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Here's new gameplay footage for horror game Dead Space 3, which will be out February 5, EA announced today at Gamescom. Check it out!
But others are not so confident, worried that the horror franchise will be mutilated by its new co-op addition, similar to the downward spiral Resident Evil experienced. But the guys over at Mega64, um I mean "Visceral," have lined up the scariest new features in Dead Space 3 to quell all hesitation.
Graves' creepy strings and dirge-like orchestrations lend a huge amount of atmosphere to Visceral's first two outer-space creepshows. Good news!
Visceral's horror franchise has won players' loyalty for a few key staples, like dark claustrophobic corridors, sudden scares and menacing Necromorph enemies. In the two Dead Space games released so far, great sound design and assured pacing—where big set pieces balance against sequences of quiet dread—have created memorable experiences for players.
But fans of the franchise are nervously awaiting the release of Dead Space 3, a title in the series that seems to take some steps away from said familiarity.
For one thing, there will be co-op for the first time. Cooperatively playing through Dead Space is for pansies, some fans say. It takes the thrill away from exploring the religious lore, ominous artifacts and hallucinations you experience as a lonely Isaac. And while I don't personally feel this takes away from the franchise, it's obvious to Visceral and EA that introducing a co-op mode has taken the title's fans outside their comfort zones.
So they want you to know: as much as this new title is making steps outside the bounds of the original Dead Space, it's still very much building on the same foundation of what made the first two games great.
Where's the proof? I saw some encouraging signs in an optional Dead Space 3 side mission I checked out last week.
Wait, optional side mission? We're talking full-on, non-linear, exploration-encompassing side missions. That doesn't sound very Dead Spacey.
Even so, it's in this side mission that I found the game to resonate with its predecessors. Isaac is exploring the Lost Lunar Flotilla and, in response to an outgoing signal, boards one space ship that's been desolate for over 200 years. He'll find more information on the origin of the Necromorphs—a very clearly pressing matter if you've ever played even a moment of any Dead Space title—while aboard this research facility floating in space.
It's here that I navigate Isaac up and down ladders, and around the bends of windy, dimly-lit corridors. The only difference in navigation is that now Isaac can roll, and take (non-sticky) cover. But Isaac doesn't just encounter the gangly Necromorphs he's encountered dozens of times previous. He'll also have to solve certain puzzles to be able to open doors or start generators. Sometimes, this includes using Kinesis to turn handles or remove doors.
In between ships—as well as debris of ships floating around the Flotilla—Isaac will gracefully float in zero gravity to carry out his investigative exploration. (I'm told that certain paths will be specifically dedicated for the co-op experience, so it sounds like exploring with a friend has its benefits.) If you've played a Dead Space game, you might be taking in a breath of air from relief. These are all familiar aspects of the franchise.
But while I was playing I couldn't help but think dreamily of the newer Dead Space developments. I thought back to the swirling snowstorm I first saw at E3 and how it could hide armed enemies (a new inclusion) that could strike at me from the blinding whiteness. That's a case of new elements creating a different kind of fear. Potentially not such a bad thing.
I can see why there's some trepidation towards antagonists equipped to shoot back at you. Maybe you're thinking this is just going to be some other actiony shooter that you don't care for. Horror isn't mainstream, after all, so it figures they'd water it down with fast-paced action, right? Since my encounters with them have been hands-off, I can't speak to how it feels to have armed zombie-like enemies tracking you through the snow. But I'm optimistic. Visceral hasn't let me down with the series yet, and I don't expect them to start now.
My time hands-on with the game was short. EA took me through a short sequence to show off some of the more claustrophobic environments that harken back to older Dead Space. Demos like the one I checked out at E3 seem to be a stretch for the franchise. Once you factor in the wide-expanse of a snowy planet and new, human-like enemies that can shoot guns at you, it's easy to wonder what happened to your Dead Space. Fortunately, if you were looking for it, this one particular level showed off the traditional feel that the game's representatives promise it won't forget about.
But I'm not so concerned. I want to see more of what's different. I'm hopeful. I'm confident, even, that the developers have had enough experience with their own franchise to evolve it properly. It may very well turn out that a less linear experience and experimental enemies might not do the game any favors. Maybe co-op—which is 100% optional (your co-op bud won't appear as AI if you choose to experience the game in the traditional single player route)—won't be as terrifying. But I'm curious to see where the franchise goes next. Even if it isn't the Dead Space you remember and love, maybe Visceral can introduce you to another side of Dead Space that you never expected. It might even be great.
With each new year, it feels like I'm watching another horror series becomes less horrific. Resident Evil, Alien, and most recently, Dead Space. What started out as pure, hardcore horror becomes a fun, popcorn-munching good time.
But hey, that's okay. It's the natural way of things. Horror isn't mainstream.
Much has been made recently about the addition of co-op gameplay to Visceral Games' upcoming Dead Space 3. I remember a similar batch of complaints came up around the introduction of co-op to Resident Evil 5.
Up front: Broadly, I think Visceral has earned the benefit of the doubt. I remember lodging some similar complaints when they first showed Dead Space 2, and that game was fantastic. So, let's cut 'em some slack. However scary or not-scary it is, it's a fairly safe bet that Dead Space 3 will be a fun video game.
On to the co-op thing: It's true, co-op gaming hasn't traditionally proven to be all that scary. When I think of a horror video game, I don't think about playing it with friends. I think about being alone, in the dark. Sweating. In front of a door. You know:
I have to go through the door. I have to! But fuck, man, I do not want to. If I go through the door, that means I have to pass through the flooded basement. There's nowhere else to go. And yet I don't want to go through the door, I don't want to go fucking near that flooded basement, because there's SOMETHING HORRIBLE DOWN THERE, BREATHING.
It's the sick thrill of horror. I've felt the same way in nightmares. Actually, I've long been of the opinion that horror games channel nightmares even more effectively than horror films. You're really there, you know? You want to hide, but there's nowhere to hide. Nothing for it but to press onward and hope you wake up soon.
Picture that iconic Dead Space image with another dude standing next to Isaac. Yup, not as scary. Co-op undercuts tension to a significant degree.
Have you ever watched a horror movie with your friends? It's fun! But it's not as scary as watching one alone. But then again, it is really fun—and who's to say that making a good jump-scare co-op thriller isn't a great idea? That kind of thing could be really cool. It's not an accident that horror movies are so popular for couples on dates—there's something fun (and kind hot) about grabbing each other as blood sprays onscreen.
So, okay, Dead Space seems to be more Resident Evil 5 than Resident Evil 2. Put another way, it's more Gears of War 3 than Gears of War. Put yet another way, it's more Aliens than Alien. Which brings me to my second thought here: There's a pattern with horror, isn't there? The first in a given horror series is truly scary, and subsequent entries are less scary and more bombastic.
It doesn't happen with every series, but it still happens a lot—Evil Dead, Alien, Predator, the Resident Evil games and films… it would seem that the more popular something gets, the greater the chances it'll file down its teeth in pursuit of a bigger audience.
I asked Stacie Ponder, who runs the magnificent horror blog Final Girl and has seem way more horror films than I have, for her thoughts on the matter. She agreed with my basic idea that mainstream success and horror are incompatible, noting that the scariest films tend to be small-budget works made by a single (possibly deranged) director. "Every big budget has a fleet of executives behind it looking to earn back that money," she said. "They've all got a vested interest in the property and a say in what ends up on the screen. It becomes filmmaking by committee and it shows. Some of the greatest horror films of all time—The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, and so on—were made on shoestring budgets and were therefore solely the vision of the writers and directors."
On top of that deranged-auteur theory, there's something illicit about horror, something pornographic—it's outlandish to imagine a mainstream film being marketed in the way that some of the films in Ponder's splendid "Awesome Movie Poster Friday" series are marketed. It's so smutty! Historically, publishers haven't quite known how to market horror games either, from that strange, tonally inaccurate Dead Island trailer to EA's dumb and off-putting "Your mom will hate Dead Space 2" ads.
"John Carpenter once said that horror is viewed maybe a notch or two above pornography by the masses," said Ponder, "and I don't think that consensus has changed much since he made Halloween." The best horror takes us to a dark place, in which we must imagine ourselves in the place of the terrified, the powerless, the victims—and often, imagine ourselves in the place of their butchers, as well. Horror is exploitative by its very nature—it exploits our fears and desires in order to titillate and entertain us.
Just like in film, the scariest horror games will likely always exist at the fringes. But hey, the fringes of the video game scene have never been more buzzing with empowered talent! There are a good number of brilliant, terrifying indie horror games out right now, and more on the way.
Benjamin Rivers' Home is a creepy-as-hell exploration game. Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor is a freaky low-res trip through a post-apocalyptic purgatory. The prototype for Slender, which is based on the terrifying 'Slenderman' internet legend, was truly terrifying despite being low-budget and unfinished. (Which reminds me: The scariest damned thing I've seen in ages is 'Marble Hornets', a super low-budget YouTube series starring the Slenderman. Go watch it. It'll freak you out more than any horror movie to hit theaters this year.)
Back to games: I'd be remiss not to mention the game that jump-started indie horror: Frictional's Amnesia: Dark Descent. That sucker was and remains balls-to-the-wall terrifying. The team behind that game appears to grasp horror on such a fundamental level (basically: hide in a cupboard while the thing you can't see hunts you) that I'd be surprised if the sequel, A Machine For Pigs, is any less of a frightfest. Ponder agrees that sequels themselves aren't always anathema to fear: "I think any sequel can be as scary as an original work if the creators can find new ways to utilize the essence of horror, which is what makes the originals work."
All of those games, including the Amnesia sequel, have something in common—they're not big-budget games from major publishers. It could even be argued that the essence of horror—vulnerability, panic, loss of control—runs counter to the things that make mainstream video games tick, things like power fantasy, mastery and progression. What's cool is that it's easy to be scary with limited resources—after all, it's what you don't see that's truly scary, and it's really cheap to not show people monsters.
We may still get the odd big-budget horror game that's truly scary (the Wii U's upcoming ZombiU seems like a candidate), but by and large, mainstream games aren't going to be the ones that really scare our pants off. And that's fine, really—fear is a dark, complicated thing, and it lives at the fringes by necessity. It's not the product of focus groups, or of user feedback.
Let the mainstream have their thrillers and their action-packed monster-fests. Let those games sell 5 million copies and spawn a dozen action-packed sequels. We'll find our scares someplace else—somewhere darker, off the beaten path. In the shadows.
No fancy trailers here, no live-action distractions, this twenty-minute clip consists almost entirely of gameplay footage from EA's upcoming Dead Space 3.
WARNING: May contain traces of pre-recorded developer hype in some scenes.
Dead Space 3 Gameplay Video [GameSpot]
Some folks see a scary movie or play a scary game and proceed to purge all that terror out their minds immediately. A game as scary as the original Dead Space made me want to void my bowels many times over. I breathed easy once my time with the game was done.
For other people, terror makes them want to sculpt. German concept artist Florian Furtkamp clearly belongs in the latter camp. On his blog, he shows off shots of a replica of the disembodied hand from the box art of Dead Space 1. Plus, it lights up for maximum scare effect.
CONS: This clip is almost entirely narrated by one of the developers, a practice which only marketing types enjoy. You could mute it, but then you'd lose the sound effects as well.
PROS: It's over twenty minutes of Dead Space 3 footage. Just gameplay.