Preview: Despite public marketing material that suggests a different type of game, Dead Space 3 is still very much horror in the stars.
With such a massive push towards emphasising a cover system and the all-new drop-in/drop-out co-op feature of Dead Space 3 in public marketing to date, it’s no wonder that Dead Space fans were a wee bit worried about this apparent new direction. I was one of those fans and weighed in with my two cents on the topic.
After playing the same demo that David Hollingworth did earlier in the year, it was great to see a return to confined corridors and frantic shooting as those dastardly Necromorphs poured out of the walls with a specific taste for Isaac Clarke’s (the playable character) flesh. Not long after, I got to try my hand at a different part of the game that was even more terrifying than what I’d played before.
Upon completing the demo, I was initially stumped as to why EA and Visceral Games was showing an action-heavy co-op side of Dead Space 3 to the general public and keeping the beloved confined tropes of the Dead Space series for press. After some thought, it made a lot of sense. (It made even more sense after interviewing producer Jesse Abney, but I’ll post that interview within the next week.) Dead Space is a survival/horror series, and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Even the greater emphasis on action in Dead Space 2 wasn’t enough to stop it from being terrifying and downright creepy in parts. With Dead Space 3, though, players who’ve avoided the series because of the terror angle can water down the horror side of things with optional campaign co-op. As I argued in my afore-linked opinion piece, while this will, at least conceptually, grate against Dead Space fans, it’s the perfect addition for nervous gamers looking to gun their way through a sci-fi world with the confidence of knowing they have a buddy watching their back.
The demo started on-board a star ship that’s heavily damaged and being torn apart. Isaac is in dire need of a protective suit and helmet, as he stumbles down hallways that are buckling and coming apart at the seams; a desperate dash to reach his kit before the air is sucked from his lungs. He manages to scramble his way into a spacesuit in a room that’s a little too close to being empty space for comfort. Before he can secure the all-important helmet, though, it’s sucked out into space, and he has no choice but to chase after it.
These scenes were a fantastic setup for the game but, after some minor space puzzling, the following nigh-on-rails descent through space-ship debris was ripped from Dead Space 2 and lacked a feeling of control in order to make it a compelling section. It did have the new addition of shooting space mines during the familiar sequence, but it wasn’t overly challenging, and the game seemed to reward near misses on mines just as much as it did direct hits. Thankfully, the sequence only lasts for about a minute, so it’s not a big deal, but was the biggest out-of-place detractor of an otherwise wholly engaging Dead Space 3 experience.
I spent about half an hour on one of the ships that’s part of what’s referred to as the “Lost Flotilla”: basically, a bunch of ships lost 200 years in the past. Aside from an older tech feel with some great sci-fi throwbacks, the older locale also serves a practical purpose for mixing up the Dead Space formula. Little additions such as torque control with Telekinesis are required for manually manipulating outdated machinery, while these old ships exist in a time before the convenience of Stores that let Isaac purchase items and weapons, and upgrade the same in previous games.
While this sounds like a step back, what it actually does is further tie into the character of Isaac Clarke the engineer. If you, like me, found it odd that Gordon Freeman the scientist was able to wield guns like a pro and go toe to toe with military insurgents in Half-Life, this return to the drawing board for Isaac Clarke will come as a welcome inclusion. Precious salvage items scavenged throughout the ships can be combined at workbenches for various upgrades and, new to the series, weapon crafting (more on this in my interview with Jesse).
I got to test this with preloaded scavenged items, which meant I could pretty much build whatever the hell I liked to fight the creepy Necromorphs. This was a lot of fun, just in terms of picking the right components to create that perfect badass weapon for ultimate destruction. I toyed around with a shotgun that had an underslung flamethrower, as well as a couple of overpowered custom weapons such as an augmented rail gun that dropped most enemies in a single shot.
Given the terrifying and confined nature of the demo, it was an unspoken promise that exploration and salvage are even more important in a series where it’s safest to avoid looking too far into dark corners. The risk/reward payoff for exploration in Dead Space 3 now has a whole lot more meaning: adventurous types can build more, or possibly better, weapons. There were a couple of new enemy types with which to contend, and they seemed to be of the faster variety, which made combat even tenser; particularly when playing with a gamepad.
What made the combat less tense was the abundant presence of universal ammunition: a controversial choice for both demos I played that discouraged accurate firing and made me feel a whole lot more empowered than I should be in a Dead Space game. Thankfully, the word on the street is that universal ammo is placeholder only for demo purposes, so expect to not see this in the final game.
You can expect to see the most beautiful iteration of Dead Space, though. Both demos were played on Xbox 360 code, and I was genuinely surprised at how beautiful the game was on the ageing platform. The implications for enhanced visual fidelity on PC make Dead Space 3 all the more appealing. Couple this with that same sinister sound design (the Lost Flotilla demo was played with headphones) that had me jumping on more than one occasion, and Dead Space 3 is packing plenty of potential; not just as another memorable entry in a terrifying franchise, but also possibly as an eye-candy title alongside Crysis 3 when they both launch in February 2013.