So EA put up a demo of Dead Space 3 on the Xbox 360 this week, and anyone who’s been following along to any extent with my work (is there anyone that bored?) pretty much knew this was coming. â€œFanâ€ would probably be a bit much of a stretch, but the franchise has its appeal, especially since Resident Evil has gone in an almost entirely action-based direction at this point. Dead Space was a good try at survival horror in space, and Dead Space 2 was a far superior effort in design and pacing all the way around, so it’s easy to believe that Dead Space 3 would take that to its logical conclusion and be amazing across the board. That said, the game is making a few significant changes to the formula that worked in the first two games, expanding the experience a bit into something more… well, action oriented. Two player drop-in drop-out co-op, gun-toting human and Necromorph enemies and a weapon creation and modification system all promise more action-oriented developments and gameplay, which… well, is the direction Resident Evil 6 went in. As such, even with the first two games having shown solid improvement, apprehension over the direction the third game was heading in was entirely reasonable. A demo seems like the best way to sort out what’s going on with Dead Space 3, so let’s jump in and take a look at what’s going on and how things are shaping up.
1.) When we last left Isaac Clarke, he and fellow survivor Ellie Langford had escaped from The Sprawl as it basically broke down, and were headed for parts unknown. As the game begins, Isaac and Ellie, along with EDF trooper John Carver, have apparently picked up a decent sized ship and headed off to Tau Volantis, a planet they feel will help them discover the origin of The Marker. As the game begins, this goes completely tits up and the ship is rent asunder, leaving Isaac and Ellie separated, and the demo proper begins with Isaac waking up in the middle of a blizzard on a planet covered in ice. The demo doesn’t get into the plot to any significant extent, but it’s apparent that the planet is also stuffed full of both Necromorphs and Unitologists, both of which feel it is in their best interests to make sure Isaac ends up nice and dead. It’ll be interesting to see the full extent of the plot variance in solo and co-op play, as well as how the plot works itself out through the game, but what the demo shows off is compelling enough to indicate that whatever’s going on here should be interesting, if nothing else.
2.) The demo offers three options for you to fool around with: a single player mode that allows you to play as Isaac alone, a co-op mode that allows you and a friend to play as Isaac and Carver, and a mode where you can test out the full capabilities of the weapon crafting system at your leisure. While (upon exposure to the demo and how it works) it’s confusing that the developers didn’t just make Ellie the second player character, that aside, the co-op and single player segments seem to work just fine in the demo, and the game gets the idea that no one wants to deal with an idiot AI partner if they don’t have to. The weapon testing mode is a special beast we’ll discuss shortly, and while it’s doubtful the final game will offer this thing, it’s a nice demonstration of what you can do with the crafting system if nothing else.
3.) Dead Space 3 retains the same general style of its predecessor but appears to be improved quality-wise all the way around. Isaac looks more detailed this time around, though not significantly so, and the human and Necromorph enemies shown in the demo look pretty good in both texture quality and animation. The impressive aspects of the visuals here come down more to the environment; while the first two games did a good job with the environments, they were mostly based in futuristic looking locales, like spaceship decks and such, with a few sequences taking place in space itself. As such, the environmental effects of the snow-covered Tau Volantis are quite striking in comparison to the bleak corridors and ruined, disturbingly cheery shopping centers that popped up in the first two games. You’ll still see bits of the futuristic corridors in the demo, of course, and there’s every reason to assume they’ll be heavy in the final game, but the environmental change makes for a significant improvement overall, and the actual effects look fantastic as well. Aurally, the music, audio effects and such are exactly what you’ve come to expect from the franchise, and Isaac and Ellie’s performers from Dead Space 2 return here as well in a nice continuation of continuity. The new voice work from Carver and others is perfectly fine as well, and while it’s unfortunate we won’t likely see a return of Nicole Brennan for this game, there will likely be all sorts of creepy ethereal voice work that pops up to be impressed with.
4.) Once you’re in control of your character, you’ll find that if you’ve played the first two games the controls are more or less exactly how you’d expect them to be, though with some mild modifications. The left and right sticks control movement and looking/aiming, respectively, the left trigger aims and the right trigger and right bumper fire your chosen weapon, the right trigger and bumper control melee when not aiming, absolutely none of this should be special to fans of the original games or modern Resident Evil titles, for the most part. The button mapping is largely intact from Dead Space 2, in fact, including quick healing, reloading, bringing up your RIG menu and so on, so if you’re familiar with the game you can jump right in. Stasis and Telekinesis are back as well, and both seem to work the same, with Stasis slowing enemies but draining your Stasis meter while TK is free to use, allowing you to pick up and manipulate objects in the environment as needed. Both play into some of the puzzles in the demo, though not to a significant extent, so if you’ve missed the games at all you’ll be introduced to these concepts fairly well, but fans won’t see anything they haven’t seen before here insofar as that goes.
5.) Which is not to say there aren’t some new concepts to show off in the demo. You now can double-tap Left Bumper to perform a dodge roll in addition to holding it to run, so you can quickly get out of the way of enemy attacks if something large and angry is headed right for you, and credits have been dispensed with entirely, so you’ll no longer be finding cash lying around everywhere. Instead, you pick scrap metals, which can be used for a variety of things, including building upgrades into your RIG for the purpose of improving your survival rate in the game world. In theory it’s trading one form of commerce for another, but in practice it’s both more realistic (buying everything from vending machines is kind of silly) and more annoying (there are multiple kinds of metals to find and use), so it’s basically a wash as a concept. In another odd note, you can still have guns mapped to the D-Pad as needed, but you can only carry two weapons at one time; the Up and Down directions seem to be mapped to something else that’s not indicated here, leaving Left and Right to gun mapping, which is odd and not really justified here. The second biggest change you’ll see in the demo is that ammunition has been simplified this time around, so instead of carrying around the specific ammo reload packs for each type of gun you’re carrying, you simply carry universal reload kits that reload guns to a differing degree. Conceptually, this is weird taken in context (Mass Effect 2 had the benefit of a few years downtime for weapons to theoretically evolve at least) but as we will see, it makes a lot of sense given the situation.
6.) The single biggest change shown off here, however, is the weapon crafting system, and for those wondering, it is awesome. Basically, when you arrive at a bench, you can choose to build a gun manually from parts you have or make, build a gun from a blueprint, upgrade existing guns you’re carrying around with resource metals, craft items or break things down into their component parts to add to your metal counts. As such, Benches act as Shops, more or less, allowing you to buy and craft virtually everything you need in one shot. While this will take some mild adjusting to, since Nodes are apparently a thing of the past, the functional options available for crafting guns are quite interesting and largely make up for this. You can pick a stock and generator for your chosen gun, as well as a barrel, a possible secondary generator and barrel, and two attachments to add, so long as you have the resources, and whatever custom options you pick are built right into the gun. The actual demo campaign doesn’t give you a lot of time to play with the feature, so we’ll come back to this shortly, but you’ll find that you can build crazy lightning guns, shotguns and other fun toys from what you find in the demo so you’ll get some decent combat training in.
7.) The solo campaign starts up with Isaac waking up in the remains of his crashed ship and follows along as he finds his way to a broken down fort on the planet, which is absolutely full of Unitologists and Necromorphs, presenting a rather problematic challenge for him. In the solo campaign, Isaac makes contact with Carver and Ellie fairly early on, and Carver shows up sporadically, but is otherwise completely absent; when playing solo, Isaac is otherwise completely alone in his adventure. Those who hated dealing with inane AI allies will find that the single player demo never tasks them with dealing with one, as the events that come up work just fine with Isaac alone, and the only obvious event designed for two players is a sequence where you have to activate a giant drill. In this case, closing the two valves in this section simply locks them into a closed position so you don’t need support to accomplish this task, allowing the game to work fine as a solo endeavor. The high point, aside from the general experience, could either be the battle against a large Necromorph or the aforementioned giant drill section, where said drill spins around the room and you have to hit it with Stasis to destroy the fuse inside the drill folds while it’s slowed down. You’ll also see some additional things worth noting here, such as the fact the Unitologists are in no way being aided by the Necromorphs (or vice versa for that matter), or that some Necromorphs can now brandish guns, but for the most part, the mission feels fairly consistent with what fans will expect.
8.) When playing the co-op campaign with another player, however, is when things get interesting. The campaign starts off basically the same, but the demo handles its exposition in the form of discussions between Isaac and Carver, as the two are otherwise not interacted with by anyone. This is actually an interesting note, in the demo at least, as Isaac gets in touch with Ellie fairly early on in the solo demo, while in the co-op demo we never hear from her; it’ll be interesting to see if this carries on to the final product and how much of this interaction is Isaac having an episode of some kind. For those wondering how the play differs, well, picking up items in your game leaves them in your friend’s game, so you won’t have to worry about sharing the wealth, and workbenches now have two terminals affixed so both players can do their business without waiting for one another to finish. Active Time Events now have events for both players simultaneously, which may or may not require one player to aid the other, which wasn’t the best thing in Resident Evil 5 but seemed to work well enough here. Also, one puzzle requires both players to hold down rotating valves in order to progress (the drill puzzle mentioned above), though it’s otherwise the same… well, okay, the enemy density is… quite a bit higher in this section, to be fair, but otherwise it’s similar. Also, both end with a gigantic tease for the final game, though it seems this will instantly go into a battle as after the cinematic you’re immediately dumped to your character, not a set animation, so expect that to be an interesting sequence.
9.) The last element of the demo is essentially a test-run for the weapon crafting system, as you’re dumped into an empty room with a work bench, infinite health and ammo, and a whole bunch of materials and crafting supplies, allowing you to play around with the crafting system as you see fit. Now, this mode doesn’t show you all of the customization options the final game will offer, obviously (it doesn’t even show you all of the options in the demo), but it allows you a fairly extensive amount of options to play with, giving you a pretty good idea of how things will work. With that in mind, the options they’re offering you are basically the best part of this demo, as there are a lot of crazy combinations you can make with little effort. You can make yourself a rapid-fire plasma cutter with a scope and fire effects, or a dual-barreled assault rifle/shotgun, or a gun that fires force waves and lightning bolts, or whatever you can think of within the confines of what the system offers. Since you can choose your own barrel, primary and secondary engine, primary and secondary barrel, and primary and secondary attachments, you can essentially build your guns however you can think them up, and make blueprints to keep for later. The room also allows you to press a button to spawn a few Necromorphs if you want to test your creation, so you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it works now and if you want to aim to make it in the final game.
10.) If you’re thinking of picking up the game, make sure you download the demo, even if you don’t intend to play it; you get a free Stasis Support attachment that replenishes the Stasis of your co-op partner when you use Stasis refills on yourself, which may be useful for some of you out there. Regardless, Dead Space 3 is looking like it’s shaping up to be fantastic, to the extent that people I talk to who aren’t into the series are looking at this as being worth checking out just from the demo. It’s hard to know for certain how the final game is going to turn out; the experience feels decidedly more action oriented, and that didn’t turn out well for Resident Evil 6, but the co-op feels more functional than that of Resident Evil 5, and the modifications made to the game feel, so far, like definite improvements. Either way, keep an eye here for more information and a final review when the game becomes available.