Hands on with Dead Space 3

With Dead Space 3 releasing at the start of next month, EA Games and developer Visceral Games have decided that the time is right to allow players a brief look at Isaac Clarke’s latest adventure, as he crash-lands on the snowy planet of Tau Volantis.  The demo allows players to experience three of Dead Space 3’s main facets, namely the Solo and Co-Op Campaigns, and the Weapon Grafting feature, which appears throughout the game in the form of weapon benches.

The Solo and Co-Op portions of the demo follow the same stretch of gameplay, with Isaac Clarke waking up on Tau Volantis following the crash-landing of his ship.  In Solo mode he wakes up alone, whilst in Co-op, John Carver is by his side, as he will be for much of the demo (unless you’re playing with someone who prefers to race off into the snowy wilderness alone).  The Co-Op section of this demo doesn’t really mix up the formula too much, with a couple of changes made to cutscenes and a little extra dialogue as the pair of you work your way through the frigid landscape.  There’s no sign here of the gameplay touches that convey Carver’s slide into insanity, although it does quickly become apparent that Clarke and Carver have differences, both on a personal level and in how their characters are used.  Clarke is more methodical and precise, using his plasma cutter to pick off particular weak points with accuracy, whereas Carver leans more towards rapid-fire weapons with a decent amount of power behind them, but not much finesse.  Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but during each of the cutscenes you’ll be left in no doubt that Dead Space 3 is Isaac Clarke’s story, as the camera tends to focus more on the engineer than the military man.

Most players will be able to work through the demo in 20-30 minutes the first time round, especially if they’re looking to pick up every item and explore every corner.  Later run-throughs (if that’s your thing) can be completed much quicker, as players begin to learn what surprises are in store and where they spring from.  There are a couple of jumpy moments through the course of the demo, showing that Dead Space 3 hasn’t totally done away with the series’ horror roots, but there’s nothing here that comes close to the sense of pervading dread and claustrophobia experienced by players as they wandered the corridors of the USG Ishimura from the first game.  Dead Space 3 is more action-horror than survival- horror, and I couldn’t help but feel throughout the demo that the game suffers because of this.

That’s not to say that what is on offer here isn’t enjoyable, as the time spent exploring Tau Volantis flies by, with players battling a variety of necromorphs, from the recognisable humanoid strain to a spider-like creature, and even a giant drill.  The visuals throughout are good, if nothing we haven’t seen before, which just goes to show how close to the end of this console cycle we’re getting, as there isn’t really much difference between Dead Space 3’s graphics and the graphics of a Holiday 2011 title.  The environments that Isaac and John explore are well-realised though, with snowy mountains and depressing interiors conveying a sense of hopelessness, which the audio does well to add to, particularly in terms of the wind and creaking metal platforms.

The Weapon Grafting portion of the demo is available to use either separately from the Solo and Co-Op modes, via the main menu, or as part of the playable demo sections.  If you decide to create a weapon separately from the story mode, then you’re given a selection of items to use by default, but for a truer experience, it’s better to use the weapon benches in-game and try your luck with what you can scavenge from the snow.  There’s a variety of options in terms of what you can do at a weapon bench, including creating a whole new weapon from scratch or merely upgrading one that you already have in your possession.  To create a weapon, you can either fiddle around with the parts you’ve acquired and see what happens, or attempt to follow an already created blueprint, which can be found in-game or gifted from co-op partners.  Any weapon that you decide to create by yourself can have a blueprint made of its design as well, meaning that if you’ve come up with a particularly potent combination of parts, you can share it amongst your friends for them to make use of.  There are plenty of variables to consider when building a weapon in Dead Space 3, with primary and secondary functions, attachments, and even frames all needing to be decided upon before a gun is completed.  If you like, you can add extras such as fire damage, an automatic reload function, or a scope, amongst other things, and there is also a selection of upgrades, including larger ammo capacity and faster reload speed.  Dedicated players could spend a long time within this mode creating their perfect weapon, and the shooting gallery allows you to try weapons out without the pressure of your life depending on it.

This Dead Space 3 demo is one of the more comprehensive demos that I’ve experienced recently, as it offers a wide array of experiences that those interested in the final product will find useful.  The campaign as it stands may be found by some to be a little faster-paced and more action-packed than they were expecting, but it looks like a lot of fun, particularly if you have a decent co-op partner.  Whilst I wasn’t able to deduce much of the narrative from the brief time that I spent with the game, the cliff-hanger ending to the demo has left me eager to see just exactly what happens to Isaac Clarke and John Carver, and the promised slide into insanity of the latter character is sure to be riveting, especially from a gameplay point of view.

Dead Space 3 releases February 5th for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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January 17, 2013 - 8:15 am