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Dead Space 3 – Preview

Isaac Clarke's back, but is the familiar Dead Space atmosphere?

I’ve already gone on record about why I’m in two minds about Dead Space 3; chiefly because there are now two minds in it, with Visceral looking to usher in co-op play in a bid to freshen up proceedings.

As a device by which to inject even more panic into proceedings – by parting teammates say, and so heightening the sense of isolation while forcibly separated – I can see much sense in adding a two-player option. Especially such a clever looking drop-in/drop-out system which actively changes cutscenes and splices in dialogue to expand the relationship between the two protagonists.

When combined with DS3′s other notable changes however – enemies with guns and an open planet populated with some unfathomably huge Lovecraftian horrors – all the evidence points to one thing: a sacrificing of atmosphere (whether playing solo or cooperatively).

Before plunging head first into another premature autopsy however let’s take a step back and consider the actual gameplay so far unveiled. There’s no disputing there’s a lot to like (assuming ripping up reanimated corpses is your thing), and just because DS3 steps away from its survival horror roots, it shouldn’t mean we instantly greet this action-adventure take on the series with a dismissive shrug.

Take the snow storms which assault the returning Isaac Clarke, limiting his vision to just about zero and thereby enabling Visceral to have all kinds of monstrosities lumber out of the gloom for those overly-close encounters. Similarly, Necromorphs will drag themselves up from below snowdrifts upon Isaac’s approach – though here’s hoping it’s a ploy that isn’t diminished with overuse.

One of the bigger introductions, as I’ve already mentioned, is the presence of armed Unitologists – a faction of humanity who worship the mysterious Markers (the discovery of which seemingly triggered the Necromorph outbreak that has plagued Clarke ever since). Turning Dead Space into a duck and cover game seems an odd step –why go do what majority of third-person games already do when you’ve no need to? – but if handled well then perhaps tense gunfights won’t overly change the atmosphere.

One thing clear from the demo was that the Necromorph’s certainly won’t treat the Unitologists any differently than any other human beings, attacking (and inevitably assimilating the hapless soldiers), and even resurrecting their corpses as an enemy you thought you’d downed returns to the fray as a walking horror. There were even instances when such monstrosities took up arms once again, so introducing the shooting Necromorph for a first time.

What’s for sure is that the addition of gun-toting enemies affects the ammo count, that scarce and jealously nurtured resource of previous games now readily available by simply walking over to downed victims. Indeed a boss encounter with a gargantuan Necromorph takes advantage of this new ammo dispensing system only too readily – said boss spitting out gun-wielding bad guys in a thinly veiled developer’s ploy to keep us plied with enough munitions to fell the beast.

Yes, it’s reminiscent of encounters that even Link and Mario have found themselves, but still seems a step back, undermining the series’ previous foundations which saw Isaac forced to beat enemies into submission at close-quarters if he wasn’t savvy with his ammunition.

A word on the gargantuan enemy too: it isn’t scary. Cool to look at yes, a device to deliver gore by the bucketload perhaps, but certainly nothing to inspire fear. It seems redundant to point out to Visceral why less is certainly more – they did create the creepiness which lurks in every darkened room of the series’ first entry of course – but scares were often more down to what didn’t happen than what did. Perhaps the as yet unveiled space-based levels will nurture that same ‘movement at the corner of your eye’ type dread than the frozen planet levels seem to? Here’s hoping.

Worth the wait? For fans of the franchise hoping that Visceral make good on their promise that this third outing answers the question of just what exactly the Marker is, and why it creates Necromorphs, then most certainly so. Similarly, if you’re looking for an action-driven adventure to play through with a mate then DS3 looks like a winner. For those of us looking for an atmosphere of dread amidst an industry of increasingly hard to find scares however, it seems we’ll have to wait and see.

Dead Space 3 will release in February 2013.

For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA
When? February 2013