Dead Space 3 Hands-On Preview
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Dead Space 3 Box Art
System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Dev: Visceral Games
Pub: Electronic Arts
Release: February 5, 2013
Players: 1-2
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Should We Be Worried About Dead Space?
by Josh Wirtanen

I was recently asked to fly out to San Francisco to spend a day with the upcoming Dead Space 3. Since I live in Minnesota, I was more than happy to escape the January cold to spend some time gaming in sunny California. Unfortunately, San Francisco was cold and rainy for the duration of my trip, but at least there was Dead Space 3 to keep me warm. However, my time with the game didn’t necessarily reassure me that this would be another successful entry in the Dead Space series. In fact, I left California feeling a little nervous about the future of everyone’s favorite outer space crazy man, Isaac Clarke.

Dead Space 3 Screenshot

Now, as I’ve explained elsewhere, one observation I’ve made about the Dead Space series was that the first game felt sort of unrefined, but managed to get survival horror just right. The second game, while much more precise and wrinkle-free from a design perspective, just didn’t feel as scary, preferring to overwhelm you with Necromorph swarms rather than forcing you to make on-the-fly strategic choices with a single enemy or two at a time.

My time with Dead Space 3 (I played through the first four chapters of the game twice) seems to suggest that the series will continue to evolve in that direction. You see, Dead Space 3—at least in its opening hours—feels much more like an action game than a true horror game. Its focus seems to be on set pieces and adrenaline-fueled action scenes rather than on doing anything even remotely scary.

Once again, you’ll step into the shoes of Isaac Clarke, who at this point is living a reclusive, mentally tormented life in a back alley apartment in a space colony. He is quickly recruited (or forced, rather) to help a couple of space marines track down another Marker that must be destroyed. After all, Isaac is something of an expert when it comes to Markers.

Now, the phrase “space marines” might be a warning sign as to where this game is heading. While Isaac still uses his trademark plasma cutter as a primary weapon, he’s given some actual military-grade weaponry to play around with. Right away, he’s given an SMG (or, he was in my playthroughs at least), which he must use to combat Unitarian soldiers who attack the space colony. This is sounding less and less like a true Dead Space game, isn’t it?

Dead Space 3 Screenshot

To further heighten my concerns, my first playthrough had me overfilling my inventory with health packs and ammo. At one point, I had seven health items and over 200 rounds in each of my weapons—something that I can say never happened to me in either of the first two games. Now, it’s quite possible that EA loaded the demo version I played with extra items in order to make my time with the game easier and ensure that I’d get through the entire thing in my allotted time, but it still leaves me to wonder if the survival horror elements have been eradicated entirely.

Even the sound design seems to be evolving toward action rather than horror. One of my favorite audio elements of the original game was the dead silence of space, which felt downright intimidating. In Dead Space 3, however, the outer space scenes are emphasized with a dramatic orchestral score, which is incredibly well written, but it downplays the isolation of space, making those scenes far less terrifying.

Dead Space 3 Screenshot

To be perfectly fair, I got to see very little of the new ice planet, Tau Volantis, during my time with the game, and it’s quite possible that the survival horror elements start emerging due to the planet’s dangerous climate. As a resident of Minnesota, I know how scary ice, snow, and unforgiving cold can be. So my fingers are still crossed that the fear will be back in the later portions of the game.

Of course, strategic dismemberment is still the flavor of the day for combat, and I found myself naturally reverting to my classic Dead Space strategy of using Kinesis to hurl pointy limbs at oncoming Necromorph hordes. At least combat still feels like Dead Space.

Well, that’s not entirely true, as there’s a brand new crafting system. Instead of using Isaac’s classic weapons, you are allowed to make new ones. This change was justified by Isaac’s profession as an engineer, which means he would be able to throw together creative new weapons in interesting ways.

Essentially, you are given parts to build and upgrade new guns, or you can take any two of your current weapons and combine them into one super weapon. I combined my Plasma Cutter with the Line Cutter on one playthrough, and combined my Plasma Cutter and SMG on my second.

To accommodate the fact that players will be exploring the game with radically different weapons, there are no longer separate ammo types for different weapons. You now will just collect “generic ammo,” which will work in whatever Frankengun you’ve managed to slap together. I’m still reserving my judgment here, as my early-game options were fairly limited, but I think I kind of like it so far.

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