Developer: Visceral Games / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Release Date: February 5, 2013
After a tantalizing, co-op-centric tease recently, we just got our gaming mitts on several hours of uninterrupted Dead Space 3 single-player gameplay. Some of the gamer-buzz surrounding the forthcoming new installment to the gore-soaked sci-fi/horror franchise has, frankly, come with an undercurrent of unease. That centered, for the most part, on the introduction of DS3′s new drop-in/drop-out cooperative-play scheme (and its newcomer character, Sgt. John Carver) as part of the core campaign game, rather than quarantining it off into a segregated ‘mode’.
The concern is understandable, particularly in the context of a game experience so rooted in atmosphere, setting, dramatic tension, and an overall sense of claustrophobia, desperation, gloom, and isolation. What’s up with this ‘new guy’ noise, anyway? Surely if I want non-stop, Bro-tastic Action, I’ll spend my money on Army of TWO.
After playing a few hours we can report that not only is the trademark Dead Space mood still intact, but you’ll be treated to several new environments, mechanics, and threats. Also, soloists needn’t fear the arrival of Carver; Visceral maintains that while he will appear from time to time just like other non-player characters, you’re for the most part on your own (although certain story elements, including entire side-missions, will be encountered only when playing as the co-op character). Happily, Dead Space 3 also continues to expand upon its menacing mythos of Necropmorphs, Markers, humanity’s ties to both…and the shadowy vortex of mystery that yawns in the dark spaces behind and between all of them.
And of course, the Necromorphs—and their death-dealing idiosyncrasies—are just as hideous and nasty and revolting as ever.
After playing through a newcomer, tutorial-focused prologue (which we aren’t allowed to tell you anything about just yet), we took to the unenviable boots of Isaac Clarke. Glumming alone in his shabby studio apartment, we learn via voice-message that he is about one missed payment away from getting evicted. That would lead to being ‘pressed’ back into action at the insistence or gun-barrels of Marker-hunting misters Robert Norton and John Carver.
Their most effective persuasive tactic? Presenting the unknown fate of one Ellie Langford, who has critical information on the Markers—and who has also, conveniently, very recently gone MIA; well, shit.
As if the whole space borne Markers-and-Necromorphs bidness weren’t already unpleasant, recent times have seen the organized uprising of a decidedly human—and dangerously-crazy—lunatic fringe of zealots called the ‘Unitologists’. They seem to want the very worst the Necromorph/Marker menace has to offer mankind, and aren’t above terrorist attacks and widespread massacre to achieve their ends. So, DS3‘s conflict rears its ugly head well before you finally get on board an actual spaceship, bound for a distant planetary system, in an effort to locate Ellie and her missing associates. Or perhaps, what’s left of them.
Our time showcased a pleasing range of environments and challenges: Both Clarke’s apartment and the colony-city surrounding it smacked strongly of Blade Runner and William Gibson’s visions of ‘Night City’. Clarke’s digs, the neon ad-jammed nighttime alleys, the highway alive with high-speed auto-piloted vehicles, the looming corporate offices, and the blood-streaks of mass, recent, violent death. Later, after boarding Norton’s ship the Eudora, you will encounter the dangers of debris-perforated hulls, failed grav-plating, and, of course, the gibbering, flopping, mutating hordes of Necromorphs roaming the ill-lit corridors. Add to that the new, Necromorph-infested, frozen-waste planets of ‘Tau Volantis’, and the orbital crap-yard seems to be equal parts starship debris, unexploded mines, dead bodies, ownerless personal detritus, and hard vacuum.
Not quite everything in the Dead Space 3 universe is arrayed against you, however. For starters, there’s that drop-in/drop-out ability of a friend to assist. Second, both Clarke and Carver display an expanded range of combat movement—namely, being able to roll and take cover to avoid attacks. The new streamlined defense schemes are dubbed ‘organic’—in other words, it’s not necessary to execute an awkward walk to some cover spot; Carver or Isaac, upon your button-press, will execute the reasonable, context-appropriate action for any given situation. Thirdly, Clarke’s duties as an engineer pay off in the game’s new weapon creation and customization, via the ‘Weapons Bench’. This includes everything from modifying existing armament (with chips for faster rate of fire, expanded clip and spray capacity, etc.), to building new death-dealers according to existing ‘blueprints’ discoverable throughout the game, to actually jerry-rigging entirely new weaponry from stock frames, weaponry modules, and plain raw materials.
Finally, there are a host of secondary objectives; those with an interest to dig a little deeper will discover various physical artifacts and numerous text, video, and voice-logs (as well as purely environmental clues) that, combined, offer a much deeper understanding of the Dead Space mythos.
The Dead Space 3 Limited Edition will also offer two bonus suits (‘Witness’ and ‘First Contact’) and weapons (‘Evangelizer’ and ‘Negotiator’) for Isaac, available upon release; PS3 and Xbox 360 owners can also access a playable demo of the game right about now.
Dead Space 3 ships February 5th, 2013; and if carving off Necromorph arms, heads, legs and less-identifiable appendages in a sometimes-zero-gravity gore-bath isn’t the perfect, romantic Valentine’s Day co-op outing for two videogaming sweethearts…well then, man, I just don’t know what is.