Dead Space 3 Hands-on (Xbox360)

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Dead Space and Dead Space 2 fitted my gaming tastes perfectly and it seemed as though Visceral Games had scanned my brain and pulled out all of the sensibilities I had been wanting in a videogame.

Smart design decisions, sleek aesthetics, unrelenting atmosphere, immersive audio work, pitch-perfect pacing and opportunities for tension release with fantastic enemy fights and set-pieces were just some of the aspects of the first two games in the Dead Space horror action franchise that I found most impressive.

But what about Dead Space 3?

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In keeping with videogame tradition, the third title in this series is everything you’ve come to expect, but more. We saw the two-player co-operative functionality of Dead Space 3 at an E3 2012 presentation of the game, but my hands-on time during gamescom 2012 let me go on a solo journey as protagonist Isaac Clarke, with a look at the all-new weapon crafting feature, too.

The first few minutes of the demo set up the ‘bigger and better’ approach to Dead Space 3 almost immediately. Dead Space 2 had moments that I would describe as ‘blockbuster’ and ‘explosive,’ but as I was sent on a mission to search for a character known as ‘Eddie’ on a ship called the ‘Udora,’ I soon discovered that Visceral’s new game ups the ante of those ‘blockbuster’ set-pieces considerably.

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The Udora has somehow been set on a path littered with mines floating in space and as the colossal ship continues on its course, these mines are doing what gigantic explosives do best: Rip, rend and tear through the Udora’s hull causing extreme havoc for the ship’s passengers. As the vessel suffers its destruction, the metallic world around you is shredded and flipped upside down making for an interesting minute of (very delicately) walking on a glass ceiling that cracks with every rumble and detonation.

This glass (and the ship’s interior) are all that separates you from the vastness of space and eventually you’re exposed to the cold vacuum after a particularly nasty explosion. You might be aware that humans aren’t really made to deal with space without some sort of protection against the elements, so you and Isaac rush through the debris before gearing up in a proper suit. Ah, much better!

It’s a little unfortunate that most of the action in this portion of the demo was controlled simply by pushing forward on the left stick on the controller as the action happened around you, and while that’s a fine method of creating tension and fear, it’s a little worrying if these sections become the predominant way of delivering environmental action in Dead Space 3.

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That’s not to say that you won’t be tasked with direct control in the game at all. If you’re familiar with the previous games, you’ll know about the third-person shooter action that the series delivers while creeping through eerily-lit and grimy, metallic corridors filled with moving parts and cool-looking technology. Previous gameplay elements, like stomping on boxes to find extra items, climbing up ladders, and up close melee attacks are all again present in Dead Space 3, while telekinesis (or Stasis) is back, too – the ability to control and manipulate objects from afar without physically touching them.

The demo featured an inordinate amount of Stasis manipulation and was used for things like opening doors, unlocking panels, moving objects out of the way and powering up a massive, room-sized contraption by sliding chunks of machinery into place – much more than I remember in Dead Space 2, in any case. You’ll be clued into when and where to use Stasis by taking note of faint glowing particles (with a blue hue), so if you’re ever stuck about how to solve a puzzle, ‘look for blue’ and use Stasis.

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Eventually I found myself floating about in the cosmic expanses of space (with a handy space suit, luckily) but I wasn’t given long to enjoy the beautiful view, however, as I was soon sent hurtling down to another portion of the ship, sucked towards it (I’m assuming) by its own gravity. It all played out in a similar fashion to a comparable scene in Dead Space 2 – you’re given control of Isaac, guiding him around, past and even through obstacles as he ‘flies’ through nothingness towards a new destination (beware of the mines).

There will also be times in Dead Space 3 where your time spent in space won’t be so white-knuckle. At one point during the demo, I needed to float about looking for an entry point for a group of engineers, and using my tried and true ‘look for blue’ strategy, I found a panel on which I needed to use Stasis in order to unlock a hefty door so the engineers could climb aboard the ship.

After listening to a bit of radio chatter (which is used judiciously) to find out the status of certain crew members and reading (and hearing) a few diary logs left lying around by characters who had come before me, I once again started on my journey deeper into the ship, walking through grungy walkways and industrialised, rusted rooms. It wasn’t long before I came to know that I wasn’t alone as staccato gurgles and muffled screams echoed down the halls towards me – glimpses of movement and dancing shadows further clued me in with a few cheap scares thrown in for good measure.

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The tension was punctured a little by a very simple Stasis ‘puzzle’ (lift up a power core and place it in a slot – I hope things get more interesting than that) but, sure enough, I came face-to-face with my tormentors, the dreaded Necromorph zombie aliens, which somehow look, move and sound more insect-like to me compared to previous Dead Space games.

Additions to the Dead Space arsenal of manoeuvres include the option to roll out of danger and move into cover, the first of which will come in handy against Necromorphs as you dodge their attacks before whipping out your line guns (which come in a handgun or rifle form) and pummel their limbs with a few well-placed shots. Series fans will be pleased to know that you can once again determine the orientation of the line guns (choosing between a horizontal or vertical line) so you can carve up enemies however you wish.

Quick-heal and quick-Stasis recharge buttons will keep you in the fight (providing you have med packs and stasis packs to spare), and Dead Space 3 continues to make extensive use of the franchise’s hallmark holographic heads-up display (HUD) for maps, menus and hints. You’re also shown the status of Isaac with nifty panels on his back, a feature also returning from previous Dead Space titles.

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Also a hallmark of the Dead Space series is the very tight, focussed third-person camera that bobs and sways with every movement of Isaac, heavily accentuating this movement for a great sense of immersion. When you enter a zero-g area of the game and kick off to float to the next area, the camera follows in very closely and lets us tag along with Isaac, but the camera will occasionally detach itself from Isaac’s back to zoom up on new enemies to introduce them to players. One such instance was demonstrated as I met up with a three-tentacled alien with the ability to shoot spikes at me (another returning ‘feature’ from Dead Space 2). A well-placed line-gun shot takes care of those tentacles very nicely.

The demo ended with a hectic assault on that previously mentioned room-sized machine as a dozen Necromorphs made it their job to stop me by throwing themselves (and their hideous, transforming bodies) at me, which I didn’t find attractive in the least. Melee attacks will fend off the more assertive aliens, but keeping a cool head and lining up your shots will pay (gruesome) dividends.

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Unfortunately I didn’t get to play any of this in co-operative mode, but we were given a brief demonstration of a new feature in Dead Space 3 – the ability to craft your own weapons. ‘Crafting’ was semi-present in Dead Space 2 with the chance to choose the upgrade paths of your weapons, and create weapons and items with blueprints and different elements found during your journey, but Dead Space 3 does things a little (or a lot) differently.

If you have the right parts, you can create a weapon of your choosing with a host of modifications from any of the creation benches you’ll find in Dead Space 3. From this menu, you can create a single- or two-handed weapon that shoots fire, pulses of energy (like a line gun), explosive and other types of ammunition, while changing the weapon’s attributes as you see fit.

Do you want a gun that is better suited for close encounters with a wide spread and greater damage? How about a weapon that is precise and fitted with a scope that can shoot great distances? Do you want your rounds to inflict Stasis or flame damage? How about all of the above?

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As you swap attachments and change attributes, the statistics of your weapon will be shown real-time so you’ll always know the damage, rate of fire, range, reload time and clip size of the weapon you’re creating or modifying, and once you’re done, you can choose to create that gun with a blueprint for future use, too. This system in Dead Space 3 is very easy to use and simultaneously very powerful, but you’ll need to raid lockers, locked panels and boxes to find the right tools and equipment for the job.

What’s even better is that (in the demo at least) once we were done creating our own weapons, we could simply spawn in a few Necromorphs to test out our creations – my explosive, high rate, fire-dealing monstrosity made quick work of the creatures I brought forth. Great fun!

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My hands-on time with Dead Space 3 summoned a few questions as to the nature of the game with regards to how Visceral is approaching the latest franchise entry, and while I would have liked to play through a bit of it with a fellow demo-goer in co-operative mode, my mind has mostly been put at ease.

Dead Space 3 seems to be everything you would expect from the series, and more. And better. And craftier.

Dead Space 3 is out on February 5th in the US and February 8th in Europe and the UK, across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Look over El33tonline’s extensive previous coverage of Dead Space 3 and read over our E3 2012 preview for more information.

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