Dead Space 3 Demo Impressions: Hope the Game is Scarier
This piece is a collaboration between Phil Hornshaw and Ross Lincoln, with Phil weighing in on Dead Space 3′s new systems, enemies and horror elements, and Ross bringing his previous experience with DS3′s co-op to bear.
I remember fondly firing up the demo for Dead Space 2 for the first time. It took place on the Sprawl as Isaac explored a Unitology church. After a few moments, he found a room filled with frozen bodies — dead Unitologists, awaiting their chance at the religion’s ultimate goal, which is to be transformed into a hideous monster.
The tension was palpable, and literally hung in the air in the form of a soft nitrogen fog, denoting how cold and still the room was. We knew something was going to explode out of one of those cryo-tubes. We knew it. And that sense of dread, played up with the game’s atmosphere, created a level of tension that had me grinning like an idiot.
Last week marled the early release of the Dead Space 3 demo, and like that first go-round with Dead Space 2, we kind of know what to expect. And yet, after seemingly very quick 30-or-so-minute playthrough, this was a demo that left me less than impressed. Hopefully this slice of the game is the exception to what we can expect in Dead Space 3, and not the rule of what the game will be like.
The demo falls flat in a number of places, but first and foremost is in the quality of its atmosphere. Both the first two Dead Space games were pretty much huge haunted houses, populated by enemies that would explode from walls and vents to facilitate jump scares. But all of it was permeated by the atmosphere of dread — we knew something horrific had happened here perhaps even moments before, and we were forced to trudge through that horror to get to our goals of escape and protection.
The Dead Space 3 demo starts with protagonist Isaac Clark waking up after his ship has crashed on re-entry into the atmosphere of ice planet Tau Volantis, and begins with some real potential. The world around him is frozen; Isaac is near death and lost; a blizzard rages all around. It’s an oppressive way to get into the world, and surely those blasts of opaque white wind are hiding something sinister just beyond.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere never quite pays off the same way Dead Space 2′s did. Trudging through the snowstorm never amounts to much, and before long, Isaac finds himself in a defunct mining colony half-frozen by some past event. The vistas are huge, the landscape is open, and it’s possible to see a lot of things. Occasional trips into buildings or through caves close things in slightly, but for the most part, we find Isaac has ample space to move around in the brightly lit Tau Volantis evening.
What’s missing here is the oppression. If the blizzard kicks up, you can push through it or raise your gun to find Isaac completely unhindered. The path is clearly marked and the cold has little, if any, affect on you. What monsters eventually do spring up aren’t as horrific as they’ve been in the past — they don’t look like twisted, contorted mutations. In fact, they tend to look like people (and some even use weapons), but fall apart as you cut them up with your mining tools.
Later in the demo, we’re treated to a fight in a big open space with a big, dumb creature that really doesn’t offer Isaac much resistance at all. Trekking through mining buildings doesn’t kick up much in the way of either scares or the fear-inducing remnants of the monsters’ previous victims. Dead Space 3 seems to lack that overarching sense of dread in these disembodied few minutes, and that’s a shame.