Dead Space 3: new preview goes back to horror basics

Monday, 13 August 2012 17:48 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Enough has been said about how different Dead Space 3 is; Brenna Hillier puts the fright-fest through its paces and finds much that is familiar.

The exploration of this ship – with its tight combat zones, heart-stopping surprises, and unceasing claustrophobia – is pure Dead Space. You could almost believe we were actually playing a mission from one of the earlier games, were it not for the subtle flourishes of graphics which clearly indicate Visceral is at the top of its form.

When someone asked me at a Dead Space 3 preview event last week if I’d finished the last game, I was concentrating on the action on-screen. I forgot to give out my carefully prepared lie, instead absent-mindedly telling the whole truth: that I’d put the disc in the freezer.

The sudden silence and eventual laughter brought me out of Isaac’s world and back into the one where I’d just embarrassed myself in a professional context (again). I had to explain the story: I played Dead Space 2 alone and in the dark, and it scared me so badly I used an old coping mechanism and put the disc in the freezer where it could not hurt me. It was still there when we moved house a few months later; Blu-ray isn’t a weather proof medium, so I never finished Dead Space 2.

I don’t think I’m going to finish Dead Space 3, either. E3 demos and previews showed us big, open environments; huge, non-stealthy monsters; and co-op cover shooting action – things I enjoy, but not things we associate with Dead Space. What I saw the other week was the opposite of that, and an excellent rejoinder to critique of the new direction featured in previews so far.

Claustrophobia
The cinematic influences of the Dead Space series are obvious in its twisting, narrow corridors; this is a loving tribute to psychological sci-fi at its best. It’s an element that has been missing from Dead Space 3 media released to the public, but I assure you; it returns with a vengeance.

The mission we played last week comes from Act 1, and is called The Lost Flotilla. Although much of the game we’ve seen before now takes place on planetary surfaces, Isaac can whip up to the drifting fleet and investigate it. We followed Isaac through the bowels of one of these floating hulks, the Greely, beginning to piece together the events of 250 years ago which left a series of derelict disaster zones.

Although none of us could quite put our finger on it, Visceral has done something clever with Dead Space 3′s camera. It’s not quite the same angle or aspect you might be used to, and something about it in the context of the flickering, blood-splattered corridors makes the muscles on my back tense up with anticipation. The exploration of this ship – with its tight combat zones, heart-stopping surprises, and unceasing claustrophobia – is pure Dead Space.

“This isn’t the Dead Space we know and
love!” Nope, this is Visceral showing off
some of the new features, rather than the
kinds of things you can take for granted.

On the combat side, we encountered only a few enemies (not that this lessened the tension in the slightest). The largest battle was an encounter with one shambling humanoid type and three wall-climbing beasties with a range attack, which scuttled out of the light and proved formidable – and, with their little scuttling feet, quite frightening – foes. It seemed a far cry from some of the early sections of Dead Space 2, where large numbers of enemies flocked at you from all directions, and more like the lonely, near-silent parts which made me want to get under the bed and cry with fear. Even with an abundance of universal ammo lying around, the limited clips, low health and long loading times made battles a matter of precision rather than run-and-gun.

Visual flair
You could almost believe we were actually playing a mission from one of the earlier games, were it not for the subtle flourishes of graphics which clearly indicate Visceral is at the top of its form – especially when it comes to squeezing the last drops of power out of the ageing Xbox 360. (At this end of the console generation, we expect to see flagship titles running on high-end PCs, and I cynically double-checked the connectors to prove that I was actually looking at console code.)

Artists’ impression of Brenna playing
Dead Space.

Even in alpha form, the action ran perfectly smoothly; any stuttering was the direct result of players flailing at the controls in panic rather than frame rate drops. The level of detail in textures is astounding, and it’s not just the technical achievements, either; there’s really not much you can do with spaceship corridors, but Visceral has done it all. One room contained a couple of bodies laid out in frozen cross-sections; the trails of blood inside crowded storage spaces told their own brief stories; monitors flickered to life with just enough variety to make you believe in the systems behind them.

Visceral still has months to polish Dead Space and it’s kind of hard to see how the team can possibly make it any easier on the eyes than this preview code; I’m very excited to see the end result, and then put it in the freezer. If the rest of the core gameplay is anything like this section then fans have nothing to fear in terms of the series pulling too far from its roots.

Dead Space 3 is expected in the first quarter of 2013, on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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