Where to next?
Of the nearly three hours I played of Dead Space 3 two weeks ago, the final 30 seconds were perhaps the most telling about the experience, due out on February 5th for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Visceral Games is bringing Isaac Clarke back out of retirement for another run at the Markers and all of the trouble they've caused the universe.
Despite the possibility of an entire galaxy redeemed from gruesome life after death, Isaac remains reluctant, and who can blame him? How many franchises make it through three games in six years and come out shining on the other side? Dead Space started as a linear, horror-focused title in 2008 and expanded to include more white-knuckle action as a means to break the tension in Dead Space 2.
Thankfully, Dead Space 3 seems set to blow the air lock on everything you've seen the series do so far, expanding the amount of activity, interaction, and replayability you'll have with the universe and a cooperative partner. By the end of the demo, I saw Dead Space 3 as more Metroid than Resident Evil.
When it's revealed that Ellie, the femme fatale who aided Isaac in his escape from The Sprawl at the end of Dead Space 2, has gone missing, Isaac is left without a choice and joins Robert Norton and John Carver. It's at this moment that Unitologist insurgents blow up a Marker test site and infect the colony with the same disease originally encountered on the Ishimura.
The gameplay beats in these early chapters should be familiar to longtime fans of the series. Use Kinesis to solve puzzles and use the environment to your advantage. Use Stasis to slow down enemies and target their limbs easily. Blow the arms and legs off anything that moves, but give them a curb stomp or two to make sure they don't come back.
"Booooring," I thought. These beats weren't the ones I was hoping to see, but an explosion quickly separated me from the NPCs and I was left to pace through an eerily silent office building. Tension filled the air and one-off sound effects made my skin crawl. Then I heard Necromorphs behind me. Spinning around, I blew one enemy in half with my trusty Plasma Cutter. I quickly turned my attention to the other two who were trying to flank me.
Seemingly in control, I was suddenly at the mercy of the lower half left behind from my earlier shot. Some Necromorphs can transform and keep the pressure up on cocky players like me.
Fast forward to the Eudora, Norton, and Carver's ship en route to orbit Tau Volantis, the last known location of Ellie and her Marker research crew. When mines blow the armor hull and the vacuum of space destroys the ship, Isaac has to quickly suit up in classic Dead Space style and Halo-jump from one decimated transport to another left hanging in space for centuries.
There, Visceral reestablishes the way engineering challenges in the narrative are presented to the player as puzzles. A generator room requires Isaac to jump-start three turbines by rotating them into place with Kinesis, all while holding off intermittent Necromorph attacks. Tripping back through this room after completing an objective reveals that now another huge Necro monster has awoken in the bowels of the ship. Repeating the turbine action allows Isaac to defeat the monster, but not without some heart-pounding action and sound.
There was never a worry in my mind about Dead Space 3's sound design, as the series has built its reputation on audio cues and atmospheric design. I'd be happy to play six games of linear-corridor shooting if it means the lighting, mood, and aesthetic are on the level of Dead Space 1 and 2, but Visceral has added two new systems to keep things fresh.
Next: Handcrafted weapons and the open road