Dead Space 2
All of my potential fears dissolved as soon as Isaac Clarke strafed around a corner and stumbled upon an "Everyone wants Peng" poster. Dead Space's favourite in-joke has returned for the inevitable sequel, along with the usual bevy of interface improvements and a hefty ramping of razor-sharp Necromorph limbs.
The USG Ishimura has been left behind to make way for Titan, inching closer towards the inevitable Earth versus the Necromorphs encounter, and Saturn's most famous moon is also the location of the first planet-crack in the series' storied history. I'm going to spoil things a bit here and reveal that something jolly bad has happened and everyone's in a big old spot of nasty space bother, leaving it up to our boy Isaac to lop off enough weird mutated limbs to send the reanimated Necromorph masses back to their freaky alien graves.
Isaac's now a bit of a rare commodity as the sole survivor of the first game, which makes a nice change from his former role of dime-a-dozen space engineer. While everyone else is running around in a panic and getting gored through the chest, Mr Clarke is keeping his cool and reducing his foes to nothing more than a torso stump. It's cool: he's seen it all before. Apart from all the new bits, that is.
There have been a couple of changes to his character. He talks now, for a start, and his helmet whooshes up to reveal his tender human face when he's having a conversation with someone - a subtle alternative to printing "EMPATHISE WITH THIS MAN" on the screen in big bold letters.
He's also fashioned his own makeshift spine out of all the cracked bone and sinew that his Plasma Cutter has eviscerated over the years, which means he doesn't just run around and idly follow everybody's ridiculous orders anymore. There's no more "go over there and flip a switch, Isaac" for this space engineer/saviour of humanity. Isaac will now decide which switches to run up to and flip all by himself, thank you very much.
Watching an early level from the sequel brings back those claustrophobic memories. It's a game that stands out because of strange sounds and creepy movement, including from the protagonist himself. Isaac's chunky suit thumps the ground with every step, acting as a metal cage that echoes his death rattles. His gasps, grunts and screams - of which there are many - are caught and muted by his mechanical confines. It's creepy.
But it's still a shooter as much as a horror game, only one where you fire a gun and get a fleshy thump as the projectile lands in the unfeeling tissue of a Necromorph. Isaac, as an engineer, uses tools designed for mining rather than waging war - tools that rip and saw through objects, reducing them to floppy pieces. Saying that, it's hard to imagine what industrial purpose the new Javelin cannon is intended for, seeing as it shoots whopping great poles of pointed metal into your targets and pumps them full of electricity when they're pinned against a solid surface.
The big focus in combat is now on impalements, because simply blasting off limbs is so 2008. The Javelin is a good example, but you can also root around in any nearby piles of severed limbs, pluck out a good pointy one, and charge it with a telekinesis blast to wedge through other enemies.
Giving other weapons fancy qualities like impalements means you might be tempted to get acquainted with the rest of your arsenal instead of just clinging to the Plasma Cutter for dear life, although new destructible environments mean even your trusty sidearm can cause a mighty visual ruckus.
But with great new gear comes ghastly new nasties, with the demo focusing primarily on the new beady-eyed, long-necked Stalkers who make a habit out of peering round corners and then shrinking away into the darkness. They work as a team, lurking out of sight and trying to flank you, which makes a nice change from the enemies in the original game who all charged at you whilst yelling "flaragharahgharhgahhrrrr".
Then there's The Pack, groups of tiny yobs who attack you en mass. Ah, that's more like it.
The final new enemy on show, the Cysts, hide in fiddly places and spew out a globule of explosive gore when either friend or foe gets too close. If you've got lightning fast reactions (or, more likely, some foresight) it's possible to catch the blobs and fire them at enemies.
Other features attempt to liven up the formula a bit. A terminal-hacking mini-game (where Isaac, like the master engineer he is, stuffs his arm up a terminal and yanks out a clump of wire) already feels a bit routine, but the ability to trigger decompression adds a neat risk-reward event to certain areas. Decompression will suck all the enemies out into space, but fail to shoot a panel in a few seconds after triggering the event and Isaac will be taking the same trip.
There's still a lot to like with Dead Space, although the recently announced multiplayer modes remain lurking in the darkness for now. From this brief encounter with the new single-player campaign, though, it's plain to see that Isaac Clarke's second Necromorph encounter has the potential to go down as well as some of that sweet, sweet Peng.