Action horror fans drooled just prior to E3 when it was announced that Visceral was working on a third instalment in the Dead Space franchise. Dead Space 3 looks like it will shift yet further away from its survival horror pedigree (though not according to a press release), but it offers enough innovation that we won’t feel that we are just playing the same game over again.
Just days after its big reveal, we had the opportunity to speak with Ellana Fortuna from developers Visceral Games, who filled in a little of just what's in store with the third coming of Isaac Clarke.
Traditionally Dead Space has mostly taken part in the cramped interiors of spaceships or settlements (despite the final boss battle of the first), and even the more expansive Sprawl from Dead Space 2 still felt metallic and constraining. This time, the game takes place on an ice planet something akin to Hoth, and we have been told that the environment will be another enemy that Clarke will have to face.
Narrative details are sketchy, but Clarke will be looking for and saving Elly (again), pursuing his obsession to save at least one character in his traumatising life. Narrative elements are to be further enhanced with a companion, Carter, and we did see a hint of parodic action-movie one-liners: “Where did he go? Where do they always go? Up there, over there, somewhere!” Although this may be way too camp for the series, the dynamic between Clarke and Carter will serve to deepen the story. We have also been promised that the mythos of the Dead Space universe will be more built into this game, since the universe timeline has advanced enough for the Necromorph infection to spread across the galaxy and for Clarke to become known as a distinct threat to the Church of Unitology. This engagement with the wider universe is something that has previously only been available to those familiar with the novel, the animated films, and the graphic novels, of which a new one has been announced.
What else? Oh yeah: Co-op multiplayer. This is undoubtedly the biggest development of the formula we will see in this game, as it will now be possible to join up in fighting the Necromorph scourge. Without a hands-on demo it was hard to see how well it would work, but it looks like we can expect the usual run of coop shooter challenges. We have been promised that the game will still be as good as ever for those who prefer singleplayer but that (in somewhat of a contradiction), coop will introduce both narrative and gameplay depth to the experience.
Dead Space 3 will also introduce new enemies: At least one new Necromorph, the Feeder, who looks able to scuttle between corpses and infect them into zombie status. Most significantly, we now have human enemies in the shape of Unitologists, who zealously resent Clarke’s attempts to save the universe. This introduces ranged combat to a gameplay design that has traditionally focussed heavily on close-quarters combat and visceral (pun intended) melee. Admittedly, there has always been ranged combat in the series’ epic boss battles, of which there will be plenty in the new installment – the one we saw began to reach the heights of God of War. Apparently the introduction of human enemies has necessitated completely new gameplay design and programming.
It is likely that all this will lead the franchise further into the action shooter experience, but horror elements are definitely still clearly evident. Somewhat controversially, Visceral have introduced a cover mechanic to the gunplay, not in deference to the trend but more out of the need to present opportunities for evading the substantial challenge posed by psychotic fundamentalists. Interestingly, developers have eschewed a “sticky cover” mechanic, opting instead for what they called “dynamic cover”: apparently the game will know when you need to take cover and when you need to step out. How this works in practice is, obviously, still yet to be seen, but if it can introduce the dynamic flow that we are used to from this generation’s shooters it will push it further in the direction is it clearly headed.
We also have changes to the weapon loadouts: apparently alt-fire is off the cards but guns have been combined such that each trigger fires different weapons: for instance a plasma cutter and buzzsaw. This nod to dual-wielding will also switch up the action gameplay. Finally, we have been told that the ice planet will be “explorable”, with some side missions and travel possible, even up to space. There’s no way we can expect anything like a Grand Theft Space Zombies, but this introduction of a non-linear approach is most welcome.
Of course we will reserve judgement until we have an opportunity to play Dead Space 3, but if you are tolerant of the action-shooter leanings of a title like this it is likely that it will push just the right buttons.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.