Preview: Dead Space 3

December 18, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Dead Space ever since the series’ debut back in EA’s experimental phase, which also birthed the perhaps unfairly maligned mutant child Mirror’s Edge in 2008.  Visceral Games have built a cool universe, that hybridises Alien and 2001 which exists over several mediums, including novels, animated films and comics. The games have been survival horror affairs in space, with plenty of horrific monsters, tense situations and surreal situations. However, the initial footage of the new Dead Space 3 from E3 showed a shift in focus to co-op action thrills – lots of shooting, brofisting and blowing stuff up. The fans were not pleased. At EA’s Asia Pacific Showcase, I had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game to see if there really is more to this game that first meets the eye.

The section I played appeared to be from early on in the game – protagonist Isaac was still being introduced to some of his well-known abilities, like the kinesis module to levitate objects. It did not start on the icy planet of Tau Volantis, which has been showcased in past previews of the game, but in space on board a ship infested by Necromorphs. In style, this section was very similar to the past games, involving lots of darkened corridors, doors with holographic locks and many things to shoot.

The Necromorphs are certainly back, although their appearance is slightly altered from previous incarnations. There’s a few more arms here and there, fused into their bodies, and their skin is perhaps a little more rotted than before, but they’re the same monsters you’ve loved to eviscerate in the past. The weapons I had access to were the same plasma cutter and line gun that have been mainstays in my arsenal, most useful in liberating Necromorphs from their limbs. However, a new feature made a brief appearance – the Weapons  Bench. An upgrade to the Tool Bench, you’re now able to upgrade weapons, customise ammunition types and fashion entirely new weapons – unfortunately none of these options were available in my playthrough.

Aside from killing spooky monsters, there were some puzzles to be solved, too. One anti-gravity area required Isaac to use kinesis to open an airlock (which was a little trickier than it sounds), while another required him to spin up the power rods of a giant generator, using the same kinesis ability to unlock and rev them up. Anyone familiar with the series will understand the mechanics of these portions. In fact, that seemed to be the theme with this demo – everything was pretty much what you’d expect from a Dead Space title. Whether this is reaction to fans’ ambivalence about the co-op angle demonstrated so far, or whether the game simply intends to ease players into the new setting with classic elements is hard to tell, but it’s probably a little of both.

The action did pick up dramatically at one stage as Isaac was ejected from a cargo hold, hanging on for dear life to a spinning cube of cargo along with his shipmates. As he was blasted out into empty space, he was tossed away,  initiating a ‘falling’ sequence straight from Dead Space 2. This section saw Isaac sent hurtling towards masses of space debris at a high speed, requiring deft maneuvering on the player’s part to avoid getting squashed by incoming chunks of metal and fuselage, as he struggled to reach the cube once again. The visuals for this action sequence were impressive, and even a little reminiscent of a similar uncontrollable spinning cube in space seen in the film Sunshine.

My demo came to an end as I encountered a final Necromorph, attacking Isaac with a dreaded (and, for this demo, unwinnable) quicktime event sequence before promptly cutting him to pieces. The demo was completely single player, and if there were opportunities for a co-op partner, they weren’t obvious during my playtime. There’s really not a whole lot to say about this portion of the game other than it’s certainly a lot more like the Dead Space we’ve all come to know and love than previous showings. It remains to be seen if it’ll surpass the atmosphere of Dead Space or the spectacle of Dead Space 2, but fans of the series should certainly feel a little more at ease knowing that the survival horror gameplay the series is known for is still alive in Dead Space 3. Expect it in stores from 15 February, 2013.