My first experience with the Dead Space franchise occurred in 2009. An old housemate of mine convinced me to give the first Dead Space a go, so we sat in our living room, lights off and curtains drawn with only the glow of the TV for a source of light. That evening we explored the nightmare that was the Ishimura, and it was the first time in a long time that a game made me experience genuine fear.
Dead Space 3 takes place in an environment different to Ishimura and Dead Space 2’s Sprawl. This time Isaac Clarke and new character John Carver, who’s playable in co-op, must fight to survive on the planet icy planet Tau Volantis. The planet is a much brighter place, though in some areas that doesn’t help with visibility. At the very beginning of the demo you’ll be walking through a blizzard, barely able to make out anything in front of you.
This blizzard helps set up initial theme of being lost and confused. You’re trying to find your crew mates and you really don’t know what to expect.
However, once you’re past the opening it becomes harder to ignore that EA and Visceral have incorporated a lot more action elements in Dead Space 3, and to a point it feels like some of the atmosphere from the previous games has been lost.
Sure, you’ll jump a few times from some scares but I didn’t feel the same fear of the unknown. Part of the problem is that in certain conflicts you can clearly see where enemies were coming from, removing the possibility of them catching you off guard.
Of course, this is only a demo of the early section of the game, so it’s not clear how the rest of the game will feel. It’s perfectly possible that the beginning doesn’t throw as much at you in an effort to draw you in.
The major parts of the demo are well crafted though. The scenery looks great and the snow seems to just build up around you as it falls. The big set pieces are very well executed too. Within the demo you’ll encounter at least three big moments that change the pace of the game; in my opinion the most nerve wracking one involves a giant earth drill, and waves of necromorphs.
Necromorphs won’t be the only enemies Isaac faces this time round either. The game also includes actual human enemies armed with guns and the objective of stopping Isaac. These are Unitologist Soldiers, believers in Unitology and the reason Isaac is in this mess in the first place. You’ll find yourself in a few gun battles but these aren’t predictable fights. If necromorphs appear they will attack the armed opponents, causing the dynamics of the fight to change. Rather than you facing off against the Unitologists or necromorphs, the two sides will start to fight each other as you watch on, giving you a little breathing space.
Some won’t like this inclusion of gun battles but from what I experienced in the demo they were quite enjoyable, though hopefully they won’t be too prominent. If they’re featured too heavily they could take away from what made Dead Space successful in the first place – the struggle of a man against monsters, both emotional ones and those that pursue him.
We had a quick play of the game’s co-op on Friday.
The demo also allows you to experience the co-op aspect of Dead Space 3. It’s exactly the same level as the single player portion, but the addition of John Carver adds an extra layer to the story. With John’s presence you’ll learn more about what’s going on and also experience different scenarios later in the game. If you play just the single player then John will only appear at certain parts of the story as an NPC, instead of accompanying Isaac through the madness.
I played the online co-op a couple of times to get a feel for it and I believe it’s pretty well done. The levels do get slightly harder to accommodate the presence of a partner, although working as a team didn’t feel crucial to succeed. However, knowing someone was there with you helped in certain scenarios.
Overall the demo shows off the potential of the gameplay Dead Space 3 will contain but there is the lingering question of whether it’ll be as unnerving as previous entries. The co-op works well and the fact it actually adds to the story instead of being a gimmick really makes that side of the game potentially interesting.
The demo will be publicly released this week.