In space, no one can hear you realigning solar arrays. To be fair, no one can hear anything in space, but that's not how it's generally portrayed by videogames or Hollywood. We've always found this strange because, as Dead Space 2 demonstrates, it's always nice and atmospheric when things die down to virtual silence and the only thing to listen to is the sound of your own breathing (and Stanley Kubrick spinning quietly in his grave).
Dead Space 2 protagonist Isaac Clarke is outside because power is down on the ring-like space city known as Sprawl, and this means his friends are in jeopardy - although given that there's another necromorph infection on the go, you'd think that was a given.
He has to navigate in zero gravity between a series of solar collectors and realign them so that the sun's rays can be directed down to the Sprawl to get things back up and running. He can cast off into weightlessness and float about, turning and spinning wherever he likes, providing he wants to go and turn stuff on and carry things around, which always seems to be his vital mission.
He's not alone in the deep, however, as some of those pesky necromorphs are out to get him - namely the big, sack-like Nests, which spit jellyfish-looking sub-monsters in Isaac's direction. Fortunately he is equipped, as ever, with his trusty laser cutter. This makes short work of said monsters, cutting them to bits in the fashion familiar to and lionised by fans of the original. Each shot makes a whumpy, muffled noise. Canon.
Isaac eventually reaches the Nest itself and peers inside at its contorted, human face. Which he shoots, obviously. The timer on his back is heading toward zero now, so he moves toward an oxygen dispenser to extend his lease on life, then fires himself off toward the second and third collectors, which he coolly diverts to the main array while other Nests get stuck in. The array fires a huge beam of energy down to the Sprawl.
Isaac returns to the airlock at the centre of the array platform and prepares to descend to the Sprawl himself - but oh no! One of his colleagues comes on the radio and tells him things are getting a bit real downstairs and he'll never make it back in time. Isaac - now with a voice of his own - isn't about to give up, however, so he limbers up in his suit - more angular these days, like a futuristic vision of a medieval knight - and prepares for a videogame favourite, the High Altitude Low Opening jump.
We're seeing one of the game's "Epic Moments", apparently (file that next to Strategic Dismemberment 2.0 from last time), and it's hard to argue with the description. Isaac is fired to earth alongside the huge energy beam. As he hurtles downward you take control of him, swerving this way and that to dodge chunks of debris. Not just chunks either - some are so big you have to fly through them, manoeuvring through tunnels and windows.
As Isaac gets closer the circular Sprawl starts to take shape - its towering buildings standing out from one another as our hero zeroes in on one in particular. Rather than pull a chute, though, he plummets into a tunnel at the top of his target, engages his air brakes as he bangs and prangs down the inside of it, and lands, boom, inside a corridor-based shooter.
As soon as he's on his feet he's back on the move, and after moving some objects around to reach item dispensers he quickly comes under fire from some more of the game's menagerie of twisted necromorph baddies, who he proceeds to cut up with a new plasma rifle. It's still all about dismemberment, a developer yells reassuringly. Hordes of little baby-headed monsters advance through the murk and claw at Isaac's metal-clad ankles, so we put his theory to the test.
It's not all about dismemberment for the Left 4 Dead 2-inspired Puker, however. As the name suggests, he, she or it attacks by vomiting acid on Isaac from distance. If you're smart you can use this to your advantage, tempting other necromorphs into the firing line so they get burned up instead. If you're not smart you can also get caught up in the Puker's snare projectile, which temporarily restrains you.
This is particularly bad because it allows the Puker to grab Isaac, rip up his helmet and vomit repeatedly in his exposed face and mouth. It's not clear whether you can escape this fate by mashing buttons (or closing your mouth), but for the purposes of this particular demo nobody's trying to. Instead we get to see Isaac fall to his knees, throw up a lot of green nastiness, then keel over and die. Any questions?
More on Dead Space 2
Not quite the cautious, lumbering survival horror you remember? Dead Space 2 certainly looks more action orientated. Isaac moves faster than we remember, and players will need to think and act accordingly, blasting shutter-close buttons to avoid being ejected into space, for example, and using the environment to electrocute, ignite or - of course - dismember the necromorphs.
With that said, the game's about witnessing the spread of the necromorph infection across a brand new, bigger and more populous environment, so it follows that things would be a bit more intense than events on the Ishimura, which was already in the grip of its particular nightmare. And having established the series with the well-regarded first instalment two years ago, the studio now known as Visceral Games is unlikely to alienate its growing audience by changing tack completely.
What's more, the Sprawl's size and diversity should make for more interesting and imaginative locations - spooky, Giger-esque churches visibly among them - and Isaac's not entirely of sound mind these days either. We've yet to see how that manifests itself, but we're promised that it will before the game is done, and the effects of the marker take hold. Perhaps he'll start hearing things in space.
Dead Space 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 28th January 2011.