Dead Space 3’s demo does it a disservice

Monday, 21 January 2013 13:03 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Dead Space 3’s demo failed to turn Brenna Hillier into a flailing, shrieking, foul-mouthed crybaby, but Visceral still has its skills.

Visceral hasn’t lost its touch; Dead Space 3′s demo shows just a tiny glimpse of the developer putting the senile old dog of horror through some amazing new tricks.

EA kindly sent me a download code for the Dead Space 3 demo, which will become available to you all this week. When I decided to write an impressions piece, I sparked, momentarily, into genius mode:

Everyone knows I scream at horror and I swear like a sailor while I play video games. I’m going to make an audio log of my experience with the Dead Space 3 demo and post it on VG247. Ha ha this will be amazing. I will win the Internet.

And indeed things started well. Just a few minutes into the file the music takes a very serious turn for the creepy and I nervously exhort Visceral to “fucking just do it already”. When it did, moments later, I fired off three staccato “what the fuck”s at increasing volume and pitch.

But what follows is about fifteen minutes of near silence, interrupted briefly by one exclamation of “well, how the fuck do I kill this thing?”

I wasn’t feeling microphone shy; this is not a syndrome I ever suffer. Dead Space 3’s demo isn’t very scary. And that’s a shame, because by all accounts, the full game is. EA’s first showing of Visceral’s latest focused on the new content, and it very sensibly allowed a later press tour to show the good old mainstays of dark corridors, slow building tension, maze-like maps and crapping your pants when something hurls itself out of the ever-present shadows.

Visceral hasn’t lost its touch in this regard; Dead Space 3’s demo shows just a tiny glimpse of the developer putting the senile old dog of horror through some amazing new tricks. The taster begins with Isaac stumbling through inclement weather, his movements slowed by the ferocious wind and snow, barely able to see through the whiteout. Snow takes the place of shadows; white supplants black; and the effect is just as eerie.

New features include Kinect voice commands.
A terrifying prospect indeed.

The graphics team at Visceral has done an excellent job with that snow. It builds and clears across your vision in a very true-to-life way, swirling in and closing you off from everything in an unpredictable fashion far more scary than blanket fog. Its appearances and disappearances are far from whimsical; the developer demonstrates its immense skill with horror while wielding this latest addition to its cluttered box of shart-inducing tools. When the necros make their first appearance you are permitted to whimper.

But after this it all goes downhill. We only experience the storm and its chilling (ha ha!) effect on exploration for a few minutes, and then we’re hammered by quicktime events, weapon and equipment modding, co-operative multiplayer and arena boss battles. The wonderful weather effects and deeply creepy natural caves are gone, replaced by industrial geometry immediately familiar to series fans.

That’s disappointing because as much as I want Dead Space to keep looking and feeling like Dead Space, Visceral’s skill in putting together a snowy but traditionally tense environment, complete with ravishing graphical effects like low sunshine through a cave mouth, is to be much applauded. It was in this brief opening section, the least visually similar to former Dead Space games, that I felt most as if I were playing Dead Space.

The narrated introduction to the demo makes it clear that new content is the star, and in many ways this makes a good deal of sense. The franchise has to grow its audience in order to succeed and showing off fancy new inclusions is a good way to do that. But for existing series fans it may be disappointing. It may even be a dealbreaker.

The subtle graphical and audio cues and superb timing exhibited in this all-too-brief sequence show Visceral still has it.

If you loved Dead Space and Dead Space 2 I urge you to try the demo when it goes into general release this week. When you’ve played through it once, fire it up again and replay that opening sequence, the short jog along in the snow with almost zero visibility. Focus on this section, and switch off before the rapid-fire showcase of new tricks can assault you again.

The subtle graphical and audio cues and superb timing exhibited in this all-too-brief sequence show Visceral still has it. If Dead Space 3 has more moments like these then I have no doubt it’ll end up in my freezer alongside its precursor.

Dead Space 3 releases on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in early February.

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