First Impressions of the Dead Space 3 Demo

The Dead Space 3 demo finally hit XBLA and PSN for public consumption this past Tuesday.  While a demo is merely a tiny snippet of a larger whole, it’s still interesting to get a small taste of what Dead Space 3 might offer.  Although I can still say that I’m looking forward to this game after playing it, I now have a little apprehension on what the final product may turn out to be.  There are major changes, both structurally and tonally, and I’m curious to see how it’s going to work when the game is viewed as a whole.

Although the feel of the shooting and limb severing remains the same, Dead Space 3 modifies a lot of the periphery surrounding the core gameplay.  For starters, the implementation of a crafting system completely replaces the store that was used in previous Dead Space games to purchase new weapons and items.  Now, you can pick up resources scattered throughout the environment to build new items, weapons, and weapon attachments.  These attachments can drastically alter the way certain weapons work.  For example, you can upgrade your plasma rifle so the alternate fire on it acts like a shotgun.   You can even tinker your plasma rifle in a way where it behaves like a sniper rifle, with an enhanced zoom and a slower rate of fire.  The weapon customization seems to be a neat little way to be able to mess around with weapons to your liking.

In addition, the upgrade system has been overhauled.  Instead of placing power nodes in a set grid that is unique to each weapon, there are 8 slots you can place whatever upgrade you want, but each upgrade costs a certain amount of resources.  Some upgrades may have a trade off, such as one that adds a substantial amount of power, but slightly lessens your rate of fire.

Be sure to pick up as much material as you can find, as they are the currency for pretty much everything.

Although the remodeling in gameplay structure was unexpected, the change of tone and atmosphere of the demo was the most surprising.  In Dead Space 1 and 2, you were mostly traversing narrow, cramped hallways that were dimly lit.  In this demo, you’re running around in a wide expanse covered in snow, where there’s a ton of space to move around.  The implementation of an open terrain takes away some of the tension that was a hallmark of the series mainly because you’re always able to clearly see what lies ahead.  You’re not gingerly peeking around the mysterious corner, afraid of what might pop out at you.

The addition of cooperative play may be the reason why a bigger surrounding was needed.  Because you can play coop at any time during the game, Visceral probably needed to account for each setting being conducive to having two players comfortably run and shoot.  Playing with a buddy does have its benefits however.  There are extra cut scenes involving Isaac Clarke and John Carver that you won’t witness if you lone wolf through the campaign.  The new cinematics are neat, but it doesn’t seem like you’ll be missing anything essential if you’re going it alone.  Although I’m unsure if Dead Space was the series that really needed a cooperative element, playing with a friend is always fun, and seeing a necromorph just get utterly mutilated from the combined fire of two people is often hilarious.

There was one particular section of the demo that really chafed my thighs.  Near the end, you’re placed in a large circular room with a giant drill that’s going to obliterate anything in its way.  You have to slow it down with stasis and shoot at its core to shut it off.  However, the game throws wave after wave of enemies at you during the whole time, and you’re forced to continually run around to avoid both the drill and the enemies.  Shooting at the enemies isn’t really an effective option, as the drill is continually moving towards you, ready to turn you into a bloody pulp.  Isaac doesn’t run fast enough for this type of demanding action, and the whole section just wasn’t very fun as a result.  Hopefully, these action set pieces that require lots of movement and running are kept to a minimum throughout the game.

Carver’s helmet glows red. Red! This changes everything!

After playing the demo, there are definitely some aspects that I’m anxious about.   While the promise of seamless drop in and drop out co-op is definitely cool, I’m hoping that doesn’t take away what the beauty of the Dead Space series is: haunting isolation surrounded by disgusting necromorphs.  Those moments of utter confusion and darkness are what Dead Space so memorable.  The action set pieces that require lots of deft movement didn’t work so great as well.  However, there’s no doubt the feel of the shooting and the weapons are still spot on.   I’m eager to get my paws on the game and see whether Dead Space 3 can hit the high marks that Dead Space 1 and 2 were able to reach.