Dead Space is still scary. That's the overarching message that Visceral and EA have been striving to hit home for Dead Space 3, and with the addition of co-op being something of a sticking point for fans, it's been a bit of an uphill battle convincing punters that Dead Space is still all about generating suspense and terror. The thing is, Dead Space 3 is really the only big blockbusting survival horror game in town these days, so you can understand why we're all so concerned that the scares might be toned down for the latest instalment. Thankfully, it appears that the terror is still very much intact based on our latest look at the game.
This latest hands-on takes Isaac to Tau Volantis once again, this time demonstrating the same scenario in both single-player and co-op. We find Isaac alone trudging through the snow at first, while a Unitology ship patrols above, scanning the icy ground below with its searchlight, looking for signs of life to extinguish with its cannons. As the ship circles overhead, we fail to avoid the light, meaning we need to quickly break into a sprint and find shelter. Isaac's new multi-directional roll manoeuvre proves rather useful here for dodging the aerial gunfire as it thumps into the snow around us.
Finding a momentary reprieve, Isaac emerges onto the planet's surface once more only to run into some gun-toting Unitologists. With Isaac's mission involving the destruction of the mysterious marker that the Unitologists happen to worship, they're none too happy with our presence here. So preparing for a gun battle we quickly have to switch tactics as a Twitcher Necromorph intervenes, butchering the marker-worshipping antagonists in a flurry of arterial spray and flying limbs. Using Isaac's trusty stasis ability, we're able to slow the Twitchers down and dismember them with a steady hand using our combined assault rifle and ripper weapon, making short work of the fast-moving spindly creatures.
Finding another rare quiet moment, we deploy one of Isaac's new tools, the Scavenger bot, which autonomously seeks out salvage items and resources for use on the weapon crafting bench, as well as ammo and med-packs, saving the time it would normally take to gather them. Forging ahead, we encounter four more Twitchers that threaten to tear Isaac to shreds, but judicious, careful use of stasis again buys us valuable time and space to carve them up. Clearing a path, we soon find ourselves back indoors, treading familiar ground through narrow, decaying, rusty corridors where you need to keep your eye on ventilation shafts for Necromorph ambushes.
As ever, the audio is intense during these sections, keeping you on edge as you stalk the confined passageways, keeping your flashlight primed and ready for any sign of a marauding monster. Tackling this stretch of corridor is straightforward for Isaac, but for his co-op partner, James Carver, it's an entirely different experience. Jumping into co-op, we take control of Carver, accessing a previously off-limits area through an otherwise locked door. Like Isaac, Carver is haunted by his own nightmarish delusions and hallucinations, some of which play out as surreal sequences that completely transform the environment.
What Isaac sees as real, Carver re-imagines through the onset of his bizarre 'dementia', brought about by the traumatic memory of seeing his wife and child murdered by Necromorphs. Clearly, Carver has his own demons to face that are manifested in a number of strange objects and experiences. Seeing toy soldiers constantly lining the corridors that represent his deceased son, Carver's sanity is evidently a very fragile thing, meaning Isaac assumes the role of the voice of reason, offering consoling words to his co-op buddy. And while Isaac deals with an onslaught of Necromorphs, Carver might be whisked away into his own torturous mindscape, plagued by the memory of his shattered life.
One such moment transports Carver into his living room as it collapses around him and he's forced to outrun the floor as it falls out from beneath his feet. Meanwhile, Isaac is ensconced in the reality of staving off the extra-terrestrial infestation, before Carver emerges from his nightmare only to be greeted with a vision of his dead wife right in front of him. In reality, it's Isaac talking to Carver, desperately trying to calm him down. It's an interesting conflict in the two characters, that ensures playing as Isaac and playing as Carver are two completely different experiences, despite following the same essential path, albeit with new areas dotted around here and there.
As Carver and Isaac exit the claustrophobic Research Facility, we're faced with a pack of Stalkers from Dead Space 2 lurking amongst shipping crates out in the snow. Isaac's ripper/assault rifle combo works a treat again here, while we're able to provide effective support with Carver's assault rifle and flamethrower attachment. With the Stalkers exterminated, our demo concludes and we're left craving more. Evidently, any concerns regarding Dead Space 3's capacity for providing moments of terror are unfounded, and Visceral looks to be sticking to what it does best.
Co-op, while potentially diluting the horror in providing a buddy to rely on, is also shaping up to be a terrifying journey in itself. Carver might not be so reliable in a pinch, injecting an element of uncertainty to the 2-player experience. Single-player will be where it's at for many, but if like us, you're an avid Dead Space fan, then the prospect of playing through Dead Space 3 once alone and then a second time in co-op sounds too good to pass up. Bottom line? Dead Space 3 is looking in fine shape and Visceral doesn't appear to be toying with the formula too much. At this point, you can certainly count us in.
Dead Space 3 is out on February 5th, 2013 in North America and February 8th, 2013.