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E3 2012: Dead Space 3 [Preview]

6 Jun 2012  by   Tim McDonald
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Dead Space 3, like its omnipresent Necromorph monsters, is changing and evolving. What started as a lonely and foreboding single-player game that pitted you, as unprepared engineer Isaac Clarke, against hordes of mutating beasts… is now a bit different.

In the third entry in the series, Isaac will also be fending off gun-wielding Unitologists, the followers of the fictional religion that considers transforming humanity into Necromorphs to be a good thing – and he doesn’t have to do it alone. If you choose to take part in the game’s new drop-in/drop-out co-op, he’s accompanied on his latest journey by a chap named John Carver (who, thankfully, won’t be present as an AI buddy if you’re playing solo).

The E3 demo kicks off with Isaac and Carver fighting their way through a drill room in an excavation site on Tau Volentis, the icy planet that forms the primary setting of the game The drill is going berserk in the centre of the room, while Necromorphs pour in from the sides.

This, as you might expect, requires a bit of co-op finesse, with one player using Stasis on the drill in order to make its glowing weak-spots hittable, while the other fends off the encroaching Necromorph hordes. It’s a little bit more frantic than the majority of the previous games, barring perhaps the last few chapters of Dead Space 2, but then you’re always more likely to see big blasty action in previews as opposed to slow and tense gameplay. It’s just a shame that there wasn’t really any slow, tense gameplay on offer.

Once the drill has been destroyed and the Necromorph flow has been abated, Isaac and Carver head outside into Tau Volantis’ frozen wasteland – where that second change comes into play, as gun-toting Unitologists open fire.

Once again, things turn into a fraught run-and-gun section before the battle is rudely interrupted by a gargantuan worm-like Necromorph, which promptly swallows them all, presenting a rather abrupt ending to Dead Space 3 that doesn’t answer any questions at all. May incense the fanbase, but probably not as much as Mass Effect 3‘s ending. 4/10.

Except that this isn’t a review, and that’s not the end. The action resumes with Isaac ripping his way out of whatever internal organ he’s gotten himself lodged into and squelching his way through the pulsating innards, before a huge dangling organ covered in glowing weak-spots drops down in front of him… and the game fades out.

So that’s what happens, but how well does it actually work? Is the game actually likely to be good? Well, taking into account that we’re almost certainly being shown action-packed sequences in order to appeal to shooter-focused gamers, and that we’re being shown a Unitologist battle and co-op primarily to stress that these things are in the game… I’m cautiously optimistic.

No, really, hear me out. Dead Space‘s core gameplay is generally enjoyable enough that co-op may actually work (although, yes, it will likely make the game a lot less scary) and while we haven’t seen nearly enough of the Unitologists to decide whether bullet-based ranged combat will actually work with this combat system, their inclusion results in some fun twists. Necromorphs, for instance, can infect Unitologist bodies; if you murder a group of the cultists and then come under attack by Necromorphs, you’re going to have to be very careful or you’ll find the space zombies resurrecting your recently-slain foes to add to their own numbers.

I also consider the news that Carver doesn’t show up as an AI buddy in single-player to be fairly promising, as Dead Space has always been at its best when Isaac is alone, outnumbered, outmatched, and entirely in the dark. This does raise a few questions of its own, though: if Isaac is capable of making it through the game entirely alone, then what does Carver really add other than an extra gun?

So, will it have a sense of foreboding? Will there be some scares? Will there be more to Dead Space 3 than fast-paced shooting? Will the combat against human enemies work? Will the inclusion of co-op add to things, or detract massively? This little taste of the game, much like the stories of the first two games in the series, raises far more questions than it answers. Let’s hope that, when Dead Space 3 launches in February, the answers it provides – in terms of both gameplay and story – are satisfactory.

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