Dead Space 3 Preview: No Space for Fear?

This week I was lucky enough to get early access to the upcoming demo of Dead Space 3 on the Xbox 360. So here’s a quick look at what to expect from the preview as well as my thoughts on how this may effect the final game. Enjoy.

The Setting

snowcrashSetting the new game on an ice planet made a lot of sense to me since Dead Space as a series is best described as the videogame love child John Carpenter’s The Thing and Event Horizon. Watching Issac wake up on a crashed ship and trudge out into the frozen wastes was quite a sight to behold.

However, due to the demo’s use of expansive spaces for the most part I didn’t feel that my character was in any immediate danger. The bizarre claustrophobic sensation and feeling that something could jump out at you at any minute seemed to be gone. If you have plenty of space to run away from something, why be scared?

It’s also a shame that the ice and cold had no bearing over the gameplay aside from having a few enemies jumping out of the snow.

Weapon Modifications

weapon customisationMost certainly the game’s best new feature, the ability to customise your weapons down to the stock made me feel like Ripley at the end of Aliens. Which in some respect now that I think about it might not be great considering its supposed to be a horror game.

Nevertheless having a plasma cutter with a blowtorch welded onto it was still incredibly cool and the potential level of customisation seems rather deep. Not having to constantly change weapons to deal with the various different types of beasties also made combat feel a lot smoother in places.

I look forward to being able to tinker with the full range of parts once I get my grubby mits on the full game.

New Enemies/Faction

gunswhyProbably the low point of the demo was when I turned a corner and some bloke in a parka shot at me. Yep that’s right folks; you now get to fight humans. As you’d expect it’s dull. If I wanted a military shooter, I’d go and play Spec Ops. There’s a time and a place for guys with guns and frankly Dead Space really isn’t it. I want to fight mutated abominations, not religious nuts with assault rifles.

On the plus side though, if you hide for a bit during most of the battles with the cultists Necromorphs did eventually turn up and tear them to shreds.

The new Necromorph bad guy on the other hand was incredibly creepy and rather cool; basically its Dead Space’s version of head crab except it possesses corpses instead of live humans. Watching the recently deceased soldiers lurch back to life and then shamble towards me with the speed of a zombie, blindly firing their rifle at you was somewhat unnerving. Worse was the fact that only a head shot put the bugger down and then the weird little parasite would just jump to another body if you weren’t quick enough.

Kinect Controls

I was actually quite impressed with how well they worked. Sometimes voice commands are pretty patchy or don’t work at all ( I’m looking at you Skyrim). But I’m pleased to say that I didn’t have to repeat myself once while I was playing the demo.

They’re pretty useful too. Having voice commands replace the face buttons for reload and stasis might be a minor thing but it really came in handy during the games more hectic moments as it enabled m to stay focused on aiming and shooting.

Co Op

bif beastyFinally the section everyone’s most interested in, Co op. I played a couple of games, the first time i decided to just join a random game and it threw me straight to the end of the demo. But on the plus side it was a very straight forward process and didn’t take very long at all at to join another game in progress..

To avoid this happening again I decided to host my own game. It didn’t take too long to find a partner and was pleasantly surprised when the game stated that the cut scenes and dialogue had changed to accommodate the fact that there were now two players. Although truth be told, at times it felt a bit too light hearted.

The added cut scene of some hoo rar marine yelling at Isaac for no apparent reason didn’t fill me with confidence either. I just hope that that the rest of the Co op campaign is not going to be more about the relationship between Isaac and his new partner as opposed to the bleak descent into madness that the previous two games portrayed.

The other problem with adding Co op to a horror game is that the attitude of the player changes. Having a partner instantly boosts your confidence and stops you being afraid. Isolation is the key to horror. You need to feel outmanned and outgunned, lost and helpless and most importantly alone. There’s a reason the killer in a slasher movie doesn’t just run in with a chainsaw and gut all the camp councillors when they’re in a group. It’s just not scary. It would be brutal and unsettling sure, but it wouldn’t be scary.

zombieThe same is true of games. Introduce a capable number two and all those bad feelings melt away. You are too busy helping each other out and worrying about your partner to give a damn about the obstacles in your way because that’s all everything that gets in your way in a co op game becomes, an obstacle.

As soon as you have a friend telling you about their day and generally chatting about life while you play through the game any sense of immersion dies as your attention is instantly divided between talking to your partner and the game. Horror demands your full attention to work. The best coop can achieve is some tension from the increased numbers of monsters.

The only way I could see it working is if they added some way of making you distrust the other player. It’d be great if in the final game only one player got audio cues that something was coming or maybe started sending each player only half objectives and occasionally misinformation. Sadly I don’t see the latter happening though.

settingDespite these minor grumbles it was still a very enjoyable experience. The guns were fun, there was no lag and generally speaking everything was smooth sailing. the only other problems I found are minor niggles that have more to do with whoever you chose to play with rather than the game itself. Having to hang around while your partner buggers about modifying their weapons or changing their suits over and over gets very old fast. So please don’t do it.

However the best thing about Co op is that it is completely optional and it looks like the main single player version of the game is changed just enough to retain a more traditional Dead Space feel.

All in all I enjoyed my brief time with Dead Space 3. The new gameplay mechanics are well implemented, the controls were tight and responsive and the new setting is one I’m looking forward to exploring further when the game launches on 8th February for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.