Fear Nothing: Dead Space 3 GamesCom Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:08pm 22/08/12 | Comments
At GamesCom, EA gave AusGamers a chance to get up close and personal with Dead Space 3 to see if this entry has really remained true to its roots. Read on for our full thoughts...
Context is such a wonderful exploit for game designers. It’s how they palm over the suspension of disbelief to us hapless players; eating up so much context like it were 1up mushrooms or promised cake. The beauty of a team of designers who know what context is to a game though, is that we -- the “hapless” many -- can be served up fresh experiences in familiar environments often without realising that’s the case.
On a sheet of paper, all of the new elements being served up in Dead Space 3 sound like the series is being betrayed. A cover system and a combat roll? C’mon. Full weapon customisation? Please. Co-op? Phhhh... But with context, all of the above can be presented to the player without the proverbial dread the game usually offers within its Necromorph-laden walls.
What I’m getting at here is post-E3, everyone was up in arms over the new additions to the Dead Space franchise, and on said sheet of paper, it looked like the team were simply adding safe components that litter every other third-person cover shooter on the market, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I actually went hands-on with the game at this year’s GamesCom and walked away not only happy that this is “classic Dead Space” but that the team knows their series like no one else, and regardless the gameplay addition, we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt.
So let’s first talk about this context thing. In Dead Space 3 Isaac is going to visit numerous areas, of which we currently know about three. The frozen planet surface of Tau Volantis was revealed at E3 and served up a nice mixture of epic vistas and set-pieces, puzzle-solving and more military-oriented combat (which is where fears the series had abandoned its roots stemmed from). At GamesCom we’ve seen the modern Udora ship, which has plenty in common with the Ishimura and Titan in terms of technology and design, but the Lost Flotilla, which is where the bulk of our gameplay demo took place, is a 200 year-old ship, nothing here is as we’re used to it, at least not from an interaction sense.
So the context is, Isaac’s usual arsenal needs a bit more to make its way here. Things like Telekinesis have an additional “torque” element because in the old days you had to manually operate things, while the lack of active Stores to purchase upgrades means Isaac will now employ his engineering skills by salvaging components scattered throughout the world, all of which can be applied to the new weapon crafting system. It’s true you can use them to make uber weapons, and there’s no word on how doing so will ‘cost’ the player, but given the balanced and tight nature of this series and its creators, I’d suggest there will be some form of ‘wear and tear’ penalty for usage.
As for the actual gameplay, I’ll get my complaint out of the way first (one I raise with the game’s Associate Producer, Yara Khoury, in a forthcoming interview). For whatever reason, Isaac and co need to take a module from the aforementioned Udora to the Lost Flotilla, and doing this requires plenty of familiar (and awesome) zero-G moments and a bit of puzzle-solving - all par for the course. My issue stemmed from how we actually transported the module there, because, correct me if I’m wrong, but the space HALO jump was one of the most impactful cinematic set-piece moments of Dead Space 2, yet here in Dead Space 3, it’s recreated in an almost identical way. The team attempt to derail that notion by offering that you now have to shoot dangerous space mines, or something, but even this addition was a washout given Isaac basically auto locks onto them to destroy them. Yara explained that the team felt it was 10-minutes of fun the fans would want, but as a fan I really can’t agree, there’s familiar and then there’s lazy, which I feel this is in the latter company of.
Moving on, actually arriving at the Flotilla restored my faith in the game and then some. Dead Space has always been known for great art-direction and top visuals, but Visceral have outdone themselves. The futuristic yet rustic design of the ancient vessel is by far the best the series has seen, while audio here is second to none. Even opening its ancient doors with your Telekinesis Torque let out a groan that might as well have been a monster. The ship ‘speaks’ to you as you progress through its stunningly dark, abandoned corridors and I felt a tension here that the series on the whole hasn’t quite delivered to me yet (which is saying something).
It’s the little things the team continually add to the high-tension experience that keep Dead Space at the head of the horror/sci-fi pack. If you remember crawling through vents in Dead Space 2, for example, you’ll remember that the deliberately claustrophobic camera positioning, coupled with his exits, were among the most tense parts of the game, often with no shock pay-off (brilliantly executed as far as I’m concerned). In Dead Space 3 a similar camera-positioning trick is placed on climbing ladders, which themselves are usually part of a close-quarters shaft. You can’t actually see where you’re going, above or below, and this is often accompanied by just the right sound-effect(s) or audio cues. I’m really hoping there’s even more in store in this regard.
There were various new enemy-types to face off against, the first of which we’re obviously crew-members who’d been encased in some form of cocoon to emerge as disgusting necromorphs. Familiar combat is satisfying here, such as removing their talon arms to use as projectiles against them. I actually forgot about the commando roll and cover system, and had no trouble facing off against multiple enemies using classic moves. Speaking of classic, Isaac’s new suit was also a fitting reflection of the environment around us. How these guys continue to design such enigmatic rigs is beyond me, but I’m glad they do. It’s better that the design style is more memorable than a specific, single rig and helps maintain a sense of progression.
From a point of concern though, I can tell you most of the trepidation I had about the game after the E3 demo is gone. I enjoyed what I saw there, but it didn’t feel too familiar, and with an emphasis on co-op being thrown around at that event, many felt all hope was lost. However, lost is exactly what you’ll be while playing solo as Isaac in Dead Space 3 - that sense of solitude, and all odds against you is back in full force, and no partner-in-crime can take away that quiet stroll down a dimly neon-lit corridor, not knowing what the hell is going happen next, away from the heart of this series. So it’s with gusto I report that Visceral has indeed remained true to Dead Space’s core, they’ve just expanded it in interesting and contextually exciting new ways. My 20-odd minutes with the game was by far the highlight of GamesCom for me. Faith restored.