When I think about Nathan Drake, Leon Kennedy, Marcus Fenix, and other adventure game protagonists, I’d like to think they manage to find some well-deserved R&R in between the adverse situations they find themselves in sequel after sequel.
But Visceral Games refuses to give Dead Space's Isaac Clarke a break. If the beginning of Dead Space 3 is any indication, he might not have to worry about marker-induced hallucinations, but he will still have his hands full with necromorphs. If that weren’t enough, he has angry Unitologists and an emotionally loaded rescue mission to deal with. Here are a few other things we learned from a recent hands-on session of Dead Space 3’s first four chapters.
'DEAD SPACE,' EXPANDED
Beyond the much publicized outdoor winter setting, Dead Space 3 appears to be Visceral’s attempt to go beyond the single setting confines like the USG Ishimura and the Sprawl from the first two games. Dead Space 3 not only encompasses multiple locations, but also multiple time periods.
I got to explore a bit more of the snowy wilderness of Tau Volantis and recovered a cylindrical device of some value. I also rappelled down a mountain as parts of a crashed ship rained around me. It was a surprisingly unremarkable sequence, though at least it was brief, and the subsequent events of the next cutscenes were unexpected.
As a contrast of locales, a later chapter featured a chase through the dark streets and vacant offices of a space colony. There were plenty of necromorphs to take on and I had both ample firepower and time-slowing kinesis to give me an edge. Visceral also laid out some inventive opportunities to use kinesis beyond combat, though we’ll let you discover those exercises yourself.
If you thought Tau Volantis was a drastic change for the series, imagine having to defend yourself against unmutated Unitologists. That’s right, this is the first time you get to kill humans in the Dead Space series. Is it a blasphemous direction for the series that runs the risk of being like every other third person shooter out there? You could say that, but at least these fanatics give you every reason to kill them, and you don’t have to worry about these guys getting back up after you pull off a headshot.
The Unitologists are long tired of EarthGov’s “abuse” of the powerful and mysterious markers and are terrorizing colonies one by one. In the first chapter of Dead Space 3 (not counting the prologue), the Unitologists have caught up with series protagonist Isaac Clarke. It’s bad enough that he lives in a crappy apartment and is late on his rent; the followers of the late Michael Altman want Isaac dead.
The multi-locale design of Dead Space 3 is further emphasized by the inclusion of side missions, a first for the series. These become available once you reach the derelict fleet floating above Tau Volantis. You’ll have the option of investigating various ships in the fleet before--we presume--you touch down on the planet itself. Yet it just so happened that this preview build ended right at the moment I got to choose which ship to search first.
No matter, I actually had prior hands-on time with one of the optional ships: the USG Greely, a research vessel. My main takeaway from these side missions is that they’ll hopefully provide the suspenseful, confining and tense situations that series fans are looking for. These new areas will also offer their share of pickups that expound on the backstory of this lost flotilla and the game series itself. Plus, more pickups also means more weapon parts, which leads us to....
WEAPON CRAFTING, INVENTORY EFFICIENCY
The more I played around with crafting, the more it felt like Visceral were simply making all the classic Dead Space weapons more accessible. Is that what the studio was going for, to have a submachine gun and a plasma cutter in the same weapon? It doesn’t feel like you’re making new weapons so much as you’re making your weapon inventory expansive beyond the four weapon limit you had in the previous games. Not that we’re complaining; more weapon options are always a good thing. We’ll just have to see how inventory management works in the long run now that we have all these different kinds of ammo to manage.
On a side note, we were pleased to discover that you’re not tied to any weapon configuration every time you close the crafting workbench. In other words, any weapons you make you can unmake into their separate parts and play with new combinations without penalty or consuming resources.
(EXTRA) STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
My preview session offered enough time for two playthroughs, ideally to play once solo and another co-op. Considering how much emphasis has been placed on the game’s drop-in/drop-out functionality, it’s surprising that "solo" and "co-op" are separate options in the main menu. There aren’t any major changes to the story when you play with a buddy. In fact, the second character has a strange habit of briefly disappearing in key cutscenes, only to reappear when the gameplay resumes. The one aspect of co-op I did like was the in-game exposition where the second character would comment on the current surroundings or situation.
Furthermore, I thought that the game’s difficulty would ramp up and down based on whether I was playing solo or not, but I didn’t see evidence of that during this session. So what was a reasonably manageable Hard playthrough solo is now an even easier playthrough on co-op. Enemy counts remain the same and they don’t require additional hits when you team up. Furthermore, Visceral makes things almost too convenient with item pick ups since you don’t have to share the ammo and health packs that you come across. So if you have beaten the two previous games and plan to play Dead Space 3 on co-op, we highly suggest you first experience this on Hard. Believe me, it doesn’t take long to max out your inventory with a dozen health packs.
Some parts of Dead Space 3 might lack the desired effect of suspense and the co-op experience might feel nerfed, but I’m still keeping an open mind about the direction Visceral is going for. I agree that simply setting the game on another base or ship wouldn’t add much to the series, even if the changes alienate some of the fans. Hopefully the side missions will provide enough content (and scares) to satisfy fans who associate Dead Space with darkened corridors and necromorphs popping out from corners and vents. And the added threat of the Unitologists taking the fight to Isaac contributes to the narrative, even if these human targets are easy pickings. Experiencing less than a quarter of Dead Space 3 only served to make me that much more curious about the full version. Keep an eye out for our review in the coming weeks, and Altman be praised!