Three years after the events of Dead Space, you’re moving through The Sprawl, the city-sized space station that’s full of fear and terror. You’re hyperaware that anything could happen. This is, after all, Dead Space 2.
In the playable demo, what you feel is a creepy, frightening exhilaration from Moment One. Here’s the deal. Imagine bemoaning the bad luck of having to make your way through the nooks and crannies of the Crypt, a shadowy, icy area below the Church of Unitology (where the oddly religious worship in the Dead Space universe). You’re wearing one of Isaac’s mining suits that’s insulated, but you can tell it’s terribly cold. You see and hear a burst of icy mist that is forced through a vent. It startles, making you jump back a step before you move forward.
You open doors, but you always take a moment to gird your loins for terror before you pass through. If you lose your way, you’ll click the right stick: voila, a thin, blue line of floor light illuminates the way.
Then suddenly you’re attacked by this slurping, hissing, crashing, fluid-spewing being who upchucks on your life form with a stinky juice so brown and acidy, it’s no wonder designers from Visceral Games call him The Puker. You do everything to wrestle away because in these close quarters, your laser does you no good. For the three people I saw play the third person survival horror demo, The Puker was too much for them. They died miserably before finishing the level. So did I, when I was attacked by two Pukers. I did get one in the head before it got too close. I watched that head roll away on the floor, a brief moment of satisfaction before my demise.
That’s one of the strategic keys to shooting, though, getting an attacker in the head or in any of the limbs. Forget the body; by the time you spray him full of holes or burn him with lasers, you’ll be dead meat. You’ll be helped by tapping the circle button to get a quick burst of health when you need it. Hitting the triangle button applies Stasis, slowing and freezing enemies who momentarily have limited resources to attack. You can use Stasis for the puzzle mechanics in the game as well, like in the previous game.
In Dead Space 2, even in the fairly short demo level, you see that the developers care about the difference between horror and terror. So what’s that distinction? In Danse Macabre, Stephen King’s classic tome of horror genre criticism, there are two levels of horror. First, you get grossed out and then you get the creeps. Terror is harder to pull off. It, as King reflects, "arises from a pervasive sense of disestablishment; that things are in the unmaking." This level provided both horror and terror precisely, in and up close and personal way.
In the sophomore effort, Isaac becomes more heroic than in the first game, which was more about things happening to him. Those things gave you that great sense of dread and fear. But there was a lot of ‘Go do this; go fix this.’ Even the developers felt Isaac was kind an errand boy from time to time.
As you play, you’ll see that the control mechanics have been refined. When you enter zero gravity, you’ll have a full, 360-degree range of motion, almost as if you were an astronaut walking in space, fixing something on the space shuttle. Except in zero-G, you have to aim and shoot while floating, not just fix things. And, all the time, the camera moves in these wonderfully odd angles, Steadicam fashion, sometimes shaking as if it feels the terror, too.
Instead of just stomping once, you can now stomp repeatedly. When you do the multiple stomp, you feel kind of like Nightmare from the SoulCalibur series. It does make you feel like a hero. But you don’t want to feel too much like an all-powerful being. Then, there’d be no reason to feel dread, horror or terror - the whole point of the game. But Isaac is now more of a take-charge guy.
EA is still playing its cards close to its vest, however. Ask a rep about the reason for the Crypt’s existence beyond the fact that it looks cool and you’ll get something like, "Well, there’s a good reason in the fiction. But we can’t reveal it." They just want to tease us with bits of content and reveals until the game is released. But Dead Space 2 looks so darkly terrifying, you just accept the paucity of information you received. More will come; they’re building tension not only in the game and with the press and fans as well.