Our cold, dead hands
2013 is just over the horizon and one of the first major releases of the year is Dead Space 3. Since its reveal this past summer, a lot has been made about the changes to the franchises third entry. The online co-op, weapon upgrade system, and the setting of the icy planet of Tau Volantis have all made longtime fans wary of the next entry. But were here to tell you that, at least based on what weve played, theres little to fear--outside of being ripped apart by the series trademark Necromorphs.
Dead Space 3 intends to continue scaring the excrement out of players, and the developers are trying a number of new things while attempting to stay true to the franchises roots. That approach worked out in Dead Space 2, so will the devs be able to reach a similar balance this time around? We have at least nine reasons were excited to see if DS3 can pull that off in time for launch on February 5.
Your new co-op friend has issues
From the day Dead Space 3 was announced, a fair number of franchise fans took issue with the inclusion of online co-op. Isaac, formerly a loner, would now be accompanied by John Carver, a man who on the surface seems to be the bald space marine archetype that Dead Space had long avoided. But as our recent gameplay showed us, Carver has some repressed problems coming to the surface, thanks to the lunacy-inducing Markers that Dead Space is known for.
The alien structures are driving Carver mad, giving him visions and illusions that prey on his deepest fears. Isaac already overcame the power of the Marker in his previous interactions with them, so hes unaffected, meaning the person playing Carver is seeing some really messed up stuff while Isaac has to deal with oncoming enemies and his teammate freaking out. It creates an interesting dynamic, and wed like to play as Carver just to see all his crazy delusions.
You can go your own way
However, even after hearing about the interesting additions to two-player action, you still might be completely against the idea of co-op in Dead Space. If so, then youll be happy to know the game can be played 100% solo. That even means that you wont be accompanied by an AI controlled partner, as the solo campaign is a unique, purposefully solitary experience.
In single-player, its classic Dead Space, with Isaac trying his best to survive while searching for the source of an outbreak of deadly alien forces. Carver pops up every now and then in the campaign, likely to facilitate the drop-in/drop-out nature of online play, but otherwise Isaac is alone in derelict space stations and the frozen world of Tau Volantis, searching for answers. Developer Visceral intends to make it the kind of experience fans have come to expect from Dead Space, and outside of some co-op exclusive side quests, it seems youll experience as much of the world alone as you would with a partner. Oh, did we mention there are side quests now?
More open than ever
Though we could fill a whole feature listing the differences between the first and second Dead Space games, the campaigns of both did share a certain linearity. You start at Point A and through a series of horrifying, cringe-inducing events, Isaac eventually ends up at Point B. This time around, Visceral intends to open its story up a bit more.
The primary way Visceral has expanded Dead Space 3's scope is to add a number of side quests and optional content throughout the stages. The side mission we experienced sent us to an unseen section of an empty ship and, after clearing the room of monsters, we opened a box and got a rare piece of tech, along with some chilling background on why the ship was so eerily empty. As we mentioned earlier, some of these missions will be co-op only, but all will net players new items, many of which will be used in the new weapon upgrade system.
Weapon upgrades get an upgrade
Dead Space has always put a lot of importance on upgrading Isaacs weapons and abilities, but Dead Space 3 is taking things a bit further. Before, you were limited to the number of Nodes you found in the world, since those were what was used to improve your items. Now those set types of weapons have been basically unified to make room to build and equip one of a thousand variations of guns.
Youll find parts everywhere, different pieces of weapons from Dead Spaces arsenal, and you can mix and match them together to create your own specialized weapon. A plasma cutter mixed with a force gun and a javelin gun with an attached flamethrower are just two of the examples the devs gave us. But dont worry about finding the special ammo for your unique weapon. Now the ammo you find can be used in any gun, and after we got over our shock at the change, we believe universal ammo might be a smart adjustment to deal with the extreme variation thats coming to the weapons cache.
Shooting with an atmosphere
Another change to Dead Space is the loss of some of that eponymous space. The first two games took place almost entirely on satellites or ships adrift in space, but much of DS3 seems to take place on the frozen world of Tau Volantis. Now that Isaac will be able to breath real air and walk around in non-simulated gravity, what can you expect from the large chunks of time spent on Tau?
Our biggest takeaway was the unanticipated variety of settings on the ice-covered planet. Some areas are inhabited outposts with working equipment; others are abandoned buildings that have frozen over. Sometimes youll be walking in wide-open areas getting blasted by the wind, and other times youll be checking the dark corners and tight spaces of an ancient cave system. The only certainty on Tau Volantis is that you wont have to wait long to find something thats trying to kill you.
Theres still outer space
Still, Tau Volantis isnt all that DS3 has to offer players, as weve had a small taste of Dead Space 3s outer space sections. Were not totally sure where the space portions are set in relation to Tau Volantis proper, but there are a number of abandoned ships and debris hanging in space in an area called the Flotilla. And thats where youll find the atmosphere youve come to expect from the series.
Do you like exploring silent corridors, watching the lights flicker as you wait for a reanimated corpse to explode out of an air vent the moment you least expect it? Want to fly around in Zero G and scream in pain surrounded by the empty void of space? Want to search eerily empty living quarters for new items? Thats all on the Flotilla, though the real question is how often youll be heading there.
Battle the living as well as the reanimated dead
Dead Spaces monsters are some of the most disturbing in all of gaming. The franchise just wouldnt be the same without the twisted, misshapen Necromorphs. Those deformed corpses are back in DS3, and they include new models like the skeletal Wasters that hide beneath the corpses of average looking humans. Weve even seen some Godzilla-sized Necromorphs that tower over any beast weve seen before in the series.
But Tau Volantis is also inhabited by humans, and in a first for the series, humans are more than just eventual corpses--theyre threats all on their own. The mercenaries employed by the mysterious enemies in Dead Space 3 are out looking for Isaac and Carver, and while they may lack the bloodthirsty nature of Necromorphs, theyre a whole lot smarter, taking cover and waiting to strike at the right time. Then theres the added strategy of those corpses turning into another Necromorph if you dont move fast enough.
The cinematic action of DS2 returns
The original Dead Space was focused on scares and atmosphere, and while Dead Space 2 offered heavy doses of that as well, it also changed things up. Taking inspiration from games like Uncharted 2, Dead Space 2 dotted its scary narrative with explosive action setpieces that paid off (for the most part). Dead Space 3 looks to be keeping DS2s ethos alive.
Weve already seen exciting moments where Isaac has narrowly escaped falling off a ravine, or him barely surviving a crash landing. But we witnessed our favorite moment so far playing in co-op. Isaac and Carver are deliberately scaling a sheer cliff wall, taking their time until they start getting attacked. Soon they're jumping over cavernous divides in the rock face to avoid falling debris and monsters. Its an unexpected moment for Dead Space, but one thats executed impeccably.
It might actually be better with Kinect
Gamers who call the 360 home have no doubt gotten used to seeing a purple label on the occasional game box proclaiming the title as Better with Kinect. Dead Space 3 is now following games like Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier by adding the feature. And while its nothing revolutionary, we at least give it credit for being unobtrusive and mostly working during our demo.
In our brief co-op demo with Kinect, the casual peripheral's use was limited to just voice controls. If we shouted use stasis, Isaac used his time-freezing stasis power. When we told him to use a healing item, he did it. The majority of the Kinect functionality could also be done on the gamepad, but it was a chintzy bonus, and well admit that it at least somewhat streamlined the multiple commands that it takes to give an item to our co-op partner.
Never forget to sever
As excited as we may be for Dead Space 3, we wont know if our excitement pays off until we can get our hands on the final game. Until then, tell us in the comments if you still have doubts about this sequel.