Dead Space is a franchise I usually associate with jump-scares, claustrophobic environments, and the general crushing vastness of space. In the Dead Space 3 demo, Visceral Games brings some new ideas to the table, and I think I’m good with it.
Notably, Dead Space 3 features drop-in/drop-out co-op in the campaign. The primary player still assumes the role of Isaac Clarke, while the secondary player takes on the role of Earthgov Sergeant John Carver. Having played the previous two installments in the series, I choose to tackle the demo with a friend. I immediately found that the game is not as scary, or at least not scary in the way that playing alone makes you feel. I would describe it more as frantic. Maybe it’s a function of my experience, or maybe it was having an extra gun at your side.
My co-op bud had little experience with the franchise, so it was a trial-by-fire approach to learning the mechanics of the Dead Space universe, “Aim for the limbs”, “Curb stomp that dude!”, “Use kinesis on that limb that hurl it at another dude!”. I forget how much of a fan I am of this series sometimes.
The environment is different too. This time around, the action unfolds on the icy planet of Tau Volantis. Interestingly, the surface of the planet was obviously not very dark, although the snowstorms often obscure your vision. We did venture into caves and underground facilities, which brought all of the shadowy horror you’d expect from Dead Space but the surface is an entirely different story. At one point we were battling what appeared to be other humans (I’m assuming sympathetic to the zealot movement) and using a cover mechanic to hide from their automatic weapons. It’s certainty different for the franchise, but it is still great fun. At one point my co-op partner and I sort of lost track of which humans were on our side, and I admittedly discharged a high powered shotgun-style weapon into this one poor chap, who was immediately reduced to a pile of goo. My co-op partner remarked, “I think he was on our side” to which I replied, “You can never be too careful.” Force of habit, you see, before there was Zombieland, I was double-tapping all the corpses on those wretched space stations.
And that brings me to weapons. As a long-time Dead Space fan, and an even longer-time System Shock fan, I’ve come to learn one very important gameplay strategy. Usually, if you stick with the first weapon you get in the game (i.e. Plasma Cutter or Pistol or whatever) you can put all of your upgrade points into said weapon and become quite a force to reckon with. I think the original Dead Space even had an achievement for this. The game, as they say, has now changed.
To my surprise Dead Space 3 features a fully functional weapon crafting system in which you can swap out weapon components to build something that suits your play-style. Seems like someone has been busy with those workbenches. Weapon frames can now be outfitted with secondary weapons! For example, you can add a shotgun to your plasma cutter, but you lose the ability to rotate the cutter’s angle. Weapons also have swappable support features now: So, for example, you can add parts that automatically pick up ammo for you, or restore your partner’s stasis as well when using a stasis pack. As such, it also seems as if there is a common ammo pool now too (common to your weapons, not the team). While this may not be as “realistic” as carrying around spikes, charges, tesla coils, explosives, etc. I welcome this change.
The result of these new features and mechanics? It still feels like a Dead Space game, but maybe one that is branching out. I can see that playing solo is probably still going to keep you on edge, but the co-op is a different beast. It’s hectic, and maybe a little more tactical too. My co-op bud and I built weapons that complimented each other, which made the challenge at the end of the demo a bit more manageable. There was also a couple of great interactive cut-scene sequences in which you and your partner each scramble together to get out of danger. Note also that the demo only allows you play on normal, and I would bet playing on Zealot difficulty (for you masochists out there), even with a co-op partner, would still be quite tense indeed.
The game still features great graphics,up-close animation, and fascinating environments to explore. If you’re worried about the new additions to the game, don’t be. If you’re looking for terror, play it solo. On the other hand, I think that you’d be missing out on a lot of what is going to make this game really great if you don’t give the co-op a chance. Considering that this game uses a New Game+ system, there’s no reason not too.
Hell has frozen over, and my Plasma Cutter is charged and ready.