As we sat and watched the Dead Space 2 press demo that EA has brought to GamesCom 2010, we couldn't help but think about the name itself. Dead Space. The first game sure did focus a lot on the "Dead" part, what with its mutated alien zombies and the ever-present fear of being torn limb from limb that these enemies tended to instill in the player. But aside from the generally sci-fi setting and a few sequences in which you navigated the ravaged exterior of the USG Ishimura, the game kept you fairly safe from the boundless void of true outer space. In Dead Space 2, you're not quite so safe.
Let's start with some context. In an effort to restore power to The Sprawl, the decaying metropolis on a Saturn moon called Titan, Isaac Clarke has to leave the lunar surface and travel up to a solar array whose panels have become misaligned and are no longer giving energy back to the city. The demo begins with Isaac up on this solar array, complete with an impressive view of Titan far below as well as the vast nothingness of space. It's an ominous view made slightly more terrifying by the fact that Isaac has to jump out into that zero-gravity void to realign the solar panels.
The zero-gravity sequences in the original game were a relatively simple matter of jumping from one surface to the other with nothing to keep you from going from wall to ceiling to floor and back again. In Dead Space 2, it's a much more free-floating experience in which Isaac's new suit--equipped with flaps that act as miniature boosters--lets him maneuver in any direction. The takeaway is that now you can go zero-gravity out in free space, which is precisely what happened in the demo.
Isaac has to float through empty space to fix those solar array panels. This requires zipping around and using telekinesis to get the panels reflecting the sun. The challenge arrives a moment later when it's revealed that a giant, bulbous tentacle-like beast called "The Nest" has formed on the exterior of the solar array station, launching small little explosive projectiles at Isaac. But whether you're calmly floating around or taking on this parasitic monster, the expansive backdrop and muffled audio seem to drive home the sensation of being out in the true void of space.
After fixing the station, Isaac jumps into an ejector pod to launch himself back toward The Sprawl. But the vessel soon breaks apart, sending you into a HALO jump of epic proportions. You're literally free-falling through the Titan's atmosphere, dodging the stray chunks of debris that litter this moon's sky. The onscreen effect is pretty impressive, with a truly remarkable sense of speed as you dangerously plummet down to the surface. We won't spoil how the jump turns out, but suffice it to say that Isaac somehow snatches victory from the jaws of being squashed into a human pancake.
The demo wrapped up with a fight against a swarm of necromorph enemies down in a ravaged transportation hub. We've covered most of the notable changes to the controls and combat before, but this fight gave us a chance to spy one of the newer tweaks: how developer Visceral Games is handling loot drops. If you'll recall from Dead Space, nearly every enemy dropped something valuable when you killed it, ranging from credits to ammo and other goodies. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but this latest build of Dead Space 2 required the player to walk up to an enemy and give it a big old boot stomp to get its loot.
Looking at it from two ways, this change could either get very tedious or offer a more rewarding way to collect goods while reducing the gamey look of an enemy bursting with goodies like a pinata the second it dies. Either way, this little tweak seems to be just one of many that show how Visceral is intent on reexamining a lot of the mechanics from the first game to see if they hold up today. Another example: the team is toying with the idea of letting you take an upgraded weapon or suit and reset those upgrades (or "respec," if you want to use proper jargon) in order to explore different weapons that you might not have used before.
Altogether, Dead Space 2 is every bit as impressive as when we saw it at E3 back in June. That demo was filled with an up-and-down pacing that kept us on edge, and it's hard to say the HALO jump here didn't do the same. One of the big questions left is to see how it plays. We're hoping to get some hands-on impressions of the game before it's released on January 25 of next year, so keep checking back for more.