Preview: Dead Space 3

Is there anything worse than being Dead in Space? Probably.

In any event, I took a quick hands on with the demo for EAs Dead Space 3 for the folk at SquareGo.

Put yourself in Isaac Clarke’s shoes. First you bust your balls to land an engineering job fixing the ship that your wife works on, and get halfway across space to find that the crew have been slaughtered and their corpses are mutating into killing machines.  To make matters worse, you end up having to destroy an entire ship-full of creatures, devastate a planet and when finally finished it turns out “the missus” was already dead, and has been haunting you through the tears in your own dubiously clouded sanity ALL ALONG.

Then secondly, you wake up in a straight-jacket, being tortured by merciless corporate lunatics, hounded by religious fanatics, tormented by the ghost of your dead wife, and forced to tear your way around an entire space station, lopping limbs off the undead left and right. Finally having to go through hell and high water and escaping alive by the barest inch, you’d expect that putting it all behind you and moving on would be on the cards.  Well not for Mr. Clarke.  While he has been hanging out with new squeeze, Ellie Langford, keeping a low profile and generally trying to avoid laser-based butchery of the animated deceased, he has a chance meeting with Sgt. John Carver, the sole survivor of a similar Necromorph situation, who convinces them to help him destroy the destruction-bringing Markers once and for all.

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Two’s Company

Of course this is the Dead Space series so nothing could possibly go according to plan, and inevitably there will be problems, deaths and lots and lots of monsters. However having two survivors now opens up the game to having a co-op mode. With each player taking on one of the wrong-headed limb-chopping heroes. This second pair of hands is plenty of help when your in trouble, and of course a second pair of hands is literally what you are dealing with when confronting the often conjoined and mutated bodies of the dead, warped by the Marker’s power. However the option is also there to play only as Isaac, and in a nice turn, this means there will ONLY be Isaac, and not with a badly programmed AI partner.  But this isn’t the only change in the usual format. Aside from being set largely on a snowy planet, evoking imagery from The Thing, there are also human foes, who will attack our plucky heroes out of some Unitologist Religious fervour.

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Horror in action

But how does it play, you ask? Well the demo comes out for public release on the 22nd, but we got our hands on it early on XBOX 360 and it nicely showcases the new features as well as the return of old styles.  It’s a fairly basic romp through a variety of areas, a mini-boss fight, a puzzle arena and a lot of dismemberment all designed to give a little flavour.  The gameplay is for the most part entirely the same as Dead Space 2, which is no bad thing. The first notable change is that Isaac (and Carver) are a darn sight more limber than in either of the previous iterations. While Dead Space 2 saw Isaac able to run, turn and generally fight faster than in his clompy engineering suit in the original, Dead Space 3 now lets him crouch behind cover, and dive in any direction with a quick doubletap of the shoulder button. It’s handy, especially when being charged by gargantuan keratin-covered hellions.  The guns and creatures all feel just as meaty and squishy respectively as before, and there are plenty of surprises, scares, and puzzles evn in the short demo.

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Squat Thrusts and Nasty Noises

The duck and ‘crouch behind cover’ work less well, as the cover-based shooting feels as tacked on as it is.  Although this is admittedly based on two tiny fire-fights in the demo.  However having to fight live humans is a marked change of pace, and one that the F.E.A.R. series never quite got right, let’s hope Dead Space can find that fine line and straddle it just a wee bit better.  It does also highlight one interesting change, that of dead bodies and their custard-like consistency.  In the first two titles, any body could be made a necromorph by various infecting entities, so stomping them all seemed like a good idea, only it seemed a little daft with humans not being made of crumbly cheese. Now Isaac can only destroy the old bodies and necromorphs, meaning that tactically it’ll be a decision of whether to waste ammo shooting dead humans apart, just in case they come back to haunt you later.

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Tooltime with Toys

One notable change to the old system is the binning of the shops, and in place the workbench has been turned into a crafting table where found trash can be made into new guns with a ridiculous amount of customisable options.  Fancy a Flamethrower with a kinetic blast attached? No problem! There is also a separate testing zone in the menu where you can try out new ideas and create some custom tools of death-dealing.  This in itself opens the game up to a whole host of new techniques and replay value.

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Dying to Play

It’s certainly an impressive demo, and the early worries that this was just going to be Lost Planet with indoor sections seem to have been at least slightly aleviated. Of course this is only a short taste of a much larger game, but considering that Dead Space 2 turned out to be a masterpiece we can at least permit ourselves to hope this will live up to some of the expectations.

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