PREVIEW: Dead Space 3 [PS3/X360]

I’m in an old silo. Nice people keep bringing me beer and food. The brickwork and the couches and the natural light all make this feel “safe”. These are exactly the opposite conditions one should consider playing horror video games. Horror games are dark and dingy, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia and stale air. Daylight isn’t scary, right? And yet the most prominent feature in the room is a large Dead Space 3 poster, showing our protagonist, Isaac Clarke, on a stark white landscape.

The Dead Space series is the closest thing gamers have had to horror over the last couple of years. It has a nice blend between Alien, Event Horizon and Cthulhu that gave it a genuinely (at times) terrifying quality. Historically, three isn’t a good number for a horror series. Halloween, Scream, Alien, all franchises that fell apart around the third entry. That, combined with the aforementioned conditions I was playing this horror game in, and I was ready to not enjoy this game.

I was wrong. Everything about this game was bigger and better than I had hoped for. For fear of spoiling things, let me just say that this game feels very final. It feels to scale. It feels like everything is coming to a head. Our hero has been called up (against his will) to find what is believed to be where “The Trouble” started. It controls well (particularly the Zero Gravity sections) and the art style is intriguing, hyper futuristic and yet Old World-y and heavy.

Also worth mentioning is the absolutely stunning soundtrack. There are still jump scares (to the point I was shooting dead bodies on the ground, just in case) and there were several points where I died because I should have expected something, and didn’t. The new Necromorphs are interesting in that they appear to change form based on how you attack them. Cutting off its legs produces one creature while cutting off its arms produces another. I really quite like this, and it actually ties nicely into the customisation angle the developers are going for.

The setting this time is, almost counter-intuitively, outdoors. The most heavily advertised location is an ice planet not unlike Hoth, if Empire was written by HP Lovecraft. My first thought is of John Carpenter’s The Thing. With that comparison, the game’s approach to horror suddenly makes sense. Desolation. This game is trying to show you that being out in the open isn’t any safer than being locked in the bowels of a spaceship. The brightness then becomes a welcome change and an amazingly gutsy move. Yes, dark and dingy IS scary, but in this universe daylight isn’t any less so. I commend the effort here.

The weapon crafting system really is intriguing. In an interesting attempt to build character through the gameplay mechanics themselves, The developers have allowed Isaac to make his own weapons out of parts that he finds lying around. Being an engineer, this is totally within his character and actually would make a lot of sense. If you can MacGyver yourself a more powerful gun out of some stuff in the room, why would you not do so before facing the monsters you know are very dangerous? There are allegedly thousands of combinations of parts throughout the game, making Isaac VERY good at what he does.

Also of note is the co-op feature, which if you’re Player 2, messes with you. The idea, dubbed Dementia, makes our second player (for the interested, a space marine, to contrast the engineer angle) “hallucinate” and spawn monsters that only they can see. This is another idea I am solidly behind. Paranoia and distrust are key elements of the franchise and it’s good to see that implemented into gameplay. I am curious to see how it will go in practice however. This is the type of idea that could go either way, but it’s enough to keep me interested.

[img_big]center,9565,2012-12-13/dead_space_3_ice_demo_05_tga_jpgcopy.jpg,Dead Space 3[/img_big]

The game is also quite action-heavy. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, it’s just not what I expect in a horror game. Having a shootout with church cops is fun and all, but when pitted against zombie aliens who would give HR Giger something fresh to nightmare about it’s just not interesting. This is only really a problem in the first chapter.

Now that I think about it, the entire first chapter feels kind of out of place. It seems it would be more at home in something like Uncharted. It’s set piece-y at points and there are no “stop and take a breath” moments. Again this isn’t a problem, it’s just not how I would set up a horror game.

All in all, Dead Space 3 is pretty solid, albeit a little more action-heavy than I would like. Long-time fans are about to get some answers, there’s still enough fun for a first-time player to not get turned off too quickly and there’s enough stuff to keep you interested. It’s paced incredibly well and does have quiet moments to contrast the tension and jump scares. It looks and sounds brilliant and I will be playing more as soon as I can.

Dead Space 3 is due out on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC from February 5th. Thanks to EA Australia for the preview, the beer, and the food!

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