Hands-On: Dead Space 3

January 25, 2013

This preview was contributed by Jeremy Jastrzab, freelance writer, attending a hands-on session on Rocket Chainsaw’s behalf.

The recently released DmC stirred enough controversy amongst the fan base for one desperado to actually start a petition against the game. Incidentally, Dead Space 2 had its own controversies leading to the release, ranging from a risqué advertising campaign to questions over how many changes over the original had been made, such as giving protagonist Isaac Clarke a voice.  While all is quiet on the advertising front for Dead Space 3, a lot of noise has been made about the changes to the series, but if you believe the chat that I had with the game’s producer, John Calhoun, most of the changes that you’ll find in the game are “what the fans wanted”…

The game’s been shown a few times now, but today was the first chance to try out the opening  four chapters of the game and get some more insight into what elements that have been changed. Calhoun described the depth of the story behind the Dead Space series, reassuring players that they will get a much greater understanding of exactly what the ‘Markers’ are, just how the necromorphs came about, the depth of insanity of the Church of Unitology and just how far Isaac’s dementia has progressed… Still at the outset, players will be treated to a very concise and well produced video summarising the last two games which will be enough to get them up to speed. From the first two hours, it’s clear that the game will push the scope of the previous titles, but whether sci-fi nuts will appreciate the ‘Days of our Lives’ style drama cropping up so early, will have to make up their minds once they play it.

When asked about the shifting genre across the three Dead Space titles, Calhoun interestingly mentioned that the development team did not want to confine themselves to the one genre – hence the evolution from a weak protagonist in a horror scenario, to an action hardened sci-fi guru. He said the development team sees the series as primarily sci-fi action. Much to the relief of most of the series followers, Calhoun further reassured that the entire game can be played on your own, just as you could with previous titles in the series. It was good to hear that the developers went the extra mile to make sure that the single player experience is preserved, but at least tried to create a co-op mode that can be played with the other player dropping in and out.

Co-op shooters are a dime-a-dozen, and aside from slightly divergent experiences such as playing the co-op in the original Kane and Lynch, not many bother trying to mix up the experience for each separate player. The fascinating prospect with Dead Space 3, is that your optional co-op partner, the military man John Carver with a back story spanning back to Dead Space 2, will have a different experience to Isaac. Now, Calhoun reassured that the overall story and main plot devices will not change at all, but each character will have their own level of dementia and each will differ in how it affects them across the game – which will be evident in the interaction between the two. And apparently it’s not just the weather that is creating the frostiness between the two. Even though Calhoun explained that players of Dead Space 2 expressed a desire to have someone helping them with the harder parts, which in turn is what inspired them to create the co-op mode, their innovative idea hadn’t been thought of at the start of development.

Another big change is the approach to weaponry. While you have a standard set of the Plasma Cutter and Machine Gun, the addition of a customisable weapons bench will make use of the resources, parts and circuits that the players will find throughout the game. The hands-on time was nowhere near long enough to really judge how effective this was, as the parts and resources found were extremely unimpressive, but the potential within the system, and open scope will give players enough choice to make some crazy weaponry. With such a design choice, it was clear that the developers needed to standardise the ammo load out.

It was one thing for the ammo to be standardised, which takes away from the survival element on one perspective, but something that was very noticeable from the play through was the amount of ammo clips thrown at you. While I spent a lot of time playing with standard series elements such as kinesis, necromorph limbs and the environment, I didn’t realise that I had stockpile HEAPS of ammo. So much that enemy attack waves essentially became redundant. It wasn’t too difficult to survive them because so much ammo was on offer, and as a bonus, a whole heap of med kits were being thrown about as well.

Now whether it was because the majority of the play through was spent ‘in space’, or whether it was the higher emphasis on action, but the preview felt almost as if there was too much time spent on familiar ground. Just with a lot more explosions. Now something that was encouraging towards the end of the demo though, was the potential for ‘optional missions’. There wasn’t a chance to try it, but if this is an indication that the game will mix up the environments and allow you to get ‘off the track’ then this could be promising. After all, while Calhoun mentioned that there will still be plenty of isolated and claustrophobic corridors, the game will also be more played across a more open landscape. At the end, the snowy part of the ice planet was not available in the demo.

In the very least, the chat and demo was reassuring enough to show that the co-op is not likely to adversely affect the experience. The developers have at least put in a good effort to make the experience ‘Dead Space‘ and not stick you with some muppet AI. The weapons bench and a couple of other design decisions look like they will have a bigger effect overall. With Dead Space 3, the series is clearly undertaking its own form of evolution. And like those necromorphs crawling through the air ducts, you know something is there, but you’ll only know what you’re up against once it’s in front of you…