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Dead Space 2 preview: The reeducation of Isaac Clarke


We've heard Isaac Clarke's voice, and it's deeper than you'd expect. It's also got an edge of fear that simply didn't manifest as he stomped through the Ishimura, saving the day with nary a whisper or whimper. If you're worried that a talkative Isaac Clarke might ruin Dead Space 2, though, you shouldn't be. "In terms of how much he talks, last game, zero," said executive producer Steve Papoutsis. "This game, he's somewhere between a two and a half and a three. He's not really wordy, he's not shooting off a bunch of one-liners, he's just speaking when it makes sense for the story."

Gallery: Dead Space 2 (1/5/11) | 5 Photos

Outside of Isaac's vocal chords, the biggest difference in Dead Space 2, Papoutsis said, is the pacing. Indeed, though the segment I got to see was short, the pacing was very upfront. Isaac begins in a quiet train station, where he's suddenly wracked by what Papoutsis called "a dementia," a shocking, ghostly vision of a burning train. "In Dead Space 2, Isaac awakes after being in stasis for three years," said Papoutsis, "and has to kind of figure out what's going on." Through the course of action, things start to unravel and give him motivation to go through the game. Along with that primary threat, which is Isaac fighting to destroy a government plot to resurrect the Marker, he has some internal struggles going on." Those struggles relate to the dementia visions, which will keep players on their toes as Isaac explores the setting of the Sprawl (which we've heard about before).

Isaac's goal in the train station is to reset a train car, and once he clears a few necromorphs away, he must hack into an electronic box, which requires moving the left stick around until it vibrates into the right position. Despite the fact that Isaac now talks and reacts, Papoutsis confirmed that the hero is still a futuristic IT guy with a better uniform than the Geek Squad. "Isaac is definitely still an engineer," he says, "so you're going to encounter a lot of puzzles throughout the game where he does have to use his engineering know-how to get by a situation." After clearing the hackbox, the train starts rushing down a tunnel, and that's where the gameplay picks up.

Necromorphs start appearing out of the metalwork. Isaac has a few new enemies to take on this time, and one of the interesting new features is that enemies' abilities can be used against each other. A big baddie called a puker shows up in the middle of one of the train cars, and while you can still just shoot off limbs and do regular damage, there are a few other strategies to choose from as well. For starters, it's possible to grab the puker's projectile with telekinesis (TK), and fire it back at him. "Or if you sever the limbs of the puker the bile that gets expelled out of the cavity that remains will also damage enemies," Papoutsis added. "So one cool strategy is to let enemies come towards you, stasis them, shoot off an arm of the puker, and then have that help take down the enemies. So there are lots of different strategies like that."

Dead Space 2's environments are more destructible now -- as Isaac fires off a line cutter, metal bars in the train car splinter off and fall to the ground. Isaac can grab those with TK, and fire them right back at enemies, impaling them for damage or a knockback. "In the last game, you'd pick up an object and try to use it in combat, and guys could get up on you and it was really clunky and not really a viable combat strategy." But the sequel offers plenty of opportunities to use TK effectively, noted Papoutsis. "With more of the interactive stuff in the environment, with breakable objects and things, it gives us more opportunity to have nasty, jagged things to throw around."

Suddenly, Isaac reaches an open door, and with a quick in-engine cutscene (he looks back at the camera for a moment, and boy, the light streaming out of his helmet is bright), you realize that he's got to make a zero gravity jump to the next traincar. Fortunately, his suit is now equipped with thrusters for zero gravity navigation, and by avoiding a few obstacles he reaches the next car -- only to have it fall, sending him on a slide very similar to the tentacle pulling sequences in the last game.

At the bottom of the now stopped traincar, Isaac's foot catches, and he ends up trapped for a moment, hanging upside down with gun out, as necromorphs advance to try and finish him off. This sort of "hanging combat is a really good example of what we're trying to do in Dead Space 2, where you're still vulnerable -- you're hanging upside down and there's not a lot you can do -- but you're having combat, so you're kind of tense and scared from that. But you also just had a really cool sequence that was different and kind of not to be expected if you think about the last game."

Finally, Isaac clears the room with a few well-placed shots and TK throws, and the traincar falls down on top of him just as he wriggles free. As the demo ended, there was really only one question to ask. Will we see any references to Joystiq favorite Dead Space Girl in the game?

Papoutsis laughed at that one. "Yes, I think it's awesome that the site has latched on to Lexine. DSG was rad. I can't say right now," he admitted, which you'll note is not actually a denial. "But trust me," he continued, "the team really does listen to what our players have to say, because without them we wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to make Dead Space 2. So we're listening." Ears to the ground! The game will be in stores on January 25.

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