This preview originally appeared in issue 248 of PC Gamer UK.
In space, you’ll remember, no one can hear you scream. But don’t worry, because you won’t be doing much screaming in Dead Space 3. The series once traded on slow-burn body horror and things making wet, meaty bumps in the inky black space-night. Now it prefers hurling gruesome beasts of increasing size at the screen, a psychological warfare of attrition rather than subversion.
The change is debated by developer Visceral Games. Studio vice-president Steve Papoutsis has refuted claims that the game was defanged on the fright front, maintaining that it’s just as scary as previous Dead Spaces. Publishers EA, on the other hand, admitted that they wanted to set a lower fear-barrier for entry, inviting those with lillier livers into the game for the first time.
It’s a confused message, and watching someone else play Dead Space 3 reveals a slightly confused game. Co-op play is the major addition to this third outing. Returning protagonist Isaac Clarke is joined by John Carver, a character more grizzle than man. Carver is the soldier to Isaac’s engineer, removing some of the tension of previous games. Isaac – the shtick went – had to adapt to survive, a nonviolent man by trade. Carver is used to blowing limbs off things though, be those things human or grim megamonsters from beyond the stars.
New enemies include human Unitologist soldiers.
The arsenal has copied that trend. Previously, Isaac would make do with welders and bandsaws, the tools of his trade turned into lethal weapons. Dead Space 3 has standard shotguns and assault rifles – the same kind used by the game’s human enemies, the first of which I spot in a valley on the ice planet of Tau Volantis. Carver and Clarke are picking their way through the world’s snowy wastes when they’re jumped by a group of Unitologist soldiers. They have body armour and wield assault rifles, but they’re quickly jumped in turn by a group of Necromorph ‘twitchers’.
The soldiers are eviscerated before Carver and Clarke can bring their weapons to bear, leaving them with the task of cleaning up the twitchers. The aliens can flick forward at a frightening speed, closing the gap before either of the co-op players I’m watching can draw a bead on them. It’s a mechanically tense section, but it’s not directly unsettling.
Psychological tricks make more concessions to the series’ trademark horror. Playing in co-op, Carver starts to see haunting remnants of his past. They don’t appear on Clarke’s screen, promising some panicky conversations over Ventrilo as one player absorbs his character’s forced madness. Another section that details Carver’s loopiness sends him inside his own mind to fight off his inner demons, in the form of Necromorph enemies. It means the game, for better or worse, doesn’t really cultivate the same oppressive menace as previous Dead Spaces.
Will Dead Space 3 be scary or not? It's not quite clear yet. But if it is, if it manages to make some of you scream, then something might just happen in-game—if you happen to be playing on Kinect, that is. According to a CVG interview with DS3 executive producer Steve Papoutsis, it works like this:
"We actually have some commands that people will need to figure out," he explains, "But there are commands where you might be in a certain situation and you might yell a specific expletive and it might behave in a way that you want it to."
So if you're the type of person that goes all SH*T F*CK F*CK PISS or whatever after something scares or frustrates you, your potty mouth might result in something beneficial instead of just making other people uncomfortable.
That's not the only curious usage the Kinect will see with Dead Space 3. The game features co-op, and you can give voice commands to do basic stuff like sharing ammo. Not all of these actions are so kindhearted, though. You can grief, but "just your friends!" according to Papoutsis.
These are certainly some of the more amusing uses of the Kinect that I've heard about.
Dead Space 3's demo version will be available via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network on Jan. 22, though a news release from Electronic Arts this morning says that a limited number of Xbox Live gamers can get access to the demo a week early.
Early access will be awarded through the site demo.deadspace.com. The news release said codes would be given out "while quantities last," up to Jan. 14, and that the early access code expires Jan. 22. An Origin account, or registering one, is necessary to get an early demo code. Oh, and you must be 13 or older, which is interesting, as this is an M-rated game.
Anyway, the demo will feature Isaac Clarke and new co-op companion Sgt. John Carver battling necromorphs on an ice planet, sounding similar to what EA showed off way back at E3 in June. Co-op play will be a feature of the demo, EA said.
The demo news accompanied this trailer, a recap of the events in the first two games. It still gets you current without giving away too much from them, but for those still playing through, I guess this gets a qualified spoiler alert.
There's some kind of preorder bonus at the end of the trailer. Skip ahead to 3:27 if you're interested in it but don't want to see the series recap.
Dec 17, 2012
He looks... well, pretty amazing. Not to mention warm, all tucked up in that nice fluffy jacket. The lighting effects you see come from LEDs in his helmet, backpack and gloves, while he's also kind of poseable, with a joint in his neck.
The action sequences, the background music, the dramatic sliced-up dialogue... it all feels like something I should be watching with sour patch kids in hand while waiting for my movie to start. It's not necessarily a good or bad thing. Just my feeling.
But the video above is not a movie trailer. It's the latest trailer for EA/Visceral Games' next title in the Dead Space series. For those concerned that Dead Space 3 will be too actiony, this trailer won't really convince you otherwise. But the appearance of hallucinations and mentions of mindfucks feels like a nod in the right direction.
Just last month our own Stephen Totilo lamented that we still haven't seen enough of this game. EA is keeping relatively tight-lipped on this one. This trailer isn't much, but it's at least two-minutes' worth of Necromorphs and space suits.
Dec 3, 2012
But in designing the world of Dead Space, it was handy to see what things were like before the bad stuff went down, when people were breathing and working and smiling and not crawling out of air vents trying to eat you.
These pieces, by artist Jason Courtney, are sometimes concerned with just that. Which might be why some of them don't look much like the Dead Space you know and love.
If that confuses you, don't worry, there are plenty of images that do look like Dead Space. You can tell because of all the blood and bits and junk.
You can see more of Jason's work at his personal site.
Nov 12, 2012
The latest third-person horror/shooter adventures of space miner Isaac Clarke could be wonderful. They could be terrible. It's impossible to tell.
The latest parts of Dead Space 3, revealed in a chopped up demo that I recently played at an EA showcase:
- In co-op the second player, who controls a character named Carver, occasionally hallucinates. In a scene I played, I was seeing toy soldiers like walls of some darkened ice-world outpost. The player controlling Isaac saw none of them. I got sucked into some sort of hallucinatory plane; the Isaac player had to keep me safe while I was going nuts. Could be a cheap trick. Could be a twisted way to play online co-op that will get two players devilishly confused about what is really going on. Insanity effects! But with co-op! Maybe. Settle down.
- Gun crafting is more complex. You can now change eight components of a weapon to make your own: its engine, its frame, what it shoots, how it shoots. Each weapon winds up having two main uses, merging familiar guns from previous games. Say shooting buzz saws but also spitting flame or firing acidic bullets and also zapping out lasers.
- You've got robot buddies. Players can collect and dispatch scavenger bots that will roam an area and pick up elements that can be used in crafting. Handy, right?
What kind of game does this add up to in your mind? So far, Dead Space is a Rorschach blot. It's another dimly lit, slightly scary game. It's a bolder-than-ever shooter. It's an expansive adventure on a snowy world with off-planet offshoots. It's less linear. It's more mainstream.
The only thing we can be sure of at the moment is that Dead Space 3 is not a cart racer.
The last few Dead Spaces were pretty good. Sometimes too hard. Sometimes too in love with the same handful of enemies. But all were graphically impressive and punctuated with some amazing low-gravity action. Maybe this also describes Dead Space 3. We'll find out when the game releases in February.
Isaac Clarke's return to consoles may have co-op missions waiting for players when Dead Space 3 comes out next year. But EA still wants us to think that the third entry in their sci-fi horror franchise is going to be a frightening experience. Hence, these screens. I don't know if shivers are running down your spines but the prospect of more out-of-ship sequences would a welcome addition.
It's quite a leap, from third-person horror games to free-to-play MOBA, but recent job ads suggest that's exactly what Dead Space developers Visceral are working on next. As discovered by IGN, the listing for Global Community Manager states that potential candidates are expected to have an "unhealthy passion for MOBA games," plus "significant experience managing online communities." Meanwhile, the character designer listing asks for "Work experience on MOBA, Action RTS, Action RPG, or Related Genres". Piecing all the available evidence together, we reckon Visceral might be making a MOBA.
The clue to the game's free-to-play nature lies in the aforementioned Global Community Manager ad, which mentions that the successful applicant will be acting as part of EA's Play4Free publishing team. Hints at their choice of platform lie within the Character Concept Artist listing, which talks about an "upcoming PC action title". Both positions have since been filled, so whatever Visceral are making, work has presumably already begun.
As to what they're making, the obvious answer would be a Dead Space MOBA, but that sounds so ridiculous I can hardly believe I just typed it. More likely, it's some sort of shooter-MOBA combo, or it's based on a different property entirely. Visceral also made the two Godfather games, so we could equally be in for Defense of the Corleones.
Sep 10, 2012
This preview originally appeared in issue 244 of PC Gamer UK.
Three games in and the Dead Space series has got problems. And I’m not referring to the fact that protagonist Isaac Clarke has cleverly managed to crash-land on an inhospitable ice planet that may hold the horrible secret to the entire Necromorph space-zombie menace.
The problem is the Necromorph menace itself. Or rather, the fact that, after all this exposure in the Dead Space games, it isn’t really that menacing any more. The resurrected space-dead are still pretty ghastly, perhaps, with their spider’s legs, collapsed faces and that nasty ability to sprout tangles of gristle from the least likely of places, but we’ve been looking them straight in their oozing dead eyes for a couple of games now, and over time you can become immune to just about anything.
Example? Early on in the latest Dead Space 3 demo, I was wandering around another abandoned space hulk looking for another way to get past another locked door when a Slasher dropped down from the ceiling in front of me, accompanied by a sudden shriek of sound design. I should have leapt from my chair or watched in horror as my beard turned white and fell out, one hair at a time. Instead, I just took aim at a juddering limb and idly wondered how the thing managed to climb all those ladders with talons in place of hands.
Visceral Games have at least one decent solution to the problem of audience complacency, as it happens, but they waited until a fair proportion of the demo had passed before revealing it. For the first ten minutes, it was business as usual – and business as usual is pretty much the kiss of death when it comes to the production of startles and shocks. I was wandering around an empty ship, collecting ammo and health packs, listening to audio logs left by a deceased crew, and besting the odd toggle puzzle, when I found a door that wouldn’t respond to a smart blast of telekinesis. If the team were building up to a big fright, it had better be a belter.
Luckily, it was. It was a new kind of Necromorph called the Swarm Infector, and while it’s a piddling thing on its own, scrabbling across the floor with tiny tendrils flying, it’s capable of pulling an extremely unpleasant trick. Like the much larger Infector from the previous games, it can reanimate any nearby corpses, sending them spasming into epileptic life. They judder around for a few horrible seconds, then the gristle starts to warp outwards and – presto – you’ve got another Slasher on your hands.
It’s standard Dead Space stuff, perhaps, but combining the Infector with the series’ diminutive Swarmers has resulted in a genuinely unnerving combination. Once again, corpses can no longer be treated as mere set dressing, and there’s something new to squash underfoot.
Elsewhere, if the team has to struggle a little harder in order to scare you, the consolation prize is that Dead Space 3 still looks like an atmospheric and fiercely competent action game. Isaac has clearly been having the futuristic equivalent of Hot Yoga sessions, as he’s generally a little quicker on his feet this time around and can now combat-roll away from danger when things get bad. He’s also joined by a brand new co-op partner, in the form of Sergeant John Carver, an EarthGov super-soldier and all-round grumpy hard nut whose family has been wiped out by the Necromorphs.
Co-op play is of the drop-in, drop-out variety, and although it will open new paths through the levels and even unlock the odd additional side mission, it’s entirely optional. Inevitably, it makes the whole thing even less scary than it already is at this point in the series. Down on the frozen surface of the ice planet Tau Volantis, however, there are suggestions that the developers haven’t completely given up on creating an air of prickly tension. Snowstorms reduce visibility, while nearby science installations are covered with flapping cables and guide wires, encouraging us to waste precious ammo shooting at shadows.
Carver’s presence has also enabled the design team to scale up the enemies, chucking the duo against a vast hairy spider known as the Snow Beast, and a huge out-of-control drill. The latter has a glowing core that has to be shot out using well-timed blasts of stasis while your partner keeps you safe from the crowd of Necromorph monsters and Unitologist soldiers now gunning after you as well. The developers have yet to reveal all of the game’s new weapons and enemies, but with the head count steadily increasing in most battles, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the firepower starts to escalate too.
If Dead Space 3 can’t always keep you quaking in your spaceboots, it should at least keep you busy. That’s not the ideal path for a survival horror franchise to take, but it’s better than the alternative – which is generally an accidental lunge towards painful self‑parody.