Dead Space 3 Hands-On Preview - Cold Fear
Written Wednesday, July 25, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Much has been made of Dead Space 3's supposed 'new direction' that apparently sees Visceral taking the franchise ever-deeper into action shooter territory. And now you can share the terror with a friend should things get too scary for you, which some might say kind of defeats the object of being a 'survival horror' game altogether. Where's the survival if you've got a friend to help you out? Where's the horror if you've always got someone to watch your back at every turn? Valid questions perhaps (although they're essentially the same question), but Visceral has the answers in our first hands-on with Dead Space 3.
In fact, Dead Space 3 is all about providing answers, with Isaac Clarke and his co-op buddy EarthGov soldier Sgt. John Carver crash landing on Tau Volantis, where they'll find the key to that ubiquitous towering red marker that's at the root of the Necromorph infestation. That's the idea anyway. Amid the hostile environment and sub-zero temperatures, you'll encounter new species of Necromorph, more Unitology nutters who worship the marker and some enormous, highly evolved creatures that'll serve as the game's epic, large-scale boss battles. Chances are you'll be thankful for Isaac's dodge roll and a buddy waiting in the wings to lend a hand.
Starting off with a traditional single-player demo, we pick things up at the beginning of chapter 2 with Isaac stalking the decaying, rusty corridors of a typically dark and foreboding deserted research vessel. As ever, the audio is exemplary, filling the claustrophobic spaces with creaking and deep guttural sounds that keep you constantly on-edge, and the lighting still plays tricks with fleeting glimpses of shapes and objects in the darkness. So far, so Dead Space. We feel immediately at home walking slowly through narrow passageways with a plasma cutter and a flashlight primed and at the ready, nervously watching every little ventilator fan and entry point where Necromorph nastiness might enter.
Lulled into a false sense of security as we open doors by turning handles using Isaac's telekinesis (TK), it's not long before we're set upon by a couple of Lurkers, shooting barbs from their tentacles. From here on out, all hell breaks loose as we're attacked by good old-fashioned Slashers jumping out of vents and speeding towards us from all directions. This is where Isaac's ever-reliable stasis comes into play, enabling you to buy time and space to tactically dismember enemies.
Anyone worried that Visceral is abandoning the Dead Space formula by throwing the baby out with the bathwater needn't worry. Dead Space 3 still has the same all-pervading sense of dread at work, and those same beats where everything seems far too calm before a Necromorph appears out of nowhere to scare the living crap out of you. Yes, Isaac can now roll in any direction, crouch and even use cover in a context-sensitive non-sticky manner, but at its heart, Dead Space 3 still essentially plays like the series always has. The new additions feel natural and non-invasive, without making the game feel like it's venturing into Gears of War territory.
Further into our solo demo we stumble upon a handy weapon bench, which is sadly off-limits for this build, but it shows that you'll still be able to tinker with your arsenal. There are still nodes to collect too, used for opening doors to useful equipment and you'll also have to conserve your ammo lest you run out in a difficult situation. Isaac is still able to melee of course, and you can still make sure a Necromorph is dead by stomping its corpse into several bloody chunks. Eventually, we fight our way into the final area of the solo demo: the tesla room, where we need to extract the tesla core and retrieve a valuable data key to progress.
Deactivating the tesla coils is an invitation for the new Swarm Infectors to pay us a visit however, attaching their tendrils and disembodied heads to the corpses of dead scientists strewn around the room to bring them back to life. Swarm Infectors can resurrect human Unitology soldiers too and even take control of their weapons, so they're a frightening prospect. They look pretty nasty, and like your standard Swarmer they'll attempt to overwhelm you in numbers. Using our plasma cutter and new electrified line rack weapon, we're able to cut the reanimated scientists into pieces, before stomping them into puree with a little bit of judicious use of stasis to slow down the chaos in such an enclosed space.
Here our solo demo ends and it's clear that played alone, Dead Space 3 offers a single-player experience that's exactly like the Dead Space you know and love. There's no AI buddy hampering your progress in single-player, yet if you want to share the terror with a friend, you can have Carver drop in and out of the game at any time. We begin the next section playing the previously hands-off E3 2012 demo, which sees Isaac hanging upside down in the wreckage of his crashed ship, badly injured and covered in snow. Trudging through the white stuff as a vicious blizzard swirls around him, drastically reducing visibility, Isaac paces through the twisted, flaming metal looking for help.
Finding a medikit, Isaac is still able to instantaneously heal himself at the touch of a button, and it turns out he'll need all the medical assistance he can get, as mere seconds after the crash site we're attacked by ice axe-wielding Necromorphs. Bisect them with blasts from Isaac's assault rifle and they'll continue after you as a pair of legs sprouting three spiky appendages from the exposed hole where the torso was once attached at the waist. They're relentless, but easier to manage with the rifle's new secondary force attachment that knocks standard enemies down.
We soon get to see where the action bits come into play after dispatching the maniacal aliens, as we encounter a QTE crawling through the inside of a snow vehicle teetering over a cliff-edge. It's an incredibly tense moment, helped in no small part by the high-pitched strings in the game's score ringing in your ears as Isaac desperately claws his way to safety. For now that is. Making his way through snowy tunnels fighting vicious Necromorph's with mouths like giant lampreys, we soon emerge to find Carver fighting his own battle on the walkway above us in an open snowy arena, clearly designed for a boss battle.
First we go it alone against a terrifyingly fast crab-like beast that can tear you in half and devour you in an instant if you get too close, after it destroys the elevator to the walkway. We quickly get killed, which is where our co-op friend joins in seamlessly for the second attempt. This time, the cutscene where the elevator is destroyed is different, with Carver striving to help pull Isaac to safety and the two characters have an argument before donning their snow suits prior to the crab monster's appearance. There'll be tension like this between Isaac and Carver that should make co-op something worth visiting, although it's an entirely optional addition to Dead Space 3. You can take it or leave it as you see fit, but at the very least it's an option worth considering for a second playthrough.
Taking out the crab beast is certainly easier and dare we say it, more fun with a buddy, as you decide who's on stasis and distraction duty and which one of you targets its yellow weak points. After a while the beast flees and we're onto the next section. Using Isaac's returning ripper weapon, we chop up some more human gun-toting Unitology maniacs as they fight off Necromorphs, before tackling a gigantic drill that blocks the way ahead. Again, using stasis and co-ordinating your actions proves to work well, but that doesn't make it any less frantic as we avoid the drill and the Necromorph onslaught.
With the enormous and unpredictable drill taken care of, we press on to the demo's final boss: the Nexus. A towering tentacled terror, the Nexus spits polyps that dispense skeletal freaks and can only be harmed when you shoot his glowing giblets. After some punishment, the boss vacuums Isaac into its gullet and swallows him whole, leaving him swimming in stomach acid for the demo's conclusion. Lovely.
As ardent Dead Space fans, it was with some trepidation that we approached our first hands-on with Dead Space 3, but we can happily say that it looks sublime and plays as well as any previous Dead Space game. Co-op, rather than being an ill-thought out addition that might dilute the experience, is actually a viable optional extra to mix things up if you're tired of playing alone. If you don't want co-op, you need never bother with it. The single-player core of Dead Space 3 is unaffected and there's no AI-controlled buddy to ruin your solitary ghost train ride. Concern about a lack of scares also dissipated during our hands-on, as we still felt that same sense of fear and uneasiness inherent in the first two games (we even jumped a couple of times). Sure, there might be no beating the claustrophobia, loneliness and feeling of hopeless entrapment you might have felt on the USG Ishimura in the first game, but Dead Space 3 is thinking big. That means for better or worse, there'll be scares on a planet-sized scale alongside the dilapidated laboratories and passageways. Whatever the case, we're excited.
Dead Space 3 is out in 2013.