PAX 2010: Dead Space 2 Hands-On Impressions

2008′s Dead Space is possibly the scariest survival-horror/action game ever made. It was packed with big, legitimate scares, and the setting was just terrifying. It was also a very, very good game. The combat system invited you to systematically dismember enemies to make them weaker, which is big points right away. On top of that, Dead Space had an almost RPG-like equipment upgrade system, which added unexpected depth to it.

So, how do you improve on something that already works really well? After going hands-on with Dead Space 2 today, it seems that Visceral Games’ answer is by making very careful, subtle changes here and there, while keeping the core game intact. Dead Space 2 producer Guillaume Voghel described the new approach to us like this:

It’s a little bit more action-oriented, a little bit faster. There is more ammo in the game as well. We wanted to to give it a faster pace, while also respecting the original.

In other words, Dead Space 2 is faster, bloodier and more challenging than the original.

The PS3 demo we played looked very similar to the Dead Space 2 E3 trailer. In this part of the game Isaac is in “The Sprawl,” a large space city, and is infiltrating the Church of Unitology. The first environment, called “The Freezer,” was an icy, industrial-looking area that was basically a system of halls. Right away, it still feels just like Dead Space–but the gore factor has been ramped up several orders of magnitude.

New Melee Grapple Animations

In the original Dead Space, when an enemy grabbed Isaac, you could push a series of buttons and kind of shrug them off. In Dead Space 2, Isaac is a much meaner motherf@#$er than that. A necromorph threw itself on me in the halls, and after some fast “X” mashing, Issac won the upper hand, pistol whipped the necromorph with his Plasma Cutter a few times, and them decapitated it in a gush of blood and guts. Wonderful.

Javelin Gun

This is a new weapon in Dead Space 2, and it’s a real treat. It fires harpoon-shaped rounds, in a straight beam shot. You’ll need to aim precisely to land a hit, but if you do the necromorph on the business end will be hurled back, impaled and pinned on the nearest wall. The punishment can continue, if you wish. Hold RT for the gun’s alt firing mode, which electrifies the javelin, causing further damage to the enemy until it eventually explodes.

Tricky Puzzles

After we made our way through The Freezer area, we ended up in a room with an active, spinning gravitational device in its center. The device was essentially a series of large rings, which needed to be aligned in order to deactivate the device and enable zero-gravity (more on that later).

The first step is you need to hack the panel, by first activating it, and then using the L stick to cause the panel to turn blue, and finally pushing X at the right moment to hack it. It’s sort of like using the Cryptographic Sequencer in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

After that’s accomplished, you’ll need need to use Kinesis to pull down a bunch of metal slabs surrounding the device. And you have to do it fast. You may need to use Stasis to slow the device down, to make it more manageable. This was definitely a notch tougher than the common puzzle in Dead Space 1.

Zero Gravity

When zero gravity kicks in, push in the L stick, and you’ll go into “free” zero gravity mode. Unlike Dead Space 1, you have full 360 control of Isaac in zero gravity mode. You no longer have to jump straight from wall to wall. Rotate, float up, down, any which way and touch down anywhere. It’s pretty liberating.

“The Pack”

Oh boy…The Pack. When you float passed the zero gravity area, you’ll move into a much more “churchy” looking part of the Church of Unitology. I moved into a large room that looked like a cathedral, which I remembered from the E3 demo. Things are nice and serene, and then The Tripod–a giant, ugly boss–drops into the room to play. This encounter is basically a quick-time event, where you need to need to shoot The Tripod’s bulbous yellow sack until he skulks away.

When you’re done, The Pack flood in and attack. They are short, golem-like little demon bastards that move in…packs. Your weapon choice here is key. You want something that can canvas a fairly large area, otherwise you’ll get overrun very quickly. The Plasma Rifle worked really well, or give the Line Cutter a shot. Anything but the one-shot-one-kill Javelin.

Final Word

Dead Space 2 isn’t quite as jarring or different as I expected, based on the demo we saw of it at E3 earlier this year (which won it our “Best of E3” award). Perhaps this is for the better, though. The formula was a winning one to begin with. Now it’s been given a shot of adrenaline, with a speedier pace, more blood and more challenge.

We’ll find out how the whole package fits together when Dead Space 2 hits January 25, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Until then, enjoy this video we captured of the gameplay – be warned, it’s just over eighteen minutes long.

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1 Comment on PAX 2010: Dead Space 2 Hands-On Impressions


On September 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Why hasnt this demo been put up on XBLA/PSN? Not very fair to the majority of fans…