Proving that all those endless sequels have to start somewhere, EA released Dead Space back in October of 2008 to critical and commercial acclaim. Modifying the relatively static survival horror genre, developer Visceral Games decided to place its taciturn protagonist on a waylaid ship, the mining vessel Ishimura, along with a handful of NPCs in a quest to find out why the planet-cracking craft was no longer responding to any attempts at communication.
In terms of setting, it’s hardly original. Immediately we think of Event Horizon, Alien(s), even Danny Boyle’s exceptional Sunshine (2007), all celluloid renditions that share elements of marrying the unknown of dead space with common fears such as claustrophobia, intense isolation and paranoia. Dead Space was designed to toy with these phobias, the game guilty on more than a few occasions of playing the “something jumping through a wall/ceiling” card to incite untold terror in its players. It worked, the game a truly well-honed exercise in pant evisceration. It had its flaws, though, shortcomings that, from looking at footage of its upcoming – and inevitable – sequel, appear to have been remedied.
For a start, Isaac is no longer mute. A massive faux pas in the first game, if anything because there is no logical reason why the oft called upon engineer is speechless whenever anyone addresses him, we can see where the designers were going with the decision. In theory, by giving Isaac a voice, the player becomes slightly disconnected from him; the feeling that these horrible scenes discovered on the stricken Ishimura are not necessarily happening to you but to someone you’re merely directing through the viscera. A noble endeavour perhaps but one that falls flat on its bucket-headed face. Isaac merely comes across as doltish, a puppet called upon to fix every bloody part of the ship while the other loquacious, smarter members of the CEC order him around. Just once you wanted Issac to chime back: “Eh, no, Daniels, you go traipsing around outside the ship and deal with all the tentacles flying about the place. I’m looking for whatever is the equivalent to Ten-forward on this rust-bucket and getting suitably hammered before the inevitable spilling of my guts.” In Dead Space 2 Isaac has not only grown in experience since his first encounter with the Necromorphs but also in terms of gaining a personality. He will speak, words spilling out of a mouth we’ll actually get to see more of this time.
Other issues in the first game included a slippery map system (thankfully the pulsing way-point device was more than sufficient) and an overly-convoluted, barely explained plot about the Church of Unitology and some religious voodoo goings on after a certain alien artefact is discovered on the surface of the planet. It was wafer-thin but we hardly cared. You got to slice, dice, liquidate, dismember and practically blend the now unrecognisible and unfortunate Ishimura crew as they leaped toward you at every opportunity.
Dead Space 2 sees Isaac leave the frigid expanse of deep space and take up on a space station known as The Sprawl. The psychosis affecting the intrepid handyman caused by exposure to the Marker (the aforementioned alien artefact), an affliction hinted at the end of the first game, is expanded upon in the sequel, with Issac witnessing first-hand the terrifying transmogrifying infestation of the Necromorphic scourge in its early stages upon the station.
Probably the biggest addition to Dead Space 2 is the talking-point of multiplayer in the game. From our (limited) exposure to the add-on it looks like the online mode works and will provide a small respite from the harrowing psychic onslaught of the offline single-player campaign, which, let’s face it, is why we’re here. We’re not saying Dead Space 2’s online offering is surplus to requirements but, if anything, it will likely be a mere hors d’oeuvre to the main course of dismemberments and decapitations.
The PS3 version will also have Dead Space Extraction, an on-rails Move version of the Wii game of the same name. And at no extra charge. We can’t complain with that.
One of the biggest concerns we have about Dead Space 2 is the fact that some of the team at Visceral who made the first game are no longer with the studio having moved over to Sledgehammer to make a Call of Duty FPS for Activision. Sure, the obvious names are ex-studio heads Schofield and Condrey, but other members of the original team also defected. Of course, just because the guys who came up with Dead Space’s concept and created a great game are not involved with its sequel doesn’t mean Dead Space 2 won’t be awesome. In fact, based on the recently available demo and the production values over at EA we’re of the opinion that Dead Space 2 could be one of the scariest, most intense and mind-destroying games of 2011. If it’s half as good as the first game was, we’ll be happy.