Isaac Clark is the unluckiest bastard in the whole damned universe. He’s the poor sap who stars in the Dead Space games and, over the course of the first two games, he lost his wife, went crazy, got attacked by monsters, and aroused the ire of a cult of Scientologists from space. The third game in the series is due out in a few weeks and, based our hands-on experience with a few levels, it doesn’t seem like things are looking any better for Isaac this time around.
A demo is due out for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network next week, but a lucky few had early access to it. It lets players try out a short level, complete with a boss encounter. New features like the co-op campaign and the weapon crafting system are shown as well. While the previous games were mostly confined to locations inside ships or space stations, the demo levels for Dead Space 3 are set in the arctic regions of a planet where Isaac crashes.
Although this outdoor setting has aesthetic differences, movement is still generally as linear as it was in the first two games. The blinding sunlight and snow also function a lot like the darkness of spaceship interiors.
Isaac still has the same special powers and attacks that fans remember, like the Stasis Module for slowing down time and his Telekinetic powers. The series “Strategic Dismemberment” is back too. The space zombies that Isaac fights aren’t as vulnerable to headshots as a typical zombie, and this means that players will have to shoot off their limbs to bring them down.
In Dead Space 3, a new enemy appears in the form of a severed head that scurries around on its own and attaches itself to the bodies of dead humans then reanimates them. To take out this enemy, players have to use precision shooting to kill the head, then still dismember the headless body afterwards.
New to Isaac’s abilities is a cover system. The original Dead Space was a pure survival horror game, while Dead Space 2 was more action-oriented. The inclusion of a cover system in Dead Space 3 takes the series one step further from its survival horror roots and makes it play a little like Call of Duty In Space. Necromorphs will still pop out to scare players, but now Isaac will occasionally get into gunfights with them, blasting away from behind space crates with his machine gun.
With the machine equipped, the demo definitely felt like an action game, but one of the new features for the franchise is a weapon bench that lets players dismantle their guns, and reconstruct them into drastically different weapons. The previous games allowed for upgrades to traits like damage and ammo capacity, but this new system also allows for a significant amount of customization.
Players who want to do away with the typical machine gun could rebuild it into a lightning gun, or one that charges up kinetic force then blasts like a shotgun. Every gun can have a secondary function too, so players can tailor their favorite weapon to suit multiple situations. Isaac will find these gun parts scattered around over the course of his adventure, with powerful ones located in out of the way places.
The basic upgrades to things like damage and fire rate are still available, but instead of collecting “Power Nodes” and space dollars, Isaac now gathers various kinds materials and each upgrade will require specific components.
The trademark Plasma Cutter is present too, but it can likewise be reconfigured, and running through the demo with radically different builds shows how this feature will definitely keep Dead Space 3 feeling fresh in multiple playthroughs.
In space, no one can hear you scream, but in Dead Space your co-op partner can. Horror games have been trying to add co-op to these games for years. Having a friend along for the ride does make the game less scary, but Dead Space 3 limits the co-op campaign to just two people, so there is still a sense of impending danger even if another player is playing the new character Carver. Many players were skeptical of the multiplayer mode in Dead Space 2, but that turned out to be surprisingly robust, it’s reasonable to be optimistic about multiplayer this time around too.
The Dead Space 3 demo becomes publicly available next week, but is available now through certain promotions including Facebook. The full game becomes available on February 5th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Check back with Explosion.com for our review after it launches.