it perfect the way it was? Well, in a few weeks we're getting one and we'll continue our fight against Necromorphs, the Church of Unitology and Isaac's escalating insanity. And after playing a couple of hours of it I cannot wait to play the full game.
But how do you follow up a game as scary and good as Dead Space? Visceral Games have gone about it making a few minor, subtle changes. You will feel right at home when you start Dead Space and most things are familiar. But we have left the USG Ishimura behind in favour of a giant space station called The Sprawl, built on the remnants of Saturn's moon Titan. With one million inhabitants The Sprawl is a lunar melting pot consisting of regular Joes and fanatic Unitology loyalists.
If you made it through Dead Space, you are well aware of the fact that Isaac has some mental health issues. He now finds himself in a mental ward on The Sprawl, but he's not in for a comfortable breather in a padded cell. Necromorphs have infested The Sprawl and panic spreads quickly. Isaac gets his release papers and his previous experience with Necromorph dismemberment comes in handy.
I'm surrounded by almost complete darkness as I take my first few steps in Dead Space 2. Expect for Isaac's visor and a few flat screens. Even if the setting is new, I feel right at home. There is fire, chaos, screams and insanity all over the place. Pretty much any given Tuesday at my place, in other words.
But there are changes. The controls have been fine tuned. Reloading isn't as much of a struggle as you don't have to aim while you do it. Isaac will also spend some time crawling through ventilation shafts like a regular John McClane in order to get from one location to another, he can also tear off sharp parts of dead Necromorphs and use them to nail other enemies to the walls.
Then there is the addition of some data collecting you need to do in various computers and you can shoot out a window to quickly empty a room of its furniture and Necromorphs. An excellent concept has been made even better.
The environments this time around are generally more illuminated, larger and more varied, but there are still plenty of dark and cramped spaces. The Sprawl appears to offer better variation than the Ishimura, a good things since Dead Space felt a bit monotonous after twelve hours or so.
As Dead Space 2 is said to be a longer game than its predecessor, it was a focus of the developer to create more varied environments. I've travelled though various offices, a large library, various space station corridors, an actual Unitology church, and parts of a shopping mall. The level of detail and the effects are impressive, and everywhere you turn something dramatic unfolds. To enter a square inside The Sprawl and see shuttles crash into distant parts of the station and perish in a flaming inferno leaves a lasting impression.
The shifting pace of the predecessor has also been retained. You can experience several minutes of quiet and calm, before a frenetic storm of enemies, lasers and body parts kicks off. At the end of it you will be knee deep in severed arms, legs and heads, and it's exactly what made us fall in love with Dead Space. The variation doesn't take anything away from the great atmosphere of horror we know from the original.
The story in Dead Space 2 seems more fleshed out. And as if a space station filled with "space zombies" wasn't bad enough, Isaac will have to watch out for the Church of Unitology, who have taken an interest in Isaac and his special abilities.
It also seems as though the government back on Earth aren't too happy with Isaac and would rather have him sitting in a ward eating a space age version of jell-o and happy pulls. Now they are also out to get him. Simply put, Isaac is in a world of trouble and it's hard to tell just what's real through the eyes of a delusional paranoid whose personal nightmare is happening all over again.
Dead Space made great use of lighting and shadows, but the sequel takes this even further and you will definitely be impressed by what you see in Dead Space. Character models, beautiful use of flickering sources of light, great effects and nice texture work make for an early candidate for the best looking console game of the year. Dead Space 2 can't come soon enough.