E3 2012: Does Dead Space 3 cooperate with fans’ wants?

In the eyes of many, the Dead Space series has taken the survival horror crown away from Resident Evil. Dead Space 2 turned a bit more towards the action, increasing the unease of fans who want Dead Space to remain solely focused on horror. At E3 2012, Dead Space 3′s new cooperative mode was shown, and not only that, but the gameplay was action-packed, nearly shadowless, and human Unitologist enemies must now be contended with in firefights reminiscent of many other third-person action games. Visceral Games has said in interviews that there will still be claustrophobic, scary environments, but they wanted to show the content that’s new to the series–fair enough. We’ll have to wait for the more horrific elements of Dead Space 3, but for now, try to set aside your fears about Dead Space 3 and enjoy the preview of the extended gameplay scenario shown at EA’s booth.

The walkthrough

While Dead Space 3 will contain some sort of space colony (“flotilla”) and other locales, the section in the gameplay demo that was shown to us revolved around an installation on an ice-covered planet. Isaac has crashed onto this planet, and there’s an intense QTE where Isaac is crawling his way out of the ship. I liked that “up” was included in the QTE for the parts where he needs to climb upwards, while button presses corresponded with Isaac smashing down doors and whatnot. After he escaped, there was snow and slightly blinding wind, but we weren’t treated to any snowstorms that blinded enough to decrease vision and induce claustrophobia. Junk was scattered about the landscape, including some sort of net that flapped realistically in the harsh wind.

Heading into an ice cave, Isaac happened upon a group of dead bodies. Out of one sprang what I can only describe as a skeletal system–Dead Space 3 has some new surprises, and a lot of new necromorphs. This necromorph was basically a dark, blood-stained skeleton that sprang out of the former living human to attack. There were other humans who appeared almost zombified, some of whom appeared to be ice climbers. They were walking around with guns in their hands, as if the host had only recently been infected and had not been killed during the infection (just my speculation). When Isaac cut the torso off of one, tentacles popped out of the lower half, ready to eviscerate. Yet another zombified enemy was killed, and after he was down on the ground, one of those baby necromorphs popped out (the wall-crawling ones with three tentacles). So it seems that Visceral wants to keep you on your toes. Just because you’ve killed an enemy doesn’t mean it’s completely finished with you. I will certainly be watching my back and smashing any bodies I find lying on the ground.

There was another scene later in the demo that pitted Isaac verses a medium-sized boss-like creature–its movement and sounds reminded me of the Ant Lion from Half Life 2. It had four legs, and glowing tentacles on its face. The way it moved, you could tell that the team put some effort into making it feel like it had a realistic weight. We were treated to one of the death scenes that can occur with this boss; Isaac was lifted up and impaled with one of the sharp appendages.

Too human?

Isaac has more than necromorphs to contend with in Dead Space 3; the Unitologists have a much greater offensive presence as well. Isaac was seen in firefights with human Unitologists. They took cover, firing every once in awhile when they thought it was safe. They acted just as you would expect humans to act in a gun fight. Though fans may not like their inclusion, it’s actually silly to think that these confrontations with them wouldn’t involve a cover-based firefight. Human enemies are going to try to take cover to protect themselves. The only reason we haven’t seen this type of gameplay in the series before is that the enemies involved didn’t require it. If Dead Space is to continue as a series, then the story has to evolve. This evolution has lead to the Unitologists, including their military, becoming a more direct threat to Isaac. Really, their inclusion was inevitable. For how many games would Isaac be able to wander around vacant space ships and keep the audience interested?

New moves to suit the action

Isaac also has a lot of new moves. He can now take cover, and the developer guiding us through the demo made sure to note that there is no “sticky cover” in Dead Space 3. So, apparently Isaac will be able to naturally move in and out of cover without feeling like he’s stuck to it. Isaac could also aim from the left or right, further emphasizing how deep the cover system is. Isaac now has a roll maneuver, presumably to lessen damage taken while exposed to gunfire, or maybe even to dodge melee attacks. Its precise purpose wasn’t shown to us. Isaac seems to be able to duck on command as well. The team has hinted at a new weapon system, but there’s no telling what they’re changing or evolving regarding that. My guess would be guns that can fire their primary and secondary ammo systems at the same time, and/or a deeper melee system that focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon.

You’re being very uncooperative

Probably one of the most important changes, Dead Space 3 will be including a drop-in, drop-out cooperative mode. You can play through the entire game in single-player mode, but I know some fans just won’t care. They don’t want any kind of non-horror elements in their game. Personally, I don’t mind it, as long as the scary sections exist. The second player will take command of John Carver, a character who will be in the game whether or not you’re playing cooperative mode (Edit: John Carver may or may not play alongside you at certain points in single-player, but he will most likely be on the sidelines performing his own objectives etc. and out of your way, like characters from the other Dead Space games). One thing I do wonder is if he’s able to take the entire journey in cooperative mode, how much of an impact is he going to have in single-player mode? Will he have a near constant presence, or will he just appear every now and then for certain sections? It will be interesting to see how they pull this one off, and if they can please the fans who don’t want to cooperate.

The boss fight that ended the demo was a creature that looked like the last boss from the first game. It looked like an enormous alien cockroach. It slammed its two largest appendages to the left and right of Isaac, mostly to keep him in place. At the same time, it shot out eggs which hatched skeleton-like necromorphs if Isaac didn’t shoot them fast enough. To add more variety to the mix, it would attempt to suck Isaac in every now and then. Just like the E3 demo at EA’s presentation, the boss eventually sucked Isaac inside itself, eventually revealing that Isaac would have to fight the insides of the boss to escape alive.

What you can expect

I wouldn’t worry too much about the E3 gameplay not showing dark, narrow corridors. I talked with the producer of the series, Shereif Fattouh, and he reassured me that Dead Space 3 would be visiting a variety of areas, including ones which have a greater focus on horror. They haven’t showed those sections yet, because they wanted to show what’s new with the series. It’s just my speculation, but I assume that they wanted to show the more thrilling aspects at E3 as well, as those may tend to be more interesting to the audience who isn’t actually playing the game. There’s been talk about their new secret weapon system, except that I think they might have already given some things away. If you watch the teaser trailer, you’ll see Isaac knocking a necromorph’s arm off by the swing of his gun.

Dead Space fans have been making a lot of noise regarding the inclusion of more action and a cooperative mode in Dead Space 3. I don’t mind the cooperative mode much (unless single-player is negatively affected), but the possibility of excessive action segments does worry me a little. However, Dead Space 3 was one of the highlights of E3 for me, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the newer action elements fit in with the whole experience.

Dead Space 3 is scheduled to be released on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in February 2013.

Ryan Southard

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it’s new or it’s old, as long as it’s awesome, he’ll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard

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