While the game is visually impressive, the gunplay appears just as crushing as before, key franchise abilities and nods are present and there are promises of answers to the series’ long-standing questions, there has been discussion on the way Dead Space 3 is straying from its original survival horror themes as seen in Dead Space and Dead Space 2.
The gameplay on show at E3 this year was very action-oriented, continuing the series’ movement in this direction begun by Dead Space 2, but what fans may be forgetting is that the portions of Dead Space 3 that were on display were just that: Slices from a more fleshed out experience.
This year in particular, publishers across the board were keen on grabbing potential players’ attention with eye-popping set-pieces and action sequences, as opposed to more slow-paced demos. This is true of Dead Space 3 as well and even though we saw lots of gunfire, explosions and extravagant cinematics, the franchise seems to have evolved in a similar way that Metal Gear Solid 4 and Resident Evil 4 brought their respective franchises into the modern era of action gaming.
Due out in February 2013, El33tonline was presented with a gameplay demo for Dead Space 3 during E3 2012 by Visceral Producer and Senior Game Designer, John Calhoun, who immediately claimed that Dead Space 3 is the biggest game in the franchise and will definitively answer questions that fans have been asking (like what is The Marker, what are the Necromorphs all about, and more) since the first Dead Space.
Isaac Clarke is back as lead protagonist in Dead Space 3 and while the adventure begins out in the deep, black void of space following directly on from events in Dead Space 2, he quickly finds himself on the snowy, ice-encrusted world of Tau Volantis – a planet that we will discover holds special significance in the Dead Space story.
We’ll also discover that Tau Volantis is just as horrifying and hostile as previous Dead Space settings, if not more so, as Calhoun promises big, sprawling environments filled with new and returning Necromorph enemies of every size and description – from waist-high zombie-aliens to building-sized behemoths, there’s an enemy for every occasion!
Also, for the first time ever in a Dead Space game, you’ll be actively fighting against human enemies – mercenaries who follow the cult-like organised religion ‘Unitology.’ While the Necromorph enemies are collectively good at swarming and overwhelming you with their size, number and strength, the human enemies will provide a different, more cerebral challenge in combat as they’re able to think for themselves, trying to outflank and outsmart you during firefights.
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, so let’s dial it back to Tau Volantis itself. This planet is as hostile as they come and dangerous blizzards can blow in on a whim, knee-high snow deposits slow your movement and ice caverns abound, containing secrets and scares in equal measure. While this world may not be nearly as dark as previous Dead Space play spaces, visibility is generally cut down to a minimum and it wasn’t long into the demo before a Necromorph came screeching out of a light snow storm as if from nowhere.
The snow deposits also provide chances for the Necromorphs to pop up from below ground to attack when you least expect it, so you’ll need to tread carefully (and slowly) to stay ready and willing to shoot these creatures down. Helping you in the fight against these enemies will be your standard Plasma Cutter which shoots out bursts of lined energy to slice off appendages and heads with ease, but it wasn’t confirmed whether or not you’ll be able to rotate the beams as in other Dead Space games.
Also returning in Dead Space 3 is the classic utility suit (which is swapped out for an ‘arctic’ version) that displays how much health and energy you have remaining right there on the equipment , while holographic displays (to show additional information) and the navigation system of Dead Space are back, too. Box (and enemy) stomping is also present in order to find additional items and ammunition.
Depending on how you felt about the cinematic sequences of Dead Space 2, you’ll be pleased/displeased to hear that button-mashing type Quick Time Events will be your primary method of escaping hairy situations and certain death – there was no shortage of these moments during the Dead Space 3 demo as Clarke evaded the attacks of gigantic aliens intent on ripping him to shreds, and also climbed through a precariously positioned truck (hanging upside down and about to fall into a river far below) using this method.
Clarke has access to his trusty rifle during the beginning of the game and immediate use of his ‘Stasis’ ability, too – a suit technology that serves as both a way to slow down machinery and obstacles to solve puzzles as well as a handy way of freezing enemies dead in their tracks so you can more easily shoot them down. The transformation of enemies also seems more pronounced in Dead Space 3 – after shooting an infected human, giant tentacles emerged from its legs as it continued to stumble towards Clarke, which made for a very creepy encounter indeed.
As we explored our surroundings on Tau Volantis, it became apparent colonisation has taken place on the planet as compounds and installations of some description are littered around the landscape. After emerging from a cave and standing atop of a ridge (which made for a particularly impressive vista viewpoint), the lights of a series of buildings could be seen set into a mountainside nearby – Clarke’s new destination. Fighting against Necromorph-controlled colonists looked just as punchy and satisfying as ever as we made our way through a network of caves to get to the compound.
The biggest addition to the series with Dead Space 3, however, is seamless drop-in/drop-out co-operative play. With the help of another player, you’ll be able to tackle the entire singleplayer campaign as you take on the roles of Isaac Clarke and John Carver (first introduced in a Dead Space graphic novel). Playing Dead Space 3 alone, you’ll see Carver appear at certain key moments throughout the story and won’t be a constant AI companion, but as soon as you invite another player to join you in co-operative play online, you’ll be able to benefit from the firepower of two characters as Carver joins the action.
Calhoun demonstrated this new approach to co-op play by dropping Carver into the game with Clarke. We’re promised additional dialogue, snippets of story, new cut-scenes and brand new gameplay mechanics in co-op that we wouldn’t ordinarily get to experience if we were playing Dead Space 3 solo. Inviting a friend to play is easy, too, and can be carried out through the game’s pause menu which instantly brings your partner into your game online.
Popping Carver into Dead Space 3 immediately made the game more ‘busy’ as both characters traded banter and Clarke, by necessity, became a lot more chatty than before. The benefits of fighting with a friend could be seen as the pair easily took down a mid-level Necromorph boss (which was much more difficult to destroy alone), as well as a during a sequence in which both Clarke and Carver need to fend off a horde of encroaching enemies while an enormous mechanical drill spins around an arena-like space – while one player shoots down the enemies, the other is free to use Stasis on the drill and shoot out its power core.
Dead Space 3 allows players more mobility and combat options than past Dead Space games as well, and now Clarke can crouch and roll to evade attacks, while a new type of cover system is also to be introduced this time around. It’s not a ‘sticky’ cover system (like Gears of War or Uncharted) that slots you into rail-like movement, but you’ll instead be able to crouch behind objects, walls and pillars and Clarke will intelligently and automatically aim over and around that cover.
This method seemed to work well enough, but in the long run it might cut out opportunities for cover that we’ve seen games that use a ‘sticky’ type of system, such as quickly zipping from cover point to cover point, or easily transitioning around a corner. We’ll see.
This cover system in Dead Space 3 will come in handy against those Unitologist mercenaries, who can likewise duck behind obstacles to dodge your incoming fire. These human enemies will also try to flush you out with grenades and outflank you when possible, so having two players to watch each others’ back is valuable. We were also introduced to a creepy new enemy, called the Feeder, that appears in the dark as a disembodied head with small appendages.
It’s best to shoot these things on sight because they’ll quickly leap onto dead bodies and bring them to life to attack you. Just before you’re about to kill the body the Feeder has taken over, however, it’ll jump onto a new host (which may or may not be you) to continue its cycle of resurrection. It may be tiny, but this enemy is extremely dangerous!
Even in the short demonstration we saw, Dead Space 3 isn’t short on spectacular and expansive views which seem timed just right to follow on from intense, white-knuckle action to provide a few seconds of respite. After emerging from that aforementioned battle with a renegade industrial drill, we were shown a massive landscape that stretched far into the distance, with small story details visible, too – a hulking, sprawled out skeleton of some ancient, alien creature was set into the ice and snow of Tau Volantis, bringing to mind questions of the planet’s inhabitants.
We weren’t given too long to mull over this question as we soon met the Nexus, a colossal insect-like creature (with lots of gross moving parts) that towered over the players and attacked from the ridge of the mountainside. After ejecting seeds from its mouth (that went on to hatch zombie-esque Necromorph enemies), the Nexus was keen to draw Clarke and Carver into its mouth by sucking them right from their footholds in the snow.
After a lot of back-and-forth fighting (and lots of bullets fired), Clarke was eventually swept off of his feet and drawn straight into the mouth of the Nexus. Claustrophobic scenes inside the creature’s intestines followed before Clarke was ‘digested’ into the monster’s stomach and attacked by another horrific enemy… which is when the demo was swiftly wrapped up.
At first glance, Dead Space 3 may not be the creeping horror shooter we’ve come to expect from the previous games, but a new direction might be just what the series needs to keep it fresh, and while the environments are much more open and well-lit this time around, the team at Visceral seems to have found lots of ways to continue to inject doses of scares and horror into the game.
With the addition of seamless co-operative play, new combat options and an all-new story set in the Dead Space universe (with those promises of answers to long-standing questions), Dead Space 3 shouldn’t be overlooked by franchise fans and newcomers, either.
As John Calhoun said, Dead Space 3 sticks closely to what Visceral believes to be the series’ core tenets, which are ‘real space,’ ‘thrilling atmosphere,’ ‘epic action’ and ‘high quality visuals.’ In our demo, all of this and more was readily apparent.
Look forward to Dead Space 3 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in February 2013.