E3 2012: Dead Space 3 Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 23, 2012, 1:34PM EDT

The original Dead Space burst onto the scene earlier this hardware generation - with its dismemberment mechanics, intricate presentation and generally tense atmosphere - to fill a growing void within the hotly-contested survival-horror genre. Since then the series seems to have veered somewhat toward the action-oriented side of things, featuring increasingly outrageous boss battles and epic set-pieces. Visceral Games hopes Dead Space 3 will be a natural evolution of, and bridge between, these differing styles - introducing co-op, human enemies and increasingly grandiose moments, while still retaining some semblance of isolation and exploration.

Dead Space 3 picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor, with protagonist Isaac Clarke continuing on his quest to unravel the mysteries of the Marker and the Necromorph menace. Isaac travels to the frozen planet of Tau Volantis in search of more information on these rapidly-expanding threats to humanity. He quickly encounters a large Unitologist presence, alongside some absolutely massive Necromorph beasts, and expectedly, things take a decided turn for the worse from there. Visceral is promising that Dead Space 3 will reward the player's investment in the series, by shedding light on many of the lingering questions surrounding the universe, and providing some closure on Isaac's long journey.

Arguably, the biggest design change in Dead Space 3 is the introduction of co-op throughout the campaign. The game will feature two-player drop-in, drop-out multiplayer, allowing a friend to jump into the fray online at any time. This announcement was met with some cynicism and apprehension from long-time survival-horror fans, fearing the change would eliminate any feeling of tension or isolation.

Dead Space 3 attempts to solve this perceived conflict by, first and foremost, building the story around the singleplayer experience, then factoring in a second player when appropriate. For example, cutscenes will subtly change during co-op play to include a companion character alongside Isaac. To demonstrate this dynamic, we were shown the same sequence twice: solo and co-op. Narratively, the change was very minor - a quick aside from Isaac's companion here and there. It's unclear whether this approach will alter Dead Space 3's mechanics in any meaningful way, but it's certainly a clever compromise.

Visceral's survival-horror pitch to fans wasn't exactly reinforced by the behind-closed-door demo at E3 2012. It was a very action-heavy sequence, which was meant to highlight Dead Space 3's new third-person cover system, human enemy encounters, massive bosses, and so on. While the level looked very polished and appropriately chaotic, Isaac's latest adventure also appeared in danger of straying too close to a Gears of War or a [Insert sci-fi shooter]. Granted, these impressions could be the result of E3's format, wherein developers try to attract as wide an audience as possible. For now, we'll have to give Visceral the benefit of the doubt.

Dead Space 3 is currently slated for a February 2013 release on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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