Dead Space 3 demo impressions

Dead Space 3After playing the demo for Visceral Games’ highly anticipated Dead Space 3 last night and getting some hands-on time with both the single player and co-op components of it, I can say with great relief that Dead Space 3 is still as scary and intense as ever, if the bit I got to experience was any indication. In a nutshell, the game seems to be classic Dead Space mixed with a liberal dose of John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing, just on a much grander scale.

There’s a really good jump scare early on in the demo, which sets the mood for everything that follows. Protagonist Issac Clarke finds himself crash-landed in a snow-covered Tau Volantis. He’s joined by John Carver, a jarhead who must team up with Clarke in order to survive. The production value of Dead Space 3 continues to impress, boasting wonderful, detailed graphics and an absolute beast of a sound mix.

The world seems to have that huge scale of the previous games, and the surroundings are just as detailed as ever, even in the dimmest of lighting. There’s a great breath-taker of moment where the snowstorm lifts momentarily and you suddenly find yourself looking at some kind of vast outpost. The characters are rendered impressively, and the beasties are just as horrendous as ever. Speaking of which, shooting their limbs off seems to have gotten a little more difficult due to their increased speed and movement.

Great sound design has always been a staple of the Dead Space series, so it comes as no surprise that the mix here is phenomenal and really helps to immerse you in the world and your surroundings. For instance, early on, as you make your way through a blinding snowstorm with a visibility of maybe six to eight feet in any given direction, your ears are filled with the whistling of the wind and your feet crunching in the snow. Then you hear something that sounds like metal being wrenched apart and then, beneath that, something that sounds like a low growl. You turn in that direction and see nothing but white. A feeling of uneasiness starts to settle in as your imagination starts to run amok. The developers know that the sound mix has been this series’ key strength since day one, and it’s great to see that they’re still implementing that with gusto.

The newly added co-op play, which is understandably giving people cause for concern, works incredibly well and proves to be just as tense as single-player. From the bit I played, it was apparent that single-player and co-op were both experiences that had been tailored by the developers to maximize each individual play-through. Carver is still there in the single player, but you don’t see him as much. He’ll appear at the top of a wall and wave down to you, whereas playing the co-op portion puts him at your side at all times and has him directly involved in situations where you would have otherwise been alone during the single-player. There is added dialogue between the two in co-op as well, and it pretty much guarantees multiple replays as the two game modes are different enough to warrant a look at both.

The demo ends with an outstanding set piece featuring a battle inside a drill room that rivals anything from the first two games (and includes a monster very familiar to fans of the original Dead Space). Nitpicks include some minor things, like a cover system that feels a little off. You kind of just squat near anything low and fire from that position without adhering yourself against any kind of cover. It felt a little strange and took away from the couple of gunfights I had with human NPCs.

The weapon crafting, which there’s quite a bit of, seems overwhelming at first. I guess once you’ve settled down with it, there will be satisfaction to be had in crafting a particular weapon to fit your exact needs. Still, the actual process of it felt like a massive undertaking to take in all at once. If you’ve ever messed with the gunsmith mode from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, this is sort of similar in concept but not quite as user-friendly. This feature may end up just being ignored by players who don’t have patience for it, but I have a feeling that those who take the time to learn the nuances may walk away from the game with a deeper appreciation of it.

Kinect functionality was available in the demo, and, while it did work well enough, I sincerely doubt I’ll be using it that much. Using the controller is much more comfortable. With Kinect, there’s a slight delay between saying a command and seeing it enacted on screen, though it’s not too bad. I am curious to see what happens when I start swearing during the final game, as it will apparently register in the final build.

Visceral seems intent on making Dead Space 3 a worthy entry in the series. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with what I’ve experienced so far. Most of all, I’m thankful that it seems like they’ve gone and quite possibly succeeded in what many thought was an impossible task: making a genuinely frightening and unsettling co-op game. Aliens: Colonial Marines is going to have one hell of a fight on its hands come February, as I don’t see that game coming anywhere near this one in terms of intensity and fright factor.