Visceral shows off Dead Space 2

The Ishimura is a blood-stained memory, but neither Isaac Clarke nor the Necromorphs are down for the count. The abominations that stalked the halls of the first game have found a new home in the mammoth, space-borne city known as The Sprawl.

In Visceral’s video-demonstration, Clarke scoured through a cryo-chamber beneath the Church of Unitology. Sounds of metal clanging in the distance clashed with bursts of gas from broken pipes. Ahead, one of the glass chambers was shattered – an ominous warning of the danger to come.

A puker – one of Visceral’s latest creations – pounced on Clarke as he rounded the next corner. It viciously tore at Clarke’s helmet as noxious juice flowed from its gaping jaws, while the developer behind the controller rapidly mashed buttons to fend of his attacker. He repelled the creature, took aim with his plasma cutter, and lopped off it’s limbs.

The cosmetic overhauls of the necromorphs were utterly vile, in the best way possible. Although their previous aesthetics were frightening enough, with bones and organs raggedly mashed together and reformed, the moist, rubbery skin enveloping the latest incarnations is a disturbing reminder of their former humanity.

Clarke’s new engineering suit has been a hot-topic of discussion among fans. On one hand, the sleeker design, with smoother curves and shiny metal, is more indicative of current trends in character-design. On the other hand, the bulky, rectangular design of Clarke’s former suit felt real, utilitarian, and certainly unmistakable. I am part of the latter group. As I looked at posters of Dead Space 2 and Crysis 2 hanging side-by-side, my favorite engineer melded into the faceless heroes of sci-fi.

With Clarke’s new duds failing to entice, I was glad to see Ian Milham had grasped the reigns as Art Director once again. Typically, horror games have been bathed in the dull colors of darkness or drenched in fog, with possibly a few moments in the sunlight to ease the tension. Milham knows how to use color to his advantage, and Dead Space 2 looked to be surprisingly vibrant, like its predecessor, with hints of yellow, green, blue, and purple adding subtle touches of life to otherwise decrepit and terrifying environments.

The original game tip-toed back and forth across the lines drawn by Silent Hill and Resident Evil, as though it could never decide whether to use atmosphere or startling moments to scare players. Dead Space was at its finest when it ignored both camps and stabbed at our ‘fight or flight’ instincts by pouring more Necromorphs into a room than any sane person could handle. The 15-minutes of the demonstration played directly to that strength.

When Clarke entered the inner-halls of the church, a massive necromorph, with its legs fused into one and a tongue like a scorpion’s tail, lunged without hesitation. Clarked fired repeatedly with his Line Cutter, eventually chasing it off, but only to be replaced by the Pack – dozens of naked, gibbering children with freakish talons.

In the original, Clarke was terrorized by large tendrils coming out of the walls to grab him. They’re back and far more intense. It pulled at Clarke and tossed him around the room like a toy before the vacuum from a broken window pulled both into space and toward a small, abandoned ship floating near The Sprawl. The tendril continued it’s attack. Inverted, disoriented, and with his vision blurring, Clarke still managed to shoot a nearby canister of explosive gas. It was only afterward that I realized what I had witnessed was not a cutscene, although it rivaled some of the best.

Visceral showed off some new gear, including the Javelin Gun. Think of the stake gun from Painkiller and it’s ability to pin enemies to the walls. Visceral is also fine-tuning some basic elements, like adding boosters to Clarke’s armor so that he can maneuver through zero-g, instead of ping-ponging from wall to wall.

Many people were concerned about the future of Dead Space after the departure of Glen Schofield, the former lead designer, and witnessing Clarke’s new appearance. It seems that Visceral Games has everything under control, and I have faith that Dead Space 2 will be the best reason to lock yourself in a dark room next January.