When the original Dead Space was released, it filled the survival horror void that Resident Evil had left in its transition to the current generation of consoles. I understood why RE had to change, to appeal to a wider audience and generate more sales, but I felt cheated. And despite my best efforts to shake it, that same feeling has returned for Dead Space 3. So after a two hours hands-on with the title and an interview with series producer John Calhoun, were my concerns justified?
It all depends on your interests in Dead Space. If you felt Dead Space 2 was a step in the right direction for the series, you’ll probably enjoy 3. It takes the increased focus on action and ramps the adrenalin factor up to 100. Strategy, therefore, becomes a major component for the player, pushing series veterans to their limits. Choosing which necromorph body part to dismember or whether to take down the human or monster enemy first often means the difference between life and death. Take out the soldier first and you run the risk of a necromorph suiting up in human flesh, rendering him more dangerous in close combat as he flails about with a gun, but useless at long range (necromorphs have terrible accuracy). Enemies are also more abundant, move faster and quickly surround Isaac. It’s this faster pace that will likely polarise long term fans. So why veer away from the slow-paced tempo of the original?
“Dead Space players are getting more savvy,” says John Calhoun. “We do a lot of focus testing and we recruit people who have never played Dead Space before and we recruit our fans. They [our fans] are better than they were in Dead Space 1 or 2 and new players are more sophisticated. They play the Call of Duty’s and the Medal of Honour’s. They are more comfortable with faster moving enemies. The original slow, shambling necromorphs that you see in Dead Space 1 or 2 are no longer scary or threatening to players so we had to speed it up.”
It’s an interesting take on the evolution of the space shooter, that it should provide a challenge to both hardcore DS fans and seasoned players of first person shooters. And it no doubt mirrors the growth of Isaac’s character, from a once terrified and abandoned engineer to a whoop-ass necromorph destroyer. But it also highlights a move away from what made it so popular in the first place: hopeless, tension-filled atmosphere. The original unsettled players with sparse ammo reserves and strategic enemy placement resulting in a psychological mind trip. And yet this time around ammo is plentiful and the arrival of necromorphs is less disturbing than it is disrupting. Rather than strategically dismembering necromorph body parts to conserve valuable ammo, I found myself randomly blasting away. My body wasn’t tense and I certainly wasn’t horrified, signalling a distinct change of pace.
Still not all of Dead Space 3’s changes are unwelcome. The weapon crafting system is a refreshing addition, for instance. Thousands of weapon combinations are on offer from simple stat bonuses to truly sweet creations. Options include fire, acid and electrical damage, sticking a knife to the end of your weapon or complimenting your line gun with the matter freezing stasis effect.
“One of my favourites is the bouncing ball mod. It fires two electrified orbs chained together that riccochet off the ground. If you’re really crafty you can fire behind an enemy and then have it cut off his legs as it bounces back towards you,” says Calhoun.
The other major inclusion is co-op. Players can drop in any time to the online co-op mode where ammo and consumables are shared. Cutscenes, dialogue and difficulty adjust to another gamer entering the fray. The added gamer takes on the role of Sergeant John Carver, an Earth Defense Force officer who witnessed the activation of the marker. On top of that, playing as Carver results in a different experience. Because he’s had minimal interaction with the demonic structures known as markers, often he’ll see things that Isaac won’t. Unfortunately this mode is only available online – split-screen is not an option. Calhoun claims this was an intentional design so as not to degrade the game’s visual fidelity but it still sucks for offline gamers.
So what are your thoughts? Do you feel Visceral Games attempts to attract a larger audience are a bad thing, diluting the series unique feel? Or is this change good, innovating what could have become a stale franchise? Let us know in the comments below!