Dead Space 3 Hands On Preview
My expectations have been lowered.
I wrote a sneak preview around E3 last year expressing my concerns over Dead Space 3. Now that I’ve had a chance to play DS 3 for myself I can say that the perceived problems I had with the game don’t seem to be problems at all. Unfortunately, I now have a whole new set of issues with the way this title is shaping up, and the decision to shift towards third person shooter territory sits at the top of the list.
Let’s get those older concerns out of the way. I made a big stink about the inclusion of co-op to the series, worried that the single player campaign would suffer from multiplayer design. The demo (comprised of the areas shown in the E3 presentation) gives a great introduction to the harsh and frigid world of Tau Volantis. I was able to get through the demo in under an hour, but in that time I hit a lot of the beats that I’ve come to expect from Dead Space: tenacious necromorphs, light environmental puzzle solving, and quiet moments of exploration to break up the tense battles. While I encountered the second player character of John Carver in a cutscene, I was happy to see that he wasn’t constantly tagging along dropping f-bombs and impatiently telling me that we need to keep moving. I enjoy soaking up every bit of lore and scenery in Dead Space, so this is important.
With all of that said, I was surprised at how different the game feels in co-op. At first, I got the impression that Carver is just a palette swap to allow for a second player, in the same way that Halo handles it. Soon after the demo started, I found myself witnessing a different version of the (admittedly worrisome) quick time event I had experienced as Isaac. The characters talk to each other, and I got more context to the story in the co-op mode, including cutscenes that didn’t occur in the single player game. Combat was also enjoyable, thanks to the strategy of one player using stasis while the other takes the enemy down. This happened naturally, as we weren’t on our headsets, but that also brings up a question of how best to enjoy this game. I wouldn’t want to play with someone that talks over the cutscenes and incidental dialogue, but at the same time teamwork is key.
I was also worried about the weapons in the game, as the E3 demo showed off Isaac using a version of the plasma cutter that took away the very strategic alt fire mode that orients the blade vertically. It turns out that Dead Space 3 has a rather robust weapon crafting element to it. In addition to the normal ammo and health items, enemies and crates will yield components that can be used to cobble together new weapons. Do you like the precision of the plasma cutter but want a flamethrower for sticky situations? You can do that. From what I could tell, the components are based off of existing Dead Space weapons, so even though it’s unlikely that there’s a blueprint for a wholly unique weapon, there’s now a lot of flexibility for loadouts. Characters only carry two weapons now, and ammo is universal, so there’s a danger that the tense situations of running low on, say, ripper ammo and needing to rely on the pulse rifle for a bit might vanish.
Necromorphs? Check. Fun with stasis? Check. Fanatical Unitologists? Check. So far, so good, right? Well, I’m not so sure. It’s been highly publicized that Dead Space 3 features human enemies. That could be a cool addition to the Dead Space formula for sure, and in the fiction of the game these soldiers are on a mission to kill Isaac in the name of Altman. That’s the founder of the Church of Unitology if you’re not up on your lore.
Of course, human soldiers use guns, and with guns come the need to take cover. It’s the cover system that is my big sticking point with the demo. Pulling the left trigger near cover gets Isaac to take cover. Yes, that’s the same trigger that you use to aim, so I think you get where I’m going with this. Beyond the fact that Isaac tended to spaz into and out of cover for me he also doesn’t make much use of said cover. Instead of getting his back flat against the wall and peeking around corners he just kind of halfway ducks behind it. Meanwhile, soldiers are shooting at him and there’s no real feedback that this is happening besides the telltale health bar on his spine rapidly depleting. Compounding the problem is the fact that the human enemies are super resilient, making once powerful-feeling weapons seem weaksauce. The fights with human enemies that I experienced weren’t good at all, and it left a really bad taste in my mouth.
I really hope that what I played was an older build, possibly from E3 or right around there. The cover system is a real problem and I encountered enough firefights with humans in this short slice of the game that it could become a huge issue if it’s not improved by the time the final product comes out. And as much as I was impressed by the co-op mode it did seem to me like the enemy encounters in single player are geared towards having a second player in tow. I’d like to keep a positive outlook and hope that Dead Space 3 delivers on the elements of the series that I love, but as it stands now I’m lowering my expectations.