Dead Space 3 Preview (PS3)

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to go hands-on with the first four chapters of Dead Space 3, both in the singleplayer and the co-op campaigns, as well as sit down for a lengthy interview with Senior Producer David Woldman, which we’ll publish in full a little bit later today. In short, most people want to know if the game, with increasingly action based elements like human enemies with guns, rolling, and a cover system, still feels like Dead Space. I can safely say that in my experience, Dead Space 3 is definitely still a Dead Space game.

My initial impression upon first booting up the game was that the aesthetics continue the trend from prior games. The visual style and sound effects match what you would expect, from the menus, to the gameplay, to the HUD. Stepping back into the shoes of Isaac felt natural and to me the learning curve felt very shallow. For those experienced with the franchise and newcomers alike, Dead Space 3 will be very easy to jump into.

Fans of the previous games will recall that the controls felt heavy. Isaac is not a soldier. He’s not some action-hero. He’s an engineer traditionally burdened by a heavy suit and equipment. He is an ordinary man who has been thrown into extraordinary circumstances throughout the course of the series. The evolution of the gameplay is extremely natural, without making it feel like a typical shooter or action game. Isaac is more experienced in taking on the necromorphs after the events of the first two games, but it still retains the Dead Space charm. In terms of gameplay, Dead Space 3 is the next logical step without simply rehashing the second game.

The new rolling/dodging and cover system reflect how human Isaac is. The “cover” system is little more than Isaac crouching. It is not a sticky, environment based cover. While it helps when trying to hide behind objects from human enemies who are shooting at you, the crouch cover system will do nothing against a necromorph who is trying to tear you apart. Similarly, the rolling feels heavy as well. It can be used as a last minute escape from a gruesome decapitation, but you will not be able to solely rely on continuously rolling to avoid attacks. In fact, the rolling and crouching are simply additional tools to your arsenal. There is nothing within the gameplay that requires them to be used as a fundamental part of your core progression.

The enemy AI seems to be more intelligent and unpredictable this time around. The new, more humanoid necromorph that the dev team refers to as ‘fodder’, adapts and changes as you dismember it, sometimes even faking death in order to attack you. It’s quite unsettling when you have completely dismembered an enemy and they persist in in their advance with tentacles that have sprouted from the open wounds when the last enemy that you killed did not. This unpredictability makes the combat very interesting and dynamic.

Dead Space 3 hails the arrival of weapon crafting to the series. At first it can come across as a little bit overwhelming compared to simply buying and upgrading your weapons with power nodes, however the freedom offered by weapon crafting system is extremely liberating. Resources can be allocated to weapons to upgrade specific qualities such as ammo count and fire rate. Additionally, specific resources are used for specific upgrades to your rig, stasis, and weapons, rather than the universal power nodes being utilized for all upgrades as in previous games.

The most notable change that comes with weapon crafting is the ability to combine two weapons. Strategies are drastically altered depending on the weapons that you utilize. Abilities of specific guns that you may not have used solo suddenly become useful once combined with another as a supplemental weapon. Throwing a line gun and a force gun together created a great strategy of knock-down and dismember. My interview with Senior Producer David Woldman indicated that my experience with the weapon crafting was just the tip of the iceberg. Upgrades are removable, components are interchangeable, and experimentation is highly encouraged.

Even within the first four chapters of the game, the environments and enemies are varied. Isaac starts in an apartment on a Lunar Colony as we’re dragged back into the fight to destroy the markers. I found myself pitted against psychotic Unitoligists; living, human enemies who had massive firepower and had no problem using it against me. From there, another necromorph outbreak occurs and I eventually hitch a ride on a ship which is promptly destroyed in a frantic sequence of events. Soon after, I find myself aboard the wreckage of an ancient flotilla that is orbiting the frozen wasteland of Tau Volantis. And that’s all just in the first four chapters of the game. I confirmed with Woldman that there are 19 chapters in total, with the full campaign being conservatively twice as long as either of the first two games.

Does the intense sequence of events that I just described have your interest peaked for Dead Space 3’s story? It should, because this title feels the most story driven of the series. Dead Space has a rich history and lore that the writers have been able to consult and they pull out all the stops for this one. As with the prior games in the series, the cutscenes are seamless with the gameplay which provides a much more unified experience overall.

Taking place a few months after the end of the second game, Isaac has been in hiding from EarthGov. When John Carver and Robert Norton burst into his apartment looking for information on the markers and the M.I.A. Ellie Langford, Isaac is forced to pick up his plasma cutter once again. The addition of new characters like Norton and Carver, familiar faces like Ellie, and interesting environments like the wrecked flotilla offer some very compelling story points that should keep fans riveted. I was disappointed when my preview came to an end, because it left me wanting to know more.

Speaking of John Carver, it’s about time that I talked about the co-op. I paired up with Daniel Bischoff from our sister site Game Revolution (Read Daniel’s Dead Space 3 Preview, too, for another take on the game) to take on the necromorphs back-to-back. For our co-op  playthrough of the game’s first four chapters, I once again stepped into the engineering boots of Isaac, and Daniel suited up as the socially abrasive Carver. Aside from a few puzzle variations being more suited to co-op, and some altered enemy AI to account for two players, nearly nothing in co-op differed from my solo run. Daniel confirmed that his experience was nearly identical as well. Sadly, we were not able to experience any of the co-op exclusive missions as they reportedly happen later on in the game. That’s not to say that the co-op is bad though. On the contrary, it’s quite fun to have a friend along without changing what makes the game feel like Dead Space.

To maintain the horror aspect of the game, the co-op is online only and will not support a splitscreen function. This ensures that each player has their own unique audio visual experience without one distracting from the other and making the game feel crowded or confusing. The game does still have the scares, both in singleplayer and co-op. There were a number of dimly lit, narrow hallways and terrifying noises, with enemies appearing at moments that I did not expect. The dark and frightening atmosphere and ever present feeling that you could be dead at any moment persisted throughout most of my preview of the game. Even playing on the normal difficulty setting, there were times that I felt frantic while surrounded. This doesn’t even account for some of the white-knuckle anti-grav and vacuum sequences, one of which involves being sucked into a vacuum without a helmet on.

Being experienced with Dead Space games, the normal mode felt a little bit too easy and I had concerns that this title might open up it’s accessibility to new players. My fears were laid to rest though, as I dug through the menus of the preview build and confronted Woldman about some of my findings during our interview. I confirmed that Dead Space 3 will have a lot of replayability and some ‘New Game +’ modes that will challenge even the most hardcore of players.

Upon completing the game you will unlock New Game + mode, Classic mode, Pure Survival mode, and Hard Core mode. New Game + is your traditional second playthrough with the same equipment, weapons, and upgrades carrying over into the new playthrough. Classic mode uses the aiming system from Dead Space 1, there is no co-op allowed, and the weapons are limited to the weapons from the first game. Pure Survival is a resources based mode in which you won’t find health packs or ammo anywhere. In this mode you must craft everything at benches.

Hard Core mode has made a significant change from its appearance in Dead Space 2. In Dead Space 3, the save system utilizes an autosave at checkpoints, rather than requiring you to manually save at save points. For this reason, the limit of three saves from our previous experience with Hard Core mode would not work for this game, which is why in Dead Space 3’s Hard Core, you simply cannot die. That’s right, no deaths. Period. You can autosave, stop playing the game, come back to it anytime, but as soon as you die your progress is reset to the beginning and autosaved. As Woldman put it, “You have to be perfect”. I’m not going to spoil what completing Hard Core mode ultimately unlocks, but it sounds like it is going to be really awesome and open up even further replay options. It seems that EA and Visceral really want to make sure that you get a lot of value out of the game.

Overall, my time spent with Dead Space 3 has me very excited for the next chapter of Isaac’s story. If you didn’t enjoy either of the first two games, Dead Space 3 is not doing anything dramatically different to try to change your mind. If you are a fan of the franchise though or simply have yet to jump in, this game seems like it will fill the need for the next title in the franchise while evolving it enough to feel like a fresh experience. You’ll likely want to start making room in your collection for Dead Space 3’s release on February 5th.

For more in-depth coverage, be sure to look for the full length interview with Senior Producer David Woldman that should publish exclusively on PlayStation LifeStyle later today.