Dead Space has become one of gaming’s unlikeliest heroes. A throwback to classic survival horror, its main protagonist Issac Clarke is a one man Necromorph stomping machine with sparingly few resources. The atmosphere and setting of Dead Space 1 and 2 set it apart from most games on the market, so it’s no wonder that Dead Space 3 is set to be the biggest hit of the early months of 2013. The demo is currently available to download by signing up to Origin (EA’s online service) and features a short run-through of a Dead Space 3 level, playable in single player or the brand new co-op. The demo is the first chance for the public to get a look at a few of the more controversial features added by EA into Dead Space 3.
Dead Space has always been about isolation. Sure, Issac makes and receives plenty of calls through his helmet but very rarely is he supported by a second gun. Dead Space 3’s campaign will be playable entirely in drop-in, drop-out co-op, with the second player taking the role of John Carver. The good news for fans of a single player experience is that Carver will not be present throughout Dead Space 3 in single player. Still, co-op will apparently offer a different experience with additional story scenes and events. Whether this mode can rival the “classic” Dead Space feel remains to be seen.
The setting of the game has also come under fire from sources. Whereas Dead Space 1 and 2 were set in dark, narrow corridors on space stations and ships, Dead Space 3 takes place on a frozen planet. There are still man-made outposts to supply those more claustrophobic scares but large sections of the demo level take place outdoors in the wilderness. These areas come with ample amounts of fog and storms to prevent you from being safe in your surroundings but it’s when the storm clears and you see the grandiose nature of the setting that you appreciate it more. Design wise, it wouldn’t look out of place in a Mass Effect game; it’s that impressive. Whether the visual delights will continue across the entire campaign is a big question but as an introduction to your new unnamed home, it’s a good start.
The finer details of the demo take place in a seemingly abandoned outpost. After some Quick Time Events (the marmite of video games?) out in the snow, the dark, blood stained corridors of old seem like a blessing in disguise. You learn here about a new feature added to the game; the redesigned Bench. In the first two games, you used power nodes to upgrade your weapons and RIG (suit) to your liking. In DS3, these options are disappointingly limited into linear upgrade paths for your RIG but the weapon upgrading has taken a new life of its own. You can now combine tools and parts to create weapon hybrids: the classic Plasma Cutter with a submachine gun attached to the bottom for example. These can be further upgraded through attachments with varying benefits and costs. Adding a heavier frame to the weapon will allow you to add circuits to it (smaller upgrades such as a slight increase in damage) but will reduce the stats of your weapon as a whole. The demo is fairly limited in the tools it gives you but there will definitely be a lot of tinkering to be done in the full game. Blueprints you’ve designed can be shared through co-op as well, giving you the opportunity to unleash your creation on your friend’s game as well.
So we come to the biggest perceived criticism of the game so far; Dead Space is dropping the scares in favour of a more action orientated approach. While there’s no doubt the demo falters in comparison to the prequels in this area (the atmosphere is nowhere near as intense), you can still be caught unawares by a Necromorph dropping in from the ceiling behind you. Whether the game will feature anything as creepy as the kindergarden level in Dead Space 2 is yet to be seen. The game also now features humanoid enemies (human bodies whose heads have been replaced by the small ‘baby’ necromorphs) who take a leaf out of Resident Evil 6’s book and fire guns at you. To combat this, Issac can now duck behind cover and crouch at will. While this is standard fare for any action game nowadays, in a Dead Space game, it feels slightly off. These enemies appear infrequently enough (at least, in the demo level) that it’s not a major bother but firing on a human target does lessen the sense of a fight against an ancient alien race.
Overall, Dead Space fans can sleep easy after this demo. It’s different, sure, but it still retains enough of the classic Dead Space gameplay to keep you interested. The weapon creation and modification system hints at offering a world of customised weaponry and the visuals are spectacular. It may be easy to criticise a more action-based approach but this is only a demo level; the full game will no doubt offer much more of the atmosphere and thrills we’ve come to expect from Dead Space. When the full game finally arrives, we may have to reopen some lines of criticism but the demo will definitely reignite excitement within the fan base for Dead Space 3.