Dead Space 3 preview

QUICKTAKE: The third chapter in space engineer Isaac Clarke's saga of terror is set to continue with Dead Space 3, and developer Visceral Games is bringing a few new tricks to the party. Besides being able to play the campaign cooperatively, things like a "lean-in" cover system and the inclusion of human enemies are new series additions--as is a new ice planet, which provides a stark presentational contrast with the series' traditional claustrophobic locales.

THE DEMO: The behind closed doors Dead Space 3 demo at E3 began with our hero, Isaac, hanging upside-down in a spaceship which had crash-landed on an ice planet, one of the upcoming game's brand new locations, and the setting for the entirety of the live, thirty-minute, hands-off presentation.

Out of the wreckage and into a blizzard, a handful of necromorphs--the undead, traditionally primary enemy of past Dead Spaces--popped up out of the snow and were dispatched with relative ease. Once a particularly large brute arrived, a second player joined the live demo to assist, while at the same time demonstrating the game's drop-in, drop-out co-op play. Isaac and his new-found friend--a soldier named John Carver--encountered some of the new human enemies, and the new subtle, non-sticky cover system was on display. They also fought necromorphs while trying to shut down a giant spinning drill, in an intense arena battle.

The demo concluded with a fight against a humongous, screen-filling, multi-staged, worm-like boss creature. The battle was bombastic and visually stunning, and ended with both players being swallowed, only to awaken in the creature's esophagus, before being forced down into the fluid-filled stomach. Clearly, the fight was not over, unlike the presentation.

DETAILS: An ice planet is a big change for the Dead Space series; however, although it was the only area of Dead Space 3 showcased during the live demo, we were told that the game would feature a number of other distinct location-types. There's a nice sense of claustrophobia created by being caught in a blizzard, and the game presents it well, but as a fan of the series, it didn't seem as unsettling as exploring a derelict spacecraft.

Co-op also seems to take diminish the series' traditional scariness a bit as well, but it seems like it's being implemented in an interesting way. It's drop-in, drop-out, but the in-engine cut-scenes and dialog change, depending on if you're playing with a buddy or not. If you're playing solo, you may cross paths with Carver, but he'll play a much bigger role in the story if you're playing with a friend.

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Human enemies and the "unique, lean-in cover system" are new systems that beget one another, and based on what I saw, I'm not so sure they're welcome additions to Dead Space. One of the original hooks of the series was strategic dismemberment, which pretty much becomes a non-issue with human targets. Perhaps Visceral felt human foes were necessary for the playable narrative they're trying to create, but were the least-interesting part of the presentation.

Dead Space 3's presentation is still top-notch, and the demo included a number of incredibly over-the-top moments. Though just a demo, things like the quickened pace, chaotic setting, and number of huge set-pieces--like the boss fight, described above--created a sci-fi action experience that seems like it'll be a lot of fun to play. I just hope some of the other locations are scarier, and that the final game is paced well enough to foster things other than a competent trigger finger, like the occasional doses of dread and tension.

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