Dead Space 3 preview – alone together

Dead Space 3

[Update: latest Dead Space 3 screens here.]

How exactly do you maintain the vehemence of Dead Space’s signature horror element while letting players huddle together in pairs? Obviously this quandary has formed the basis of many a late-night brainstorming session at Visceral Games as the studio attempts to expand and evolve its much-loved third-person shooter without inciting the wrath of legions of fans. And d’you know what? It might just have managed to pull it off.

Dead Space 3 preview

Our first hands-on with Dead Space 3’s co-op mode was an unabashedly straightforward experience. There was a familiar sense of Dead Space pacing, but the daytime, outdoor environment of Tau Volantis made it easier to spot and dismember the Necros and Unitologists from a distance. Being snuck up on wasn’t on the agenda. All of those elements have changed in our latest check-in with Isaac and Carver, though. We’re still on Tau Volantis, but only outdoors for a brief minute – just long enough to test out the Ripper/Flamethrower combo weapon we’ve been bestowed with by ripping/flaming a couple of shambling horrors.

Soon, we’re underground and back to the type of corridor that oozed so much being-snuck-up-on potential in previous games. And something odd’s going on. What’s happening on our screen while we’re playing as new man James Carver is very different to what Isaac’s seeing on the adjacent screen. We’re hallucinating soldiers’ cadavers all around the place, and the other player has absolutely no idea what the heck we’re going on about over the mic.

This asymmetrical horror experience is so effective because it makes you distrust the game itself. You’re no longer sure of the rules. Before, the biggest element of suspense was simply a matter of when the monsters would arrive – but you were always sure that they were really monsters and they were really there. Now, though, it’s all far from clear-cut.

Dead Space 3 screensExample: we embark on one of the game’s beta co-op missions, exploring an abandoned facility in tandem. On our screen, we’re traversing some kind of purgatory and being attacked by shadowy wraiths. It’s obviously a very private psychotic episode, however, because on Isaac’s screen all he sees is us holding our head in confusion and writhing about a bit. While we’re incapacitated by all this, a bunch of actual monsters turn up to attack us, and it’s down to Isaac to protect us on his own until we regain consciousness.

“We didn’t want people to have to have an AI follower there [while they were] playing single-player,” says executive producer Steve Papoutsis. “Single-player remains the same. Now if you choose to play with a friend, you get to use Carver. And instead of just [being] an add-on character who’s just another gun in the scene, he’s actually got his own unique backstory and he’s fighting his own inner demons.” Quite.