Dead Space 3 goes out on a limb at E3 2012
The guy next to me is sitting bolt upright. A few seconds earlier he jumped then whimpered after a necromorph popped up from nowhere - which, in terms of survival horror, is basically the oldest trick in the book. Dead Space 3 might not resemble a traditional horror game to you or I, but it's clearly enough to give at least one person in the world the willies.
But Dead Space 3 isn't even marketed as horror any more - developer Visceral says it's an "epic action game", but insists that the same tenet was used in the conception of Dead Space five years ago.
Of course, the original didn't have you up against human enemies and necromorphs brandishing guns. Dead Space 3 is clearly a very different game to its predecessors, though Visceral is adamant the game will still feature plenty of tight, spooky corridors and tension in its single-player campaign.
The game's co-op mode - Dead Space 3's headline feature is support for online-only drop-in, drop-out play - tells a slightly different story, putting you through the same scenes but lightening the tension by plopping you within earshot of new character Carver, who comes with a red-tinted RIG and plenty of colourful complaints about the current necromorph situation. He's not a fan.
Visceral Promises that the game's co-op mode will also feature unique missions, collectibles, and a whole new meta-system that will drive the game.
The action takes place on the Marker homeworld of Tau Volantis, and the game promises to further explore the connection between the necromorphs and those cryptic alien markers. There's plenty of new stuff on Tau Volantis, and while we didn't to see many claustrophobic areas in the E3 demonstration Visceral Games assures us that they're also in there.
The demo level opens with Isaac waking up frozen and bloodied, dangling upside down after his ship lands on the planet. He's got two black eyes and Ellie Langford, his love interest from the second game, has gone missing. Setting out to find her, Isaac has to battle through a blizzard and ends up in an Uncharted-like sequence where he's trapped in a JCB dangling over a cliff. He also shoots the occasional necromorph, and the odd human baddie too.
It's clear Dead Space 3 is opting for a greater focus on action, and it's a bit of a shame to see the series' distinctive laser pointers modified into a clearer and more standard reticule. Isaac can use his telekinesis powers to throw grenades back at his unitologist enemies, and the game now has a crouch feature but no snap-to cover system. It's a scrappier game than before, heading into open pastures, but still pitting you against big boss monsters, and in the demo you fight an arachnid as it knocks you from an elevator.
In single-player, you're left to your own devices - Carver only takes a peripheral, distant role in the proceedings. It seems Visceral Games is trying its best to give everyone what they want: isolated loners can gorge on the tense experience they've been craving, and gun-ho action fans can get in on a gooey monster blaster. I'm not sure if it's possible for the studio to succeed on both fronts, but it's certainly an interesting approach to take.
As the snowstorm clears Isaac (and possibly Carver, of course) is pitted against one of the more controversial additions to Dead Space 3's announcement: a giant drill, which the duo have to disable before it spins them into itty bitty chunks. "You're the rocket scientist," barks Carver, promising an entire game of the kind of jocular dialogue that makes buddy cop movies so entertaining.
At the end of the demo, Isaac and Carver are swallowed by a monolithic Necromorph monster and tumble down into its stomach. And the guy sitting next to me is so frightened he can't watch: he's covering his eyes.
Dead Space 3 will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in February 2013