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Faith
I love Mirror’s Edge. It’s one of my favourite games of the last console generation. Thanks to some fantastic controls, its immersive viewpoint and that now-famous sense of movement and flow, it allowed me some vicarious sense of free-running across a beautiful-yet-sterile cityscape, all without having to worry about smashing my precious knees.

So when a sequel/prequel/reimagining/whatever was announced back at E3 in 2013, it was immediately a day one buy for me. Since that unveiling, we’ve learnt about the game’s open world setting, which has been a source of consternation for some; was the game set in an open environment simply to tick a box? What kinds of things would we be doing in this world? Would it subsequently suffer from the open world bloat that blights so many videogame worlds? With last week’s short, three-day closed beta now over, we can answer some of those questions.

The beta afforded us a decent-sized chunk of the City of Glass to run around in, and featured a small handful of story missions – including the climb through the Elysium building we saw at Gamescom last year – to get us oriented in this reimagined world. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a reboot of sorts, though the broad strokes seem to be the same; Faith is of course still a ‘runner’ in this near-future dystopia, essentially a punkishly rebellious courier, and once again her parents were outspoken critics of the borderline-totalitarian establishment. Some unspecified trauma in Faith’s past has led her to become a runner, and as we begin the beta she’s just out of juvie after a two-year stint. What we have here is a younger, more cocksure rendition of Faith, taking risks and defying authority almost as soon as she’s let out of her perspex prison. I wonder if in the full game we’ll get a playable prologue explaining quite how she got there.

It’s an effective start, and the beta is pretty quick to give us control and let us run. The first thing to note is how familiar it all feels: essentially, we’ve got one button for up (jump), and one button for down (crouch), just as in the original game, and wall-runs, springboards and everything else all feel the same as they did back in 2008. This is a very good thing indeed; Dice nailed Faith’s movement on the first try, and traversal isn’t where they needed to innovate. That’s where the move to an open world comes in, and while the City of Glass does feel rather empty at the moment, how much of that is down to this being merely a small slice of the full product remains to be seen.

Restless

Of course, there is a decent amount of ‘stuff’ to be done in the beta, but how compelling it is will come down to the individual. There are time trials – called Dashes here – and rooftop delivery runs, and a number of data bundles and security chips littered across the rooftops waiting for an agile runner to pilfer, but I can’t quite escape the feeling that it’s all stuff I’ve done a thousand times before in a hundred other worlds. However, that the core traversal feels so damn good elevates these tasks somewhat; it’s just fun getting to and from each mission, and I think they’re a more than acceptable trade-off if it means we get this gameplay loop in an open setting.

Getting around the city can be made even better by simply turning off Runner Vision. In the first game, Runner Vision picked out a path for you by highlighting navigable terrain in bright red – unnecessary as that was in such a linear game. Here, you can either have ‘classic’ Runner Vision, which does much the same thing, ‘full’, which basically gives you a ghost to follow, or ‘off’. The latter is the best way to play the game, especially here in an open setting where there’s more than one path – there’s a whole lot of fun to be had simply picking a point on your map, setting a waypoint, and then just finding your own way there, turning something as simple as getting to a mission into a challenging climbing and navigation puzzle as you find your own way over, under and across the City of Glass.

There’s another staple of gaming in the 21st century that has found its way into Mirror’s Edge, and this one I’m not entirely sold on. In the menus, you’ll find three skill trees for movement, combat and gear, each with a broad array of abilities to unlock. As a big RPG fan, I’m certainly not against the inclusion of skill trees, but one thing about the system implemented here that irks me somewhat is that skills that were a core part of your repertoire in the original game are now locked behind an XP system – things like that quick 180-turn, tucking your legs while jumping to clear higher obstacles, or even the skill roll that allows you to maintain your momentum after a long drop. All abilities that you’d use frequently in the original Mirror’s Edge, and all abilities that would be very useful to have in the early stages of this beta, when you have to do without them. With the move to an open world, I can understand that there is some need for gating; allowing the player to get anywhere in the game world right from the off would probably give the mission designers massive headaches, but in a game built entirely around movement, I’d prefer to have everything available from the start and have areas gated by gear, instead. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst seems to have both, and obviously the game is going to be designed around having to unlock stuff, so in practice it shouldn’t be an issue. It still chafes somewhat though, knowing that the full repertoire of Faith’s traversal skills aren’t available from the off, as they were in the original.

Skill tree

Where I can see the skill trees working well is with combat, which has seen something of an overhaul for Catalyst. While gunplay was a very minor part of the original game, it’s now been excised completely in favour of bolstering hand-to-hand combat. Weaker strikes with Faith’s hands are mapped to the X button and can be used while running to knock foes out of the way without slowing down, while kicks are on Y and can cause enemies to stagger. Kicking an enemy with a left or right directional input will knock the enemy sideways, often into an ally, causing both to stumble and giving Faith an opening, while the right trigger in combination with the movement stick grants a directional dodge. This can even be used to circle strafe enemies, and it’s endlessly entertaining to swing ’round the back of an enemy and kick him in the butt, sending him stumbling off the edge of a building to certain doom. It’s enjoyable to play around with and far more than the necessary evil that combat often was in the original game. Additional, unlockable skills should help to keep it fresh and fun.

But for all that’s new, the crucial thing to take away is that this looks, sounds and feels like Mirror’s Edge. How all those additional systems of progression and questing will shake out, we can only wait for the full game to discover, but Dice have absolutely nailed that same sense of immersive flow that made the first game so great, and allowed me to keep my knees in one piece.

inqgroup
It’s fair to say that in the run-up to release, many have approached Dragon Age: Inquisition with, at best, cautious optimism. Others of course, have been downright pessimistic, lingering memories of Dragon Age 2‘s more reductive ideas and restrictive world still playing on their minds.

Some of us have been less restrained than the rest however, so when the game popped up on Xbox One’s EA Access service I couldn’t help myself. Six hours of pre-release Dragon Age fun? Oh go on then. The only problem I had to contend with was what class/race combo I was going to roll. My Warden in Origins was a Dalish rogue, but my Hawke in Dragon Age 2 was a mage, and I had loved both. So I decided to try both, playing the first hour as an elven archer before restarting and eventually settling on a towering qunari mage (don’t call me saarebas!); I have to admit, witnessing every other character in the game craning their neck to look my Inquisitor in the eye was amusing. With that, it was into the game proper.

The first hour takes the form of a prologue dealing with the immediate aftermath of a magical catastrophe at the Temple of the Sacred Ashes in Haven. What was supposed to be a peace summit to end the conflict between mages and templars that began in Dragon Age 2 ends in the deaths of hundreds, with your player character the only survivor. You awake in chains, confused, and you’re soon heading out with Cassandra to attempt to close the Breach that hangs ominously in the sky, and hopefully save your own life into the bargain. Everyone assumes you’re the cause of the cataclysm, so it might be prudent to do something about that.

The prologue is fairly linear, and sees you travelling up frozen mountain paths, battling demons and closing smaller rifts as you head towards the now-ruined temple and the enormous hole torn in the heavens above it. You’re introduced to dwarven rogue Varric (who has thoughtfully brought Bianca along) and elven apostate Solas, and as we battled our way up the mountain, I was immediately reminded of the Sacred Ashes trailer for the original game. This short prologue feels like it gets closer to achieving what that trailer promised than the relevant quest in Origins ever did (sans dragon, obviously), and you’re travelling through the same part of the world, too. I can’t help but wonder if the call-back is intentional.

After fighting your way up the mountain, you reach a forward operating base where you’re afforded your first choice. You need to push onward to the Breach, but do you take a dangerous mountain pass where some of Cassandra’s soldiers have disappeared, hoping to discover their fate along the way, or do you charge through the valley with the bulk of the forces? Ultimately, both sections play out much the same; a small rift battle, and a run-in with an NPC – Cullen, if you storm the valley. Upon reaching your destination, Varric worriedly points out that the Temple is infested with primeval red lyrium, and as you attempt to prise open the rift in order to properly seal it, an enormous pride demon bursts from the Fade to stop you.

Entering tac cam pauses the action at any point. Great for the screenshot junkies.

Entering tac cam pauses the action at any point. Great for the screenshot junkies.

It’s a great first boss battle, an arena-based affair with a huge boss to wear down, a few waves of adds to deal with, and that Fade rift that needs closing. It’s also a good time to get fully to grips with Inquisition’s combat, which neatly blends elements from both of its predecessors. Should you choose to play entirely in real-time, the game plays much like Dragon Age 2, though with auto-attack mapped to a hold of the right trigger rather than requiring constant bashing of the A button. You also have eight quickslots for your talents now instead of six, with the right bumper button added to the previous games’ X, Y and B slots. The left trigger now switches between sets of four talents.

Playing entirely in real-time however means ignoring Inquisition‘s tactical camera, resurrected from Origins‘ PC release and now available on all platforms. Fans of the console titles’ radial menu-based pause-and-play system may mourn its loss (with the radial menu, on left bumper, now offering simple commands like potions and party-hold), but really you’re trading up here. You can enter tac cam at any point during gameplay, which allows you to scan the battlefield before even getting into combat, scoping out enemy positions, strengths, weaknesses and immunities at a glance, and the overhead view makes it possible to inspect the terrain, making it easier to move ranged characters onto higher ground, perhaps, or position a tank in a chokepoint to draw enemies in. And if you’re playing as a mage, the tac cam is invaluable in making the most of your AoE spells.

Much has been made of the fact that mages in Dragon Age: Inquisition have no healing spells, but it’s really not an issue. You have a finite pool of healing potions, but they can be re-stocked at a camp, which you can fast-travel to from anywhere. Moreover, the focus here is on damage mitigation rather than heal-spamming; warriors can generate Guard, a second health bar that protects main health by soaking up some damage, while mages have an area-of-effect spell called Barrier that does much the same, albeit for a period of time. It means that it’s no longer absolutely necessary to have a mage in the party, and should help to encourage more flexible party composition.

After defeating the pride demon and halting the expansion of the breach, you’re hailed as the Herald of Andraste. After a brief 80s TV-style “gettin’-things-done” montage, the Inquisition is reborn and you’re off to the game’s first truly open area, The Hinterlands. A verdant, fertile stretch of land in the heart of Ferelden, the region and its people are under threat thanks to the conflict between mages and templars. The first time you open your map to see a vast expanse of icons littering the Hinterlands, it’s more than a little overwhelming; it can be difficult to figure out where your focus should be, and so you strike out with your party to explore the surroundings. Don’t go too far in one direction though, as you’ll likely get wrecked by a roving group of bandits or maybe even an ill-tempered bear or two.

The best idea seems to be to spiral outward from your starting area, filling in your map as you go and and establishing further camps in the wilderness that you can use to rest, refill your potion stocks and even fast travel between. Doing so also extends the Inquisition’s reach through an in-game currency called ‘Power’ that you will need to accrue in order to further the story and unlock more regions. There are landmarks to claim for your faction and quests to undertake are everywhere. A good few of these seem to take the form of the “kill x of y” template so beloved of MMOs, but if you get bored of monster-culling, there’s always something else to do, like hunting down mysterious magical shards, picking herbs for crafting, or even just exploring to find yet another pretty vista. There’s so much to do – after five hours, I had uncovered what appeared to be less than half of the map of the Hinterlands, and this is just one region out of about ten. This game will eat your life.

Dragon Age Inquisition Hinterlands Map

This was my map of The Hinterlands after five hours.

Dragon Age: Inquisition absolutely nails the sense of exploration that I have always felt the series was lacking; with the exception of the relatively-sprawling Korcari Wilds, Dragon Age: Origins was fairly narrow in its environmental design, and the smaller scale of Dragon Age 2‘s world is now legendary. Inquisition updates Dragon Age for a post-Skyrim world, though you’d be hard-pressed to call it a copy; while you can and will (and, more importantly, should) head off into the great unknown to discover what lurks in that dense forest or over that nearby hill, Inquisition‘s Thedas isn’t one large, contiguous landmass like Skyrim, but rather a number of large zones – again, that impression of an MMO comes to the fore – and though The Hinterlands is the only one I’ve seen so far it is absolutely rammed with all kinds of stuff to find and do, and positively dripping with detail. Just like in Skyrim, you’ll find yourself frequently side-tracked in the middle of a quest by some strange landmark that catches your magpie eye.

And this is to say nothing of the game’s visuals, which are splendid. Inquisition is absolutely drenched in colour, The Hinterlands coming across almost as a bright fairytale countryside, though torn with strife and infighting. Yet the fields and forests still teem with wildlife, some of which you’re going to have to hunt down to fulfil some of those aforementioned quests. In the snow-covered paths of the Frostback Mountains that make up the prologue, the sun glints off of the cracks in frozen-over streams and characters leave footprints in the snow as the powder kicked up by your party’s feet is carried away on the wind. The environment is so dense that after a couple of hours you’re given a search function (mapped to a click of the left stick) that subtly picks out nearby loot that might otherwise blend into the detail-rich scene. Codex entries and misplaced letters can be found all over the place, filling out the history of the region, and even landmarks inform you of their history when you claim them. You’ll stumble across mages and templars engaged in pitched battles, crafting materials will slowly grow back after you’ve passed through to harvest them, and heaven help you if, under-levelled, you wander into a surly bear’s territory. You get a sense of an environment that exists alongside you as much as it does for you, a world that could move on with or without your input.

After five hours, I can already see I’m going to lose weeks to Inquisition. BioWare has always made games that are reactive, but I’ve long wanted their settings to feel more like a real, sprawling world, rather than an interconnected set of places, and here the fantasy series feels like it’s really reaching to grasp its potential.

This is the most expansive Dragon Age has ever been, the most alive Thedas has ever felt.

The Titanfall beta is currently underway, a few weeks ahead of the game’s March 11th release on PC, 360 and Xbox One, and I managed to get hold of a code for the XBO version yesterday afternoon. I had to rely on a friendly forumite on one of the gaming sites I frequent (despite having registered minutes after the site went live…), and have managed to get a few games in so far. Now, the beta is fully open to all XBO owners, with a full, open beta on the way for PC.

So, some impressions are in order. The beta contains three game modes (Attrition, Hardpoint Domination and Last Titan Standing) across two maps (Angel City and Fracture), and so far I’ve had a few matches on each map of both Attrition (TDM) and Hardpoint (which is essentially a three-hill King of the Hill gametype).

First thing’s first: I suck at Attrition. I’m really bad at it. The only FPS I’ve ever played in competitive multiplayer are the Halo games, so this is quite a change of pace for me; encounters are far shorter, and I keep burst firing the AR as if it’s Halo‘s MA5 – old habits die hard, I guess. I’m far better at Hardpoint; I always did prefer objective gametypes in Halo, and this mode compliments my sneaky, defensive playstyle better than the all-out war of Attrition.

It also allows you to use your Titan in more tactical ways: hardpoints tend to be inside buildings, so you can double-jump through a window, capture your objective, and then set up shop inside, guarding all interior approaches with your shotgun and active camouflage, while your Titan, set to guard mode, defends the outer approaches. It’s a great deal of fun. Here’s five minutes of my last game (also showing the xp/level up screen and some in-game challenges), captured with the XBO’s GameDVR function. Unfortunately, it seems to compress the hell out of Titanfall clips for some reason, so the quality isn’t great, but enjoy.

I haven’t yet played Last Titan Standing, whose name speaks for itself – everyone begins the round with a Titan, and when one team has lost all of their mechs, it’s the end of the round. Of course, you can get out of your Titan and have it follow you or stand its ground (either way, it will engage nearby enemies), but once your Titan and your Pilot are defeated, there are no respawns. I’m planning on giving it a try later on tonight, so expect another video.

A couple of aspects of Titanfall have been drawing some criticism – the graphics and the AI grunts. Graphically, I think it’s a good-looking game. It’s not going to wow anyone on a technical level, but art design is generally pretty strong and animations are smooth. By no means does it look bad, and looking up to the sky to see a Titan drop in is unlikely to ever get old – it’s a pretty thrilling sight, especially if you manage to drop it on a bunch of enemies for added carnage.

Secondly, the AI grunts in the game aren’t really bots. They’re fodder to help you get your Titan faster (each AI kill knocks a few seconds off of your Titan clock, which is always counting down anyway), and they also add a bit of flavour to the world; stumble upon a group of friendly AI and they’ll be happy to see you and sometimes even call out targets. And despite their weak nature (they react slower and go down far quicker than a player-controller enemy), they can still surprise you, as I found out during a game of Hardpoint. They don’t seem to show up on the minimap, and so can get the jump on you if you aren’t paying attention or are fixated on another target. You can see me fall foul of this at the 1:30 mark in my above video. Yes, I got killed by an AI grunt. The shame.

Some have speculated that the grunts are in the game to make up the numbers, considering that Titanfall is ‘only’ a 6v6 game, but it never feels like there are only twelve players in play – even disregarding the grunts, at any one time each player could have a Titan in the map, following them around or guarding a specific point. It feels like a hectic futuristic warzone, especially in Attrition, which I found a little overwhelming at first – the pace, combined with the amount of carnage going on, was a lot to process when you’re first thrust into the game. Hardpoint Domination definitely feels a bit more considered, and there’s a definite ebb and flow to the game, but it still retains some of that frantic pace that defines Attrition.

So far, I’m quite liking Titanfall. It definitely has that ‘one more go’ factor that is so important in games of this type. I’ll need a good few more games before I really get into the swing of things, but I’m certainly looking forward to the full release next month and, as someone who prefers single player over multi, I’m interested to see how Respawn’s ‘campaign multiplayer’ works out. I’d have much preferred a standard single player mode, but I understand the reasons behind the developer’s choice here. Given how fun the beta is, I’m willing to give Vince Zampella and his team the benefit of the doubt.

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.


In an open letter on their website, BioWare has just announced the third game in their fantasy RPG series, Dragon Age. Subtitled ‘Inquisition’, the title will be powered by the fellow EA studio DICE’s Frostbite 2 tech, the engine behind the Battlefield games, which will apparently allow for a “more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices and more customisation”.

The letter was penned by Executive Producer Mark Darrah, and in it, he explains that Inquisition has been in development in some form for around two years, with work ramping up around 18 months ago, and that the development team is made up by much of the team that made the first two games in the series.

Dragon Age 2 caught a lot of flack from fans of Origins (I must admit I haven’t played it; I never even finished Origins as I managed to pick the most redundant class, and then my save ended up bugged), and Darrah promised that BioWare have indeed been listening to fan feedback:

“Part of that effort has involved you, our fans, and the feedback you’ve provided for Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and their DLC. We’ve visited message boards, read reviews, and we’ve gone to events to have direct face to face conversations with some of our most passionate fans. We’ve been listening, and we will continue to listen.”, he said.

No platforms are being discussed yet, but the game is due to launch in late 2013. Could Dragon Age 3: Inquisition be a next-gen launch title, or will it be a last hurrah for our now-aging consoles?

At any rate, I’m going to have to finish Origins and then play Dragon Age 2 in the next year! How do fans of the franchise feel about this announcement? Let me know in the comments below.

Read Mark Darrah’s open letter here:
http://dragonage.bioware.com/inquisition/