saac Clarke always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but given his skill-set it also makes him the ideal protagonist in the Dead Space game narrative. The mystery around the first game eased us into his predicament, the second game was quick to snap into action and this third installment hits the ground running.
We’ve watched him come out of his seemingly typical engineering shell and go through a few levels of hell already. Visceral now delves deeper into what he’s become, while not only delivering the suspense familiar to the franchise but exploring new ways to do this with new environments and Necromorphs as well as some point-of-view techniques the team is accustomed to toying with.
If you were to ignore the story for a minute, the third offering in the games, and yet another addition to the Dead Space, transmedia-built, universe, comes close to something completely new, rather than a sequel. Some new movement mechanics, a whole new weapon-crafting and upgrading system -- which brings with it more looting in the way of quantity and diversity, the aforementioned new environments and necromorphs as well as some Unitology enemies, Telekinesis Torque and the option to do all this in coop, which changes much of it even more, make this one monster of a game.
Back to the story though and the narrative is a follow-up to what could be anticipated as happening after leaving Isaac in Dead Space 2, which from the outright has noticeably changed him. He’s not only departed from his seemingly calm and collected, perhaps naive, ways of the previous two games but he’s become the mixture of a cautious, anxious and experienced character you’d expect in someone who’s been through what he has, dementia and all.
Some sections of the environments obviously revisit elements from previous games, funneling movement through dark hallways, into small rooms or open areas with dark corners, giving players all the suspense and unpredictability sought after in a Dead Space game. Isaac’s journey expands on the environments with a combination of new terrains which bring new possibilities for Necromorph attacks and therefore suspense and anticipation.
Venturing through the city of the Lunar Colony, reaping havoc all the way through to finally make our way aboard the earlier previewed Flotilla all brings a mixture of action and Necromorph slaying to get one back in the swing of Isaac’s exploits.
Moving in these areas hasn’t changed extensively; walking and running, aiming and shooting, objective pathways, stasis and refills are all back the same but Isaac can crouch now, at least in the parts needing cover. More importantly, and perhaps useful though, is the combat roll mechanic added to his repertoire. Left, right, backwards and even forwards if you see fit, will make evasion much more dynamic. And while there wasn’t much use for this in the preview, I can remember a few instances in previous games where this combat roll would have been a very welcome possibility.
Combine these new action mechanics with the open planet environment of Tau Volantis, expected to be a big chunk of the game’s environment, as well as the weapon-crafting and it’s looking like a shift towards third-person cover shooter. Going through solo I never once got this feeling though and was on-edge as soon as the Necromorph enemies were introduced. From what we’ve seen of the planetside gameplay, this is maintained well throughout in creative ways appropriate to the environment; snowstorm, ice caves and more.
It’s in boarding the 200 year-old Flotilla where things get back to the pace and feel of previous games. We’ve detailed some of this in the GamesCom coverage here. The Flotilla’s history determines the Necromorphs we run into. Without wanting to give too much away, there’s a decent array, most of which are a spin on previous Necromorphs with added adaptations and visuals. Talon projectiles still work well, but as mentioned these new Necromorphs can unpredictably adapt after being dismembered. As seen in the last game, I anticipate there being a technique to avoiding this adaptation, but it came across random in this playthrough.
With reportedly more than 100 hours of weapon creation and customisation at the ready for players, the team have definitely put a big emphasis on this. With Isaac’s background it makes sense, while upgrading weapons with power nodes was adequate, it was a very binary system. This new creation and customisation system really shows a lot more of who Isaac is and what he can do, not to mention opening the game experience up incredibly.
Creating weapons requires all the necessary parts, which must be collected along the way or crafted from resources collected. Players can then create new weapons, upgrade what they have or combine weapons. Light and heavy frames start off the creation choices with single handed and two handed grips and from there players can create or put together their ideal fire mechanisms. The overall format follows the previous template, with primary fire and secondary fire. Military engine, plasma cores, flame throwers, buzz saws and of course the plasma cutter, give a taste of what can be combined.
This is all done at the new work benches, which have space for two players to use it simultaneously, for the obvious co-op reasons. Here players not only build weapons, but this is where the part crafting from resources happens as well.
Where previously ammunition was weapon specific, this has been replaced with a universal type. At first glimpse this seems to take away from that sense of desperation experienced when playing the game on a higher difficulty where ammo can easily become depleted. The team’s solution to this was to make different fire types use varying amounts of this universal ammo, which hopefully balances out with the amount of ammo scavenged.
All the new additions so far work perfectly in the context of the game and its history. Unfortunately I didn’t get that same feeling when playing through on co-op. The first issue was one of familiarity. Anyone who’s finished the last two games and then gone on to play game plus mode probably felt much more confident the second time round. That’s a given when you know what to expect. Playing the same preview over again obviously brings that familiarity, desensitising any suspense moments. Co-op is drop in drop out though, so if you’re wanting to maintain any suspense it’s just a matter of timing it right, or even playing the whole game on co-op.
Next is the cut scenes tying the story together, which had some adaptation for co-op, but was minimal and often confusing. Carver sometimes just seemed to appear where he needed to be without an explanation. Considering he plays a role in both single player and co-op, the later comes across rather haphazard.
If you can get past those two details, co-op is fun. Is that what someone wants from a Dead Space game though? This touches back on the suspense and unpredictability of the game. Those factors are going to be softened when you’ve got someone there covering your back. Even with the upscaled amount of Necromorphs it was a matter of opening fire or covering different sides, which is by all means fun, but takes away from the sense of desperation and anxiety you’d get playing solo. There were a few creeper Necromorphs that went undetected by one of us at times, but sticking together and covering each others back really eliminated that quickly.
Looting is generally shared but may not be the same object for both. One player may get ammo while the other gets health or a stasis pack. Artifacts have also been added for those who thoroughly explore every nook and cranny of the game world. In co-op these are shared though, so it only takes one keen investigator.
Resources on the other hand are not shared, and those wanting to create more weapon parts need to get in quick if someone else is around.
Ramped up Necromorphs aside, the main difference in co-op was in the team involvement required for opening of some doors with Telekinesis Torque and the small glimpse of the Telekinesis puzzle that had to be handled differently to single player.
While it was fun to play, co-op definitely offers a very different Dead Space experience, one that I can’t say I’d sacrifice the single player experience for.
Pre order bundles have already been announced giving access to special suites and weapons as well as a Mass Effect special suite that’s available if you’ve played and finished Mass Effect 3. It’s shaping up to be monumental. While there is a demo out today, it’s probably worth waiting for the whole game to immerse yourself into and get that complete, visceral experience.