Ah, Dead Space. My last remaining sanctuary of a console survival horror franchise. Resident Evil and Silent Hill aren’t who they used to be any more; but you’re not like them, Dead Space. You can make me feel helpless, alone, severely low on survival resources and even joyfully disgusted at times. But lately, I feel like we need to talk. This new John Carver man may be coming between us, and I’m worried for our relationship.
Visceral Games have caused high scepticism and anger among fans with their addition of co-op. Sure, there’s still a solo option and there’s no idiotic AI forced on you, but this development could still negatively affect the single player direction if teamwork was intended to be played through the same experience. After playing the demo, can I finally relieve your doubts and anxiety? My advice: remain sceptical.
Isaac Clarke awakes to find himself in a situation worse than your usual hangover: freezing, bloody and suspended upside-down. As you take control, you will traverse across snowy terrain, your vision impaired by the strong blizzard winds. Naturally, you’ll soon come across your first Necromorphs, and the dismembering fun begins once again.
The demo is essentially a tutorial, walking you through the controls via holographic suit updates. You are also significantly over-powered, with Isaac packing a Plasma Cutter and assault rifle, as well as heaps of ammo and medkits. While we don’t know for certain, the demo appears to be at (or at least near) the start of the game, so the easy difficulty could be forgiven in this case.
With this in mind, it’s understandable that the game doesn’t seem all that scary at all. However, there are a few other factors that hinder the fear aspect. And no, I’m not talking about the co-op partner; in the solo campaign, you are alone like the previous titles. The jump scares seemed very predictable and had little effect on me compared to those of the prior games. Not only is it too obvious that a monster will appear when I run towards a conveniently placed supply box or motionless corpse, the area seemed too open to evoke any sense of entrapment and panic.
As well as those vicious alien beasties you know and love, you will also encounter mercenaries tasked with killing Isaac. That’s right: cover shooting. While it’s fun to sneak around and watch as the soldiers and Necromorphs fight, these sections feel very out of place in a Dead Space game. If they are commonplace throughout the game, I am sceptical that Visceral may not be limiting the ammunition too much this time around, as you will need a ton of rifle rounds to take out enemies. As any survival horror fan knows, this could be a big mistake. Then again, it’s worth bearing in mind that I played on the Normal mode, and there are three higher difficulties to opt for.
While the demo is considerably dull to begin with, the tension does ramp up immensely towards the end. You will return (albeit briefly) to the dark, narrow corridors and back to the claustrophobic vibe that Dead Space does best. The “boss fight” at the end is incredibly panic-inducing, with Isaac having to face a huge, spinning drill that is uncontrollably crashing around the room. A single touch means death, and as if that weren’t enough, endless amounts of enemies are amassing around you. Keeping your eye on both parties is no easy task, and your stasis ability comes helpfully into play.
The co-op mode sees a second player fighting alongside Isaac as new character, John Carver. While the story appears to be essentially the same, there are some key differences in scenes. If this is developed deeply enough, it could be very interesting to see how both campaigns differ. Co-op seems fun, as long as you don’t mind a complete change of pace. The game becomes even more like a Gears of War-style shooter, with your partner always covering your back.
The graphics are as polished as you might expect, with beautiful landscapes of mountains, sunlight and odd planetary scenery in the background. Despite a minor drop in frame rate in the solo campaign, things appeared to run smoothly and look pretty. I did experience occasional lag in co-op though, with Necromorphs falling to pieces seconds after I’d blasted at them.
While I’m now somewhat now afraid that Dead Space is getting dangerously close to Resident Evil 6’s action shooter focus, this may just be a poor choice of game segment for a demo aside showing new players the ropes. If the majority of the game ends up feeling like the last moments of the demo did, we could still be in for a winner. Hopefully, Visceral isn’t repeating the same mistakes made by other cowardly developers who only cater to the Xbox Live kill-everything-with-big-guns crowd.
Xbox 360 owners can gain early access to the Dead Space 3 demo by signing up on the official website. The demo will become available publicly to both Xbox 360 and PS3 next week on Tuesday, January 22. The full game will release on consoles and PC on February 5 in North America and February 8 in Europe.