This should go without saying but... *SPOILERS AHEAD*
First off, there is a fantastic guide to getting this achievement already up on these new boards. I used it heavily in my own attempts to get this achievements and if you are getting ready to make a Hardcore run it very well might be the best resource out there. Some of what I am going to write here is merely a reflection of that fantastic piece of work.
Second, this post is meant to be less a walkthrough and more of a story/guide to preparing yourself for what has got to be one of the most satisfying achievements you can get. So if you are stuck at work, got some extra time on your hands, or really enjoy this game so much that you actually want to read about a stranger's experience, well then, grab a few beers and let's get this thing started.
Noob's Guide Part 1: Preparation
If you are reading this now before you've attempted Hardcore, congratulations you've made a great start in preparation. I did not do that. It was a mistake.
Depending on your interpretation of "cheating", I see no problem in preparing yourself in every way possible before starting a game that will put hours and hours of your life on the line. It only makes sense. I am not recommending, nor do I think it would really work, getting the strategy guide and sitting it next to you on the couch along with your liters of Mountain Dew and Teh Pounder of pretzels (those other things, however, serve a great purpose). I think having a guide like that would be distracting anyway.
What I am suggesting is that you spend some time, maybe invest in one extra casual playthrough or get your zealot mode achievement, in which you locate all of the power nodes and semi-conductors. Personally, I didn't worry too much about schematics as by my third attempt I realized I needed just two guns and their ammo to beat the entire game. Most of the time schematics just took up inventory space. Power nodes and semi-conductors are critical though. Some guides suggest that there are enough nodes in the game to upgrade your stasis, rig, one full gun, and part of another so don't waste your credits on power nodes. This is true, but unfortunately that takes an entire game to achieve. If you have extra money, and if you play smart you will have extra money, there is nothing wrong buying 8-10 power nodes before you reach the end of the Ishimura level. It can also be the difference in the final few chapters.
If you are getting your zealot achievement, take the time to consider which fights gave you the most trouble. Remember them and begin to think about a repeatable strategy. There is no excuse for stumbling into a bad situation in Hardcore mode. Getting surprised will get you killed faster than a Team Jacob groupie at a Team Edward rally. Know where the tough spots are so you can anticipate them and then beat them. The natural temptation is to consider fights that gave you trouble as areas in which to save but I am going to argue that there are far better ways to save this game than just before "tough fights". I'll talk about that soon.
I chose not to prepare for my first playthrough and thought to myself "I owned this game on Zealot this isn't going to be bad at all." Big, big mistake. I had forgotten about that first Tripod battle and when I walked through that door into the cavernous room where the fight is triggered... I remembered. I remembered and I got nervous because I wasn't bringing with me an entire arsenal from a previous playthrough. And when I get nervous I start to play stupid. I begin to overthink everything and then when something goes wrong I tend to over-compensate, usually by burning through all of my ammo and/or stasis. Suffice to say I survived that first fight but it wasn't long until I got burned and died my first time.
- Know where the nodes/conductors are.
- Remember where the tough fights are located
- Lots of soda/beer and food.
- Keep a soft pillow close in case you do end up dying and feel the uncontrollable need to throw something at the TV or the dog.
Noob's Guide Part 2: Strategy
Rig and Stasis
Obviously, health is good and you want as much of it as possible. That said, it is also one of the most expensive things to upgrade in the entire game as you will spend 6 or 7 nodes that serve no purpose but to get you to the upgrade slots. Upgrading your health should be done over time. The very fist node you get should be spent on that first health upgrade, but after that consider taking Chapters 1-9 to get you to that last health node. I would recommend walking into the Ishimura with all, except for maybe the last one, upgraded. Some strategy guides will suggest keeping your initial Rig until you get the advanced suit in Chapter 11. I would disagree with this idea simply because your Engineering Rig doesn't give you enough inventory slots. Sure, usually you can run back to a store but there are many times in the game where you have to run forward to a store and the last thing you want to be doing is dumping items so you can pick up health packs or clean out a Node Room. I recommend buying the Security Suit upgrade (the first suit upgrade you get after your initial one) and taking that one all the way to your Advanced Suit. It's just 10,000 credits and you'll reap the benefits within a couple chapters in inventory slots alone.
Stasis is key in Hardcore. It will save you over and over again. Upgrading your stasis should be priority numero uno, at least to the point where you get more than two shots and your duration is longer than 3 seconds. By the time you get to your first bench you should have 5 nodes. My opinion, after spending your first node on health, invest the rest in stasis. Then, use stasis often. If you die with stasis left, your death very well could have been avoided.
Gun and Ammo
This is obviously, to an extent, a matter of opinion. Some people are better with certain guns. In my opinion though, there isn't a better one-two combo than the plasma cutter/force gun. You have precision and crowd control along with the force gun secondary fire for a high damage single shot. Plus, you get the Cutter right away and can begin upgrading it early on.
There is very little that the plasma cutter isn't at least good at and it's upgrade tree is inexpensive and quick. It's your bread and butter weapon for 95% of the game and by now you are probably extremely comfortable with it anyway. The drawback to this combo is that unless you buy the DLC you won't see the force gun until the beginning of Disk 2. This isn't a real problem as it gives you opportunity to invest the majority of your extra nodes into your plasma cutter, rig, and stasis. Speaking of upgrading your Cutter, as mentioned in the other guide, focus on damage and capacity. Speed and reload are secondary and I tended to avoid them as much as I could altogether. I did, however, end up spending a little extra to get the special (although I'm convinced it's not necessary).
There are only a few parts in the first Disk where the force gun would be nice, but none so difficult I would recommend spending the money and nodes upgrading a third gun (like the line gun for example... not worth it in my opinion) to make up for it. The force gun schematic becomes available to you right after the Tripod battle in the elevator. Purchase the gun ASAP and conserve your ammo. The force gun becomes critical later in the game but you will want force ammo to drop so it's a good idea to start getting it in your inventory once you can purchase the gun. When upgrading the force gun, once again focus on damage, capacity, and ALT fire. You will probably only be able to upgrade this gun about half way, so be careful where you spend your nodes not to waste any barking up the wrong tree.
The only other gun I would recommend getting is the Detonator. It needs no upgrades to be powerful and there are certain battles that simply give you detonator ammo before the start, as if telling you how to win them.
Using Your 3 Saves Wisely
Use the Disk 2 save to its full advantage.
The worst feeling in Hardcore is knowing that you used a save too early and now you are forced to play too much between saves, or you won't have a save near the end. I restarted Hardcore twice because I realized I had foolishly used my saves too early.
I am convinced that the best way to beat Hardcore is to wait and use your first save until after you've reached disk 2. There are only a couple of difficult fights in the first disk and only a few areas of real concern. The best strategy here is to be confident you can beat them, which isn't too hard to do.
Disk 1 Dangers include:
- Two Vacuum rooms. I hate these things. I would recommend avoiding blasting out the windows if you can, but it is far better to blast them on your own than it is to accidentally blow one open while you are standing too close. I chose to stand as far back as I could and blast them just to be safe. It also saves you a ton of ammo.
- The Train ride. The difficulty of this particular area isn't high, but there is a good chance you will be struggling for ammo at some time during this fight. Stockpile beforehand if you can, and if you do find yourself low on ammo take the train ride slow and use stasis to take advantage of as many limbs/spikes as possible. When you fall out of the train and are hanging upside down, you've got about 7 seconds to grab any boxes for extra ammo and then always lead off with a spike or two. Once again, stasis is your friend here. Use it till it's gone.
- Church of Unitology. Not especially difficult but long and full of necromorphs. Don't go into a fight with limited health and/or ammo. There is always a store available and easy to get to at any point in this section. Become a regular. Also, there is a necromorph that falls in the final elevator ride up to the cutscene. I died there once. To put it lightly... I was upset. Stasis, ground and pound. Done and done.
- The Tripod battle in space. This is one of the few instant death sequences in the first disk. Nothing you can do but be sure about your shot and hit that canister. Never actually died here. Never actually want to.
- The second fight in the room with the Pregnant necromorphs. I'm sorry I don't have a better description, but you go down an elevator and you see a dead soldier on the ground with his hologram on. There's a save station there that tempts you and when you make a right turn into the cavernous room you are met by one of the pregnant necromorphs. This fight is tricky not because of those guys (although, if you blow them open you are in for a serious battle) but because of the number of fast Leaper necros that have that devastating tail attack. Your best bet here is to kill the first Pregnant and run into the hallway where the store is located. Hole up there and be ready to use stasis liberally. There are at least 4 Leapers that will come at you.
- The School Cafeteria battle. The first time I did this fight it was overwhelming. It's really quite easy. If you stay in that corner where you hack the panel, simply move that stasis canister where you can easily grab it. Take care of the Pack with your Cutter and as soon as you see the Infector necro (winged, bat creature) enter the room shoot it with the canister and take care of it. A few more Pack will come out but you are in the clear at that point.
- First Stalker Battle. This fight is actually quite easy. Just run out to the lockers on the left until you hear it trigger the Stalkers and then run straight back into the caged ramp area where you entered the room. All of the Stalkers follow a similar line of attack where the peek over the boxes in front of you or on either side and then attack. Stasis isn't even necessary to take them out. The Detonator is helpful here. After this battle it is an easy walk to the end of disk 1. Well done.
Disk 2 Tips
First off, take a break. There is always a temptation to save the game soon after getting to disk 2 but that should be avoided. You will want to use that save point to its max. If you come back to disk 2 refreshed and ready to start it over again like new, you are in much better shape to make good decisions.
My recommendation is to make your first save once you've reached the Ishimura and after you have defeated the two Brutes. That fight is easy assuming you've stockpiled enough ammo. Simply stasis and shoot the first brute and once you trigger the second brute run all the way back to the end of the hallway and let him come to you. Kill him the same way and now all of the necromorphs will be ahead of you. Easy peasy. There is a store and a save station waiting for you.
I recommend this as a first save because it is about 1.5 to 2 hours into the second disk and sets up very close to the difficult battle in the Ishimura where you fight mob after mob trying to turn on the Centrifuge. There are a couple of areas of concern before this.
- The instant death sequences. I forget what this room is called but it requires careful navigation to get through the grinders and steam. This is an area where overthinking can kill you. Each of the sequences is very simple and the necromorphs waiting for you after each one should be the most troublesome. You don't even need stasis to get through the first one. The second obstacle has a moving machine blocking steam and I found catching it at the bottom gave me the most time to make it through (with upgraded stasis it was almost 8 seconds) and the last is easy enough with stasis. Even if you die here, the trip back isn't awful timewise.
- A no-space vacuum room. My recommendation is to not blow out this window. Stasis the slasher that falls and take care of him quickly then turn around and stasis the Exploder that drops in as well. Kill him without hitting is exploding arm, grab the node, and ****.
- The Space Jump after the light beams. Watch this on Youtube before you do it. Get the sequence down in your head and you will be good to go.
- The CEC Welcome Station. This is the part right after the jump that initially had a brute but now has the windows blown out and you get a heavy dose of Pack, Spitters, and Leapers. Stasis, Health, continual movement, and keeping it close to the exit makes this fight not half as bad. Remember, there is a store right before this fight and it is the first station where you can spend your Peng. You'll have the credits to make it work.
- The Stalker room right before the Ishimura. This room is also easy. Get rid of the Cysts, use the stasis canisters to take care of the Stalkers and save one stasis canister for the Tormentor on the wall at the very end. Stasis the Tormentor, run around the side and grab the explosive canister. One shot and he's taken care of. You are on your way to your first save.
I chose to use this save before the elevator ride that leads up to the drill ride. The elevator is a classic place where things can get kind of out of hand and it is so close to the drill ride that I figured why take the chance? This save should take you all the way up through the government sector and right to the eye poke machine.Tips for the drill ride? Force Gun, continually check the ledges for exploding canisters to take care of the Lurkers, and have lots of health.
Personally, I've never had an issue with the eye poke machine but I figured, once again, why take the chance to save myself 5 minutes of playtime at the sacrifice of 45 minutes? With this being the final save all you have to do is move quickly through the remainder of the game all the way to the end. You'll have the regenerator at your heels the entire time so it keeps you moving. There is one (maybe two?) final stores between this save and the end so be sure and use up all your credits on health, ammo, and grab all stasis packs you have left (which, by the way, you only want to hoard over the course of the entire game).
Noob's Guide Part 3 - Execution
Once you get started be sure and stick to your plan. Hardcore mode is not a mode to get fancy with and definitely not something you want to use for getting a few final achievements. Don't save up health packs if you need them right then. You shouldn't enter a fight with anything less than 80% health.
There is no excuse for running out of ammo. Keep a close eye on your ammo count and sell everything you don't think you'll need so you can keep it stocked. If you've done a good job getting conductors and Peng, you'll have plenty of credits. Be sure and keep Ammo -> Health -> Nodes prioritized in that order.
Keep mobs in front of you as much as possible. If that means keep moving, do it. It is much better to get nicked by a mob than it is to get jumped by one and have to smash A to get away only to be surrounded by three new guys. If you aren't sure or confident of your backside, use a detonator shell.
My first couple of playthroughs I died in places I had never died before. I got jumped by a Necro coming out of a wall I had forgotten about and I fell through an elevator by backing myself into an edge thinking a necro was going to drop. Both were ridiculous ways to lose an hour or two. The rest of my deaths were due to greed (trying to get through the entire Ishimura without saving), poor planning during the instant death sequence room, and having no health during the room where you have to outrun the lasers.
Execution. Play your game and be good at it. We all know when we play sloppy and make dumb mistakes. This mode makes you pay for it in a bad way. Do these things and you'll be just fine. There is nothing quite like being able to save your progress in Hardcore.
In reality, this beauty of this achievement is how stressful it makes the game knowing that at certain points how much time you have on the line. By this point, you probably know Dead Space so well that "scary" isn't how you'd describe this game at all. This achievement brings back the heart pumping stress you missed since your first playthrough of the original Dead Space.
For 50g this achievement is definitely not worth it, but if you are looking to achieve the entire game, or love the challenge, it is no doubt one you will look at with the most pride. Good Luck.