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Halloween is here again and it’s time to bring out the scares! One of the hottest sequels to one of the scariest games of 2008 is set to be released early next year and there couldn’t be a better time to investigate the horror that is soon to be upon us. Dead Space 2 tells the story of Isaac Clarke, an engineer for the Concordance Extraction Corporation, a mining company in the year 2508. Three years after escaping the Hive Mind of the Necromorphs on Aegis VII, Isaac has managed to find refuge on “The Sprawl,” a massive space station built off the moons of Saturn. There, Isaac tries to mentally recover from his experiences onboard the USG Ishimura, hoping that he is finally free of the terrors of the Necromorphs.
The station is a veritable city in space, with commercial and residential districts that hum with activity. Advertisements are everywhere, hawking goods and equipment to residents and travelers alike. His convalescence is short-lived; however, as the Necromorph infection has followed him there. As the game progresses, the station becomes destabilized and chaotic as players watch and learn how the plague travelled to the Sprawl to infest and kill the residents. Conspiracies are discovered involving the Church of Unitology and the government to restore the Marker, a relic that was central to the plot of the first game.
Dead Space was seen as one of the best games of 2008, with wide critical acclaim for its excellent script and deep, terrifying atmosphere. The isolation, the fear hearkened back to the alien and unknowable alien menace of System Shock, suspending your disbelief with believable, functional environments and its bleak and horrifying take on the genre. The polished visuals gave the game both monstrous enemies and striking vistas that were sure to impress. The fact that there often was no evident weak spot on enemies meant that the innovative “strategic dismemberment” system forced players to alter their tactics from enemy to enemy to properly dismember appendages to stop them properly. Even then, enemies often shifted their own tactics to accommodate the amputations you bestow upon them, adding additional dangers to protect against complacency. It wasn’t a perfect game, however. One issue was that that the main character, Isaac, is basically a faceless and silent stand-in for the player but the players were expected to sympathize with him on a personal level as a human being, rather than basically a killer robot which is what he ended up being. Another issue was the lack of enemy and situational variety, minus some cool zero-g sections. Overall, Dead Space was a commercial winner, selling 2 million copies by August 2010. It is this jumping off point that Dead Space 2 emerges, giving a face to Isaac and his myriad psychological issues developed from the previous game. Much more attention is given to character development of Isaac and his personal goals, in addition to his quest to destroy the Marker. Efforts are made to make Isaac a relatable character, such as giving him a voice, allowing his helmet to come off frequently and to generally show that he’s a human with human reactions and emotions.
A variety of gameplay improvement have been implemented, such as making Kinesis a valuable combat tool (i.e. picking up body parts to impale enemies), full 360 degree movement in zero-g environments, an impaling javelin gun and appropriate changes to his suit and equipment to reflect that fact that he’s no longer on a mining vessel and must adapt to the new situation in the Sprawl. The exciting environments and encounters are fast and pulse-pounding, with the jaws of death mere inches away in the form of being sucked into space and then having to perform quick-time events to evade one doom after another. Some new enemies include the Pack (tiny midgets that swarm Isaac), the Puker (pukes and slows Isaac’s movement), the Nest (an enemy that Isaac fights in zero-g) and the Stalker (a stealthy, Xenomorph-esque Necromorph that relies on surprise and speed to overwhelm Isaac).
Based on interviews and other information that’s coming out about this very scary and exciting game, it appears that the team behind Dead Space 2 are trying to improve the problems that were in Dead Space and immerse the player more fully in the atmosphere and universe that the events take place in. By making the player more empathic with Isaac’s plight, the horrors and isolation of the Sprawl could stand to be much more visceral and emotional than before. If you’re a fan of scary games, don’t miss Dead Space 2, planned for release on PS3, Xbox360 and PC on January 25, 2011. Happy Halloween!