At E3 this year EA gave the world its first look at Dead Space 3. Though there was much to be impressed by, some fans of the series were concerned about the changes on display. The once solitary Isaac had a new, optional co-op partner, and the quiet of outer space was replaced by the white noise of a barren, snowy planet. But don’t assume that that’s all there is to the game, as our first hands-on demo showed that Dead Space 3 has much left to reveal, and that includes single player scares in outer space.
This new stage takes place before the E3 demo, implying there’s a clear separation in the plot between this section set in space and when Isaac lands on the ice world. From the start the demo was almost the complete opposite of the E3 gameplay. Isaac is alone. He’s in an eerily quiet, derelict spacecraft. Necromorphs are hiding in every corner. The whole purpose of the demo seemed tailored to leave the player thinking, “This feels just like classic Dead Space.” By the end of our time with it, that’s just what we were thinking.
We began our walk through the dimly lit hallways of the seemingly empty spaceship searching for the computer part that was the goal in the mission. We quickly got back into the groove of the franchise, walking the eerie ship with our flashlight and gun out, searching dark corners for movement. The first Necro still took us by surprise, busting out of a cooling grate we overlooked, but we proficiently removed its limbs with the Plasma Cutter. As we stomped the corpse to collect its loot, it was like the 15 months since we last played Dead Space 2 had disappeared.
That’s not to say everything was the same, since we got our first taste of updates to powers like Kinesis. In addition to merely shifting items in specific directions, you can now rotate and pivot specific items in the environment, which added a little more variety to exploring the stage. A similar dusting of variety is true for Isaac's dynamic new moves. We were so used to Isaac’s defined movements from the earlier games, it took time to adjust to his ability to dive in multiple directions and duck behind cover. At one point an exploding Necromorph got within reach of hitting us, but at the last second we remembered we could dive to safety, which we quickly did.
Our short time with the game ended with taking down a room full of standard Necromorphs and eventually finding the important piece of tech we were looking for. The section of gameplay was welcomingly familiar, but lacked the narrative weight we were used to in most Dead Space gameplay chunks, and we soon found out why. Apparently this section was our introduction to another new feature in Dead Space 3, side quests.
This was a wholly optional adventure, the main goal to collect a rare item for use in the mysterious new weapon upgrade system. We were also told that the fairly simple timing-based puzzle that ended our search would have had a further wrinkle had we gone through the mission with our optional co-op partner. Apparently Dead Space 3 will be full of voluntary missions like these, which is a decidedly different approach than the previous linear games. Finally, though the Plasma Cutter had a very familiar feel to it, the second weapon we had was a weird mixture of previous weapons, another hint to the developer’s bigger plans for changing the weapon upgrade system.
Our brief time with the game was a seeming throwback that ended up teaching us more about the changes in Dead Space 3. As fans of the series, we really enjoyed what we played, on the surface exactly what we liked about the previous games, but with so many new features included. Variety is the goal of the devs, though we’re still a little concerned that with the many multiple paths on offer the game won't be stretched too thin. We'll know for sure when the game comes to 360, PS3 and PC next February.