One small step for survival horror…
If somehow, the Dead Space franchise could become a person, I would hug it, out of both an honest affection and a bit of pity. It's a poster child for what happens these days in our business when, against all odds, someone decides to have a semi-original idea and succeeds. Given the alarming rate at which established IPs lose their fan appeal to the evils of annualization, and the overall fear-driven, risk-averse climate of publishing and developing, out-of-nowhere successes like Dead Space are never allowed to live and die in peace. Rather, they get treated like a newly struck vein of lucrative ore.
In past generations, Dead Space might have gotten a sequel to continue its claustrophobic tale of madness in space. In this generation, it gets an animé, a series of comic books, two sequels, and a rail-shooter spin-off. While I'm never sad to see a good game become a financial success, speaking strictly as a fan and a card-carrying purist, sometimes I like to see a great game simply be a great game rather than be contorted to serve as a long-term pillar of revenue. And yes, I know how selfish and idealistic that is, and I don't care. HA!
After giving protagonist Isaac Clarke a voice and slapping on a multiplayer component in Dead Space 2, then announcing co-op for Dead Space 3, I think we all saw the writing on the wall. Money has to be made, and critical acclaim alone can't pay bills. These were the thoughts swirling around my head as I sat down in a dimly lit, curtained-off corner in EA's corporate HQ to give Dead Space 3 a whirl. I'm glad to say that after I emerged from said corner, I felt a lot more positive about the series' third installment than I did heading into it.
The section I played was set on a small derelict spacecraft drifting among the ruins of an entire flotilla of ships—a much more satisfying setting for fans of the original. Looking out an airlock, I could see other floating hulks and was told that the ship I was currently on was one of many optional locations that could be explored for ammunition, weapon upgrades, and video messages that help flesh out the story. Hopefully, this will keep the game from feeling too directed and on rails, a common fan gripe about Dead Space 2.
After getting myself reacquainted with the controls, that old Dead Space feeling crept in—dark, suffocating hallways with occasional glimpses of deep space on the other side of a dusty window. These are the elements that made the U.S.S. Ishimura so engulfing and magnetic, and it was great to see that they hadn't been abandoned this time around. Seeing darkness all around you and knowing that those horrific necromorphs can come from any angle makes you paranoid, and you start keeping your gun sighted as each door creaks open and and swinging around to check your back every few seconds… just because.
All is well and good until Isaac starts talking to a teammate over the radio and you remember you're not playing the original. I still find that Isaac's talking takes more away from the game than it adds, but the atmosphere is most certainly there. The necros sound every bit as horrific as ever and my pulse definitely rose whenever one would ambush me from behind or above. Other series staples such as the plasma cutter, objective nav, and holographic inventory interface keep the game grounded in tradition as well. The plasma cutter was as rewarding to use as ever, and the old leg/tentacle one-two made just as short work of the baddies as I remembered.
I hope the folks at Visceral will build more upon the foundation of what I played, despite how the last game was marketed and how they chose to debut this one. Still, I can't deny that what I was shown represented a step in the right direction. Let's hope Dead Space 3 takes another hop and a jump along the same heading before hitting shelves in February 2013.