ds3The Dead Space 3 demo is finally here (though it has been available for about a week for anyone brave enough to sign up to EA’s Origin service), so as a massive fan of the previous two games, I was eager to try it out. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been quite wary regarding Dead Space 3; the initial reveal showcased a number of things I didn’t want anywhere near a Dead Space sequel, like human enemies, bro-op gunfights and cover. It’s not that I dislike these elements, but I have other games to deliver that kind of experience for me.

I thought I’d be massively hyped for a new Dead Space by now (the last one ended up being my favourite game of 2011, after all), but instead I’ve found myself worryingly indifferent to the game – everything I saw of it seemed to be moving away from what I wanted, so I just stopped paying attention and decided to ignore everything until I could play it myself. While this had the intended effect of allowing me to bypass both the hype and the inevitable internet hate-storm, it also meant I began to care less and less.

But it’s almost upon us, and I can ignore it no longer. Luckily for me, the demo downloaded nice and quickly from Xbox Live and I was able to try the game out for myself and at least attempt to come to some kind of conclusion…

The demo opens with our haunted former space mechanic Isaac Clarke regaining consciousness, seemingly in the cockpit of a ship. Seeing as he wakes upside-down, it’s safe to assume he’s crashed that ship. Isaac frees himself and crawls out of the wreckage to find himself in an arctic waste with metallic debris all around. Fires rage from the wreck as cold winds blow flurries of snow all around reducing visibility to a few metres. I’m initially struck by a comparison to the snowy mountain level in Jake and Sherry’s campaign in Resident Evil 6, except not as awful – while visibility is low here, we can still actually see enough of what lies ahead to not be completely snowblind. Isaac resolves to find rest of his crew. His crew? We know Dead Space 2‘s Ellie makes a return and we certainly know about soldier new boy Carver, but could there be more companions for Isaac this time around? Hmm…

As we make our way through the snow-covered heights, Necromorphs make their first appearance early on. It’s no big surprise or shock when they do arrive, and due to the amount of ammo the demo loads you up with, they’re no match for Isaac. As I reload, I notice the ammo seems to be universal, usable for all weapons. I’m not sure what to make of this just yet – it could be a rare instance of streamlining that proves useful, but it could also erode some of the inventory management you expect from a survival horror. I mentioned Resident Evil 6 before, and I’m reminded of that game yet again as we make our way around a cliff edge. As Isaac tries to clamber over a truck that hinders his path, it unsurprisingly starts to fall over the precipice. Isaac survives the section with some QTEs which seem a bit more heavy-handed than I remember seeing in either of the previous Dead Space titles – wasn’t the only use of QTEs before to shake off the Swarmers? Perhaps there were more and I’m simply forgetting them? Either way, the prompts here aren’t terrible, but the section could just as well have been a cutscene.

We eventually find ourselves in a large snow-blanketed courtyard area with a large metal platform creating a wall to our left. Carver appears above and shouts for Isaac to make his way to the command centre before spinning to fire as necromorphs converge on his location. Ducking into a small room to power the generator, Isaac activates a lift to reach the platform Carver was on. As we slowly ascend, we are attacked by a large, insectoid monstrosity with spidery legs that tears the lift from the wall. Flinging Isaac back down to the ground, it shapes for a fight, and a few throws of stasis and a few shots at its glowing orange weak spots see it off, but not before it helpfully creates a path up to the platform. Thanks, undead spider freak. On the other side of the wall is a monstrosity of a different sort; our first glimpse of human enemies. Ok, so it’s not that bad – it’s actually a three-sided battle between Unitologists, Necromorphs and Isaac, and the Necros convert our human foes into their own kind very quickly, meaning we don’t really get a feel for fighting human opponents.

As Isaac makes his way through the mining facility, we come face to face with a (hopefully) dead example of the spider creature we fought a few moments ago, suspended from the ceiling and numbered, and from the trench painstakingly dug out beneath him, it seems someone has been engaging in a spot of archaeology. What are they looking for, I wonder? Not a Marker, the pit is far too shallow. Hmm, mysteries… But mysteries we don’t have long to ponder, as we face a new enemy. This one is a… well, it’s a head. An evil bloody head that screams like a banshee and attaches itself to any chunk of flesh it can, regardless of limb capacity. It’s certainly an annoying little bugger; by the time you’ve reduced the body it’s in to a limbless torso, it’s already jumped to another, so you’ll have to catch it out in the open and finish the parasite off for good. Do NOT let these things jump at you, unless you wish to see Isaac’s head replaced with a new one.

After this encounter, we stumble from the darkness out onto the snowy cliffs again, in time to witness a beautiful yet incredibly creepy vista of the bright, orange sun setting over Tau Volantis, with an enormous bony Necromorph structure that looks to be about the same size as the final boss from the original Dead Space. It looks like a great, grotesque bone dragon, like some twisted, mutated dragon skeleton from Skyrim, only hundreds of times bigger, though thankfully it appears to be frozen in ice and snow. This towering monument serves as the backdrop to our second three-way battle, as a squad of Unitologists retreat from the Necromorph onslaught. This time, it’s easy to stand back and wait for a winner (that’ll be the Necros, then) to be decided before picking off the stragglers and making your way through the door that the hideous mutants burst from.

Inside, we find a large circular hall, and a huge drill that is being obstructed by two security gates that we need to free with kinesis. The idea is to move the gigantic drill bit so that we can get through to the passage beyond it, but of course, nothing ever goes to plan in Isaac Clarke’s world. As we set the drill free, the circular pit enters lockdown and the drill spins up murderously, following Isaac in a wide circle around the room. Obviously, we need to escape, and to do so we’ll need to hit the drill with stasis a few times to have an opportunity to take out its fuse, hidden in the centre of the whirring drill blades. Of course, while we’re trying to slow the drill and get a few shots off, we’re assaulted by wave upon wave upon wave (no exaggeration) of clawing undead mutants. They certainly know when best to strike, the clever bastards! It’s best to thin the herd a little before taking a pop at the drill, lest the variety pack of Necromorphs keep clawing at both your face and attention. We need to hit the drill three times, degrading its condition further each time, to open up the path before us, and it’s a pretty frantic, enjoyable section; you need to stay out of the path of the increasingly erratic drill bit, evade or take out necromorphs, and try and hit the fuse all at once. It’s good fun, and brought back positive memories of the Event Horizon-influenced engine section that was featured in the demo of Dead Space 2.

As we make our way outside, pulse steadily dropping from the frantic scenes beforehand, we find Carver outside crouching infront of us in a rather peculiar way. There’s a battle going on that he seems to be uninterested in – a bug perhaps? Ignoring Carver’s strange crouching, we notice that there’s another guy too, and he’s on our side. Who the hell is this guy? Well, we have no time to ponder Mystery Dude’s identity, as a sleek dropship swoops in to land troops, and Unitologists take up positions. This time, there are no Necromorphs to distract either side, so a cover-based gunfight erupts. I pull the left trigger to hug a wall, click right stick to crouch behind a crate and start to return fire. Dimly, I realise that I’m not hating this, but I’m not particularly enjoying it either; it’s just kind of… happening. It’s not that the cover shooting is poorly implemented here, but my idea of Dead Space is not hiding behind a box taking potshots at other people hiding behind other boxes on the far side of an arena – it just doesn’t work here, not for me. The untilogists also seem to take a good few shots – I headshot one three times with the Plasma Cutter before he goes down, which just seems to go against everything we expect from Dead Space. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate fighting unitologists.

Blessedly, the gunfight doesn’t last long as that enormous bony ice-dragon thing we spied from the cliff earlier appears to devour all of our pious foes. It almost gets Isaac too, and as our protagonist scrambles to his feet to face the nightmare, the demo draws to a close.

I wish I could say for sure whether I liked or disliked this demo. I’m struggling to work out quite what I thought of it. The setting feels pleasingly in-universe, in that it feels like a place that might exist in Dead Space‘s canon, but I just don’t really like the snowy setting very much – I’ve always been a fan of Dead Space‘s dark, gritty industrial settings, though the more ornate areas in Dead Space 2 also impressed, such as the Church of Unitology’s place of worship on the Sprawl – that worked because the church itself was incredibly creepy, a strange amalgam of gothic architecture and HR Giger, and the primary school was just all kinds of wrong. But a snowy planet with some mining equipment doesn’t unsettle me in quite the same way. I’m hoping that it’s just poor choice for a demo section, but the second game’s demo started off incredibly creepy, in the frosty, cramped cryo bay area. As things stand, I’m a little worried that the snowy wastes of Tau Volantis will make up the majority of the game.

As I said above, I know for sure that I hated fighting the Unitologists, at least in this demo – it remains to be seen if the full game will differ in this regard. Hiding behind boxes and taking pot shots at distant enemies just feels too out of place for Dead Space, and the experience undermines what we expect from our weaponry; Dead Space fans know the Plasma Cutter as a deadly tool of strategic dismemberment, so seeing it take three headshots to down a human foe immediately downgrades it to futuristic pea-shooter. I don’t recall seeing any dismemberment from human enemies either – from what I could see, they just dropped dead, all in one piece. This doesn’t disappoint me because I’m a bloodthirsty maniac that needs to see limbs flying off in all directions, but because it doesn’t feel right within the gameworld.

Having said all that admittedly negative stuff, there are positives. The mini-boss battle partway through the demo gave me hopes that elsewhere in the game we might see some heart-in-mouth encounters like the necromorph boss in DS2 that tries to kill Isaac on the train, and boss battles have long been a Dead Space highlight for me. Likewise, the use of both kinesis and stasis are as enjoyable as ever, and the drill set-piece was a fantastic few minutes of frantic, slightly panicky fun. I didn’t mention the new Bench that allows you to create your own gun combinations (I welded a Line Gun to a Plasma Rifle, both of which can be operated independently), which should open up more avenues for personalisation and tactical play. The issue of universal ammo, I’m not sure what to make of – it should mean never running out of ammo for your favourite gun, but will it detract from the inventory management minigame at the heart of a good survival horror? Only time will tell.

I think it’s a given that I’ll be buying Dead Space 3. I like the story, the universe and the mysteries too much to just ignore it completely. But I’m undecided whether I’ll be buying it on day one. I’d hoped this demo would sway me one way or another, but I just can’t make up my damn mind about it.

Advertisements