Dead Space 3 first look preview – Colder, deader hands

The Dead Space series has been making derelict spacecrafts scarier than anyone could have imagined since 2008. Chronicling the trials and tribulations of the once mild-mannered Isaac Clarke, each new frontier is filled with hideously deformed creatures known as Necromorphs and humans driven mad by ancient artifacts known as Markers. Now, after two adventures lost in space, Isaac is fighting those enemies on solid ground alongside new friends in Dead Space 3 (provided he doesn’t freeze to death first).

The reveal demo takes place mere months after Dead Space 2, with Isaac waking up alone in a busted ship, calling out for “Ellie,” Clarke’s female companion from DS2. The frozen planet’s icy winds blast both Clarke and the aged buildings in the environment, almost overwhelming him in his desperate search. Instead of the quiet of an airless void, roaring winds fill your ears and the darkness of space is replaced with a shock of white.

This frozen planet is Tau Volantis, and it’s where much of Dead Space 3 will take place. The outpost’s aged mining equipment and buildings distinguish the setting as more vintage than the clean futuristic structures of previous DS games. The constructs allow for a mix of outdoor areas and tight corridors, making a more open, less linear world than before (which will propably lead to a less linear experience). We doubt you’ll spend all your time on Tau, as it wouldn’t be Dead Space if you weren’t in space occasionally, but this new approach to the game world is enticing to say the least.

As Clarke explores the terrain we’re quickly reintroduced to the weapons and ammo systems of the third person shooter, though there’s a more militaristic bent to it. The Plasma Cutter is still there, but not everything Isaac picks up has a practical use, some are just straight weapons. There’s also an excitingly cinematic moment as Isaac nearly falls to his death in a derelict vehicle, barely surviving in a scene that tells us the filmic action brought to Dead Space 2 is back for the sequel.

After all this Clarke eventually finds his bearings and approaches the base where he locates his new ally, John Carver. After seeing Carver in the distance, Isaac’s attempt to follow him is cut short by a hulking, insectoid Necromorph. Before Isaac can battle the beast alone, the devs activated one of DS3’s primary additions: co-op. The scene restarts with Carver right next to Isaac as they approach the entrance. They work together to restart an elevator, exchange tense dialogue, then battle that same snow beast side-by-side, chasing it into the stronghold manned by the fanatical Church of Unitology, a force which seems to be more openly malevolent this time around.

This addition of co-op is quiet a departure from the original’s incredibly solitary experience. Isaac has long had more enemies than friends, but DS3 is the first time he’s had a real partner. Little was revealed about Carver’s background, but based on his demeanor and telltale facial scar, he’s clearly a no nonsense military type focused on the mission at hand, which will surely set him apart from Isaac. Wearing a similar space suit to Clarke’s, Carver’s helmet has bright red eyes that seem to imply his more violent nature.

He seems interesting, but as long time fans of the series, we have to admit we’re a little concerned about the addition of a possible space marine to the newest Dead Space. Fortunately, the developers frame Carver’s involvement as more optional than it seems at first. The solo and co-op plots seem to be almost totally different. Co-op scenes shift tonally from co-op solo play, with an emphasis on action and teamwork while solo still appears to focus on scares and isolation. We hope developer Visceral can have its cake and eat it too when it comes to co-op.

Soon the duo are facing off against old and new enemies together. We saw a number of fresh monsters in DS3, including the skeletal, mummified corpses known as the Feed and the human looking Fodder whose torsos fall away to reveal three massive (and deadly) tendrils. There are more fresh Necromorphs to come, as well as returning monsters that have altered physically by the frozen conditions, but that’s not the end. Dead Space 3 is also the first time Isaac has ever truly faced human enemies.

Battling their human combatants for the first time, Isaac and Carver have to approach it differently, as the trained mercenaries are far more tactical than Necromorphs. It’s a good thing then that Isaac’s seems trained as well, showing off his new moves by smoothly dodging in multiple directions and shooting from cover. After working their way through humans and abominations alike (and one huge, malfunctioning drill) our brief time with Clarke and Carver’s adventure reached its end with the appearance of perhaps the biggest enemy in series history. The Godzilla-sized beast shrugged off standard attacks and the segment abruptly ended before we found out if this new duo had fight or flight in mind. But we couldn’t help but notice some machines in the background that we could swear look like mechs.

What’s certain is that Dead Space may have a new setting, but it aims to be just as frightening and deadly as ever. In time we’ll see how the co-op works itself out in a practical sense, plus we’ll hopefully learn if the second game’s multiplayer will return. Dead Space 3 will be out February 2013.

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