Lightning never strikes twice, or so they say. Dead Space was a breakout smash when it released to unsuspecting crowds in 2008. It was brilliant blend of horrifying atmosphere, chilling audio direction, and brutal adversaries. In many gamers’ eyes, this expertly crafted survival horror game stepped in to take the place of the declining Resident Evil series. When EA announced a sequel, the air was filled with an expected mix of excitement and dread. While every individual has their own opinions on Dead Space 2, it still managed to be a thrilling, creepy, and intense experience. Visceral Games proved with their sophomore effort that they could continue to craft these adventures, and the first game was not a fluke. Dead Space was a turning point for the mainstream survival horror genre, and EA’s public reception.
So after delivering two successful and well received horror games, was it possible for them to make a third effort, or is the momentum of the franchise starting to slow its pace? The Dead Space 3 demo is was an interesting beast. It’s hard exactly to explain playing a game that we are anxiously awaiting the release for. There are elements of excitement, and some disappointments that just can’t be avoided.
Beginning with Isaac Clarke waking from a shipwreck, the player finds themself seemingly stranded on a large frozen planet. It’s an interesting environment and it’s hard to not think of Hoth as you begin wandering around. The terrestrial environment is a huge departure from the traditional claustrophobic, almost industrial areas of the previous two games. In most sections of the demo you are in a very wide open area, blinded by a heavy snowstorm severely reducing your visibility.
It’s not long before you encounter your first Necromorph, and this part functions largely as any series veteran would expect. Sprinting at you, the monster gives you little time to react. As I fired upon this first enemy I noticed something a little off. Continuing through the demo I couldn’t shake the feeling that the strategic dismemberment so vital to the previous games was no longer as necessary to succeed. Dismemberment is still effective, and maybe it’s just the balance of the weapons for this demo was overpowered, but in most encounters it was actually easier and just as effective to fire directly at the center mass of anything in front of me. Is this bad? Or is it just something I’m overthinking as I play the demo? Either way, it’s still hard to shake this feeling.
What is solid gunplay without interesting weapons? One of the standout new features is the ability to craft and customize your own guns out of various supplies. It’s all quite simple once you take a minute or two to learn the interface, but not quite as deep as some might expect. Players are able to put up to two firing components onto a weapon, essentially allowing them to combine two different guns in one. This cuts down on inventory space needed and the necessity to swap weapons frequently. The demo didn’t offer a ton of options, but players are also able to equip various attachments and upgrades to your weapon to improve things like reload speed, magazine size, etc. However, all of these options were already available in previous installments via the power node upgrade system. How this will change the experience and exactly how many unique weapons you can create is yet to be seen, but if the demo is an example of the full experience, then I would say the gun crafting isn’t necessarily an improvement over what was available before. It is instead more of the same end through different means.
As long as we’re talking about the vile Necromorphs, I think it’s worth saying that there were no points in the demo where I felt any hesitation to move forward, or any nervousness of what lied ahead. Outside of the setting, it was all pretty standard Dead Space fare. Where things got kind of sour was when I came across fellow humans who wanted Isaac dead. If there was one thing that ruined Resident Evil 5, it was when the zombies suddenly had guns, and the game became a poorly crafted Gears of War clone. Since 2009 that’s been a big moment for me and something I constantly reference. In Resident Evil 5, and now in Dead Space 3, there are moments when you are fighting against other human adversaries that are wielding guns of their own. It seems very out of place, and forces an awkward cover system on the player in order to complete these firefights. They go against everything that the game and series stands for, and are just wildly out of place. Imagine the sinking feeling and my excitement washing away as I step out onto a cliff face in front of a series of chest high crates and walls, and am being instructed to take cover and return fire.
These segments of the demo, while not ruining the experience for me, severely reduced my enjoyment and just felt so out of place. Only one of these sections stands out as fitting. Corpses lay across the floor in a small room, one of which was being assaulted by a small Necromorph. Leaping from body to body, this enemy was possessing corpses of fallen humans, and firing at me as I tried to defeat it.
The demo closed with a pretty intense moment where you need to destroy a malfunctioning drill that is blocking your path. Following you around a cramped arena, the drill threatens you with instant and imminent death. If that wasn’t bad enough, the room flooded with Necromorphs constantly. This was a highlight of the demo for me, and something that really lifted my spirits and expectations as I reached the climax of the segment.
I also ran through the demo a second time in Dead Space 3’s new co-op mode. There’s not much to mention here. The gameplay is solid, and even the sections that are less fearsome and interesting are still very fun to play alone or with a partner. Solid shooting mechanics make for a good co-op game; however, it’s hard to say that co-op is a good fit for Dead Space. Without a sense of isolation and dread, co-op takes away from Dead Space’s horror that fans love.
Ultimately, I came away from the demo a little let down in certain aspects, but still largely positive about the experience. Dead Space 3 is a fun game, and it plays just as well as the previous Dead Space games while taking some new risks with co-op and gun management. I was hoping for the demo to convince me that the game is still going to be terrifying, but the atmosphere didn’t lend itself to that same sense of fear, and at this point I’m uncertain if it ever will.
The demo will be available on January 22 on Xbox Live and PSN. I urge any fan to download and try it , and let us know what you think in the comments!