Getting my hands on a playable demo of Dead Space 2 felt like slipping into Isaac Clarke's metal plated space suit - powerful, unsettling, familiar and a little awkward.
It took me more than few hours of playing the original Dead Space to start feeling comfortable with its sometimes complex control scheme. Don't get me wrong. Dead Space was one of my favourite games of 2008 and would have been my choice for game of the year if someone asked and if I hadn't waited until 2009 to play it. But part of the reason I'd waited so long to play was because of its dual-button pressing demands. Eventually, it all sunk in.
So, I was extremely excited to play the sequel, which has Necromorph toddlers that you can liquefy with a Plasma Cutter and a jet boots that can be used in zero gravity environments for flight. But before I got enjoy those two new things in Dead Space 2, I needed to reacquaint myself with its occasionally awkward control layout and solve a complicated puzzle.
I ran into this whirling generator-like thing after dispatching a few Necromorphs who insisted on vomiting toxic substances on Isaac. It was delightful that I could use Isaac's time-slowing Stasis powers to make that spewed forth goo fly through the air at a snail's pace. Real world vomit should be so easily dodged.
And while I was relatively skilled at making noxious puke travel in slo-mo, I was not as handy with Isaac's telekinetic powers. An Electronic Arts rep told me that I could grab a Necromorph claw, freshly dismembered, and throw it at another Necromorph, but I couldn't do it. I was barely surviving, after all, with all those mutated humanoids popping out of nowhere, showering me with bile and trying to remove my head from my body.
Eventually, I'll get that.
Back to that puzzle. Those rings surrounding the glowing energy ball needed to start whirling. That much I knew. So, I had Isaac open up a control panel, feel around inside the tangle of wires and hotwire the thing. How did I do that? By rotating the PlayStation 3 controller's left analogue stick, trying to find that "sweet spot" as indicated by a glowing icon on the control panel's screen. That was the easy part.
The more complicated part of that puzzle came in the management of using Isaac's stasis powers to slow down the spinning of rings and telekinetically pulling down a series of switches. It was more of a race against time than a thoughtful puzzle. After a few tries, success.
That powered a room-sized fan above Isaac's head. Zero gravity switched on. As someone who moved through stasis-slowed fans in the original Dead Space, I knew what I had to do. To kick in Isaac's jet boots, I clicked the Dual Shock's left analogue stick in. Then I pressed forward. In a game with controls that I find complicated, it was a surprisingly elegant control scheme. Click, press forward to float and... that's it.
(In Dead Space 2's control layout defence, reloading is much easier. Just tap the square button on the PS3 controller or its equivalent on the Xbox 360 controller.)
After floating my way through a few fans and automatically closing doors - but not before becoming Isaac salsa once or twice on the way - I entered a Unitarian church. It was a nice, horrific change of pace from the steel floors and engine rooms of the rest of Dead Space. It was moody, spookily lit and full of those toddler-sized Necromorphs.
Those childlike horrors, the Pack, are brutal. While many Dead Space enemies creep their way toward Isaac one at a time, the horde of wee Necromorphs in the church excruciatingly bear down on you hard and fast. They provided me with my sixth or seventh death during my demo.
The only other new trick I saw Dead Space 2 pull off was with its Javelin Gun. It runs through a Necromorph like a hot knife through butter, pinning it against walls and floors. I foresee it being a regular in Isaac's arsenal.
Dead Space 2 will be out in early 2011 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Brush up on your control familiarity before it hits.