Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dead Space 3 (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Earlier this week, I was privileged to score early access to the Dead Space 3 Demo (Xbox 360), and I spent the last few evenings going through it.

Set several months after the events of Dead Space 2, Isaac Clarke crashes on the abandoned and frozen planet of Tau Volantis and is separated from Ellie.  Either solo or with his new ally, John Carver, Isaac travels through the frozen wasteland and abandoned complexes in search of her and to try and stop the Necromorph menace once and for all.

The Dead Space 3 Demo features three different ways to play:  Solo Campaign, Co-Op Campaign, and Weapon Crafting (found under Solo Campaign).  In past games Isaac was able to upgrade his tools and weapons with Power Nodes to increase Damage, Clip Size, Reload Rate, etc., but actual Weapon Crafting is new to the series, so I decided to give this a whirl first.

Since Tau Volantis is an abandoned world, there are no Stores or Credits for players to collect and use, and Power Nodes are gone as well.  Instead, the Workbench has more or less been merged with the Store, and from a Workbench players can now build new and custom weapons from spare parts or collected blueprints, upgrade said weapons, manufacture disposable items like Health Packs, Stasis Packs, and Ammo, and store items in the Safe.  Several scrap items used in the construction of all these things replace the Dollars you used to collect.

While story-wise this all makes sense, I confess I do miss the Stores as they were a Dead Space staple.  Constructing a weapon is as simple as matching up components, and weapons now support top and bottom pieces, so it's entirely possible to have, say, a Line Gun with a Flamethrower under it.  Because you can essentially have two guns in one, Visceral Games decided to limit you to carrying two weapons at a time for the first time in franchise history.

After Crafting a few weapons and having Necromorphs attack me in the Weapon Crafting room to test them out (you have unlimited Health, Stasis, and Ammo for this test), I confess I was unimpressed with them.  Sure they killed things, but I found them less effective than tried-and-true staples like the traditional Plasma Cutter.  So I switched back to that, which Isaac starts with, and dismembered stuff far better.  I suspect with the retail version of the game I'll make limited use of Weapon Crafting and simply stick to general Blue Prints for traditional weapons.

The downer for this, of course, is that I'll only be able to carry two weapons at a time.  The traditional Plasma Cutter is actually considered two weapons in one now, and it has a piece that rotates it from Vertical to Horizontal; upper and lower weapons.  Adding to this oddness is that upper and lower weapons have their own separate Upgrade Nodes, meaning the Vertical upgrades for the Plasma Cutter do not apply to the Horizontal ones, which is extremely silly and inconvenient.  Personally I'm not a fan of that at all, but since I have no choice I'll have to make do.

In somewhat of a compensation though, ammo is completely universal now; all tools and weapons share the same kind of ammo.  While not game breaking, I'm actually not in favour of this design decision either as managing ammo and being forced to use other weapons when your primary ammo was low or gone in previous titles added to the challenge, tension, and thrills.  It helped force you to experiment and be creative, and that's now gone.  Such a shame.

I next fired up Solo Campaign and for those concerned that Visceral Games was actioning up the game too much, I can tell you your concerns were unfounded.  This is still Dead Space with a solid amount of thrills, scares, and exploration.  The environments in the Demo are more open than the usual corridor crawl we had in the previous two titles, but the style of Necromorph attacks is very familiar.  They'll jump out of the snow or corpses that are playing dead actually aren't, and you dismember them to kill them and find items to collect.

The traditional Slashers are present, though some of the Necromorphs have a few new tricks up their sleeves.  One kind of enemy, when dismembered, has its lower or upper half sprout tentacles and claws to continue the attack, and some newly turned enemies use guns.  They're sloppy and not accurate with them, so you're not fighting highly trained zombified soldiers, but it does add another threat to the gameplay.  Human enemies are present, however, and they do shoot accuratly and try to flush you out with Grenades, but the Necromorphs also target and infest them as well, so it's an even playing field.

The game controls very much like Dead Space 2 with a few additions to help against human enemies.  Clicking the Right Stick now has Isaac crouch, allowing him to somewhat use cover, and double tapping Left Bumper while pressing the Left Stick in either direction has Isaac role to dodge.  I found rolling a bit clunky in the game and it certainly wasn't effective in the demo's enjoyable boss battle, but at least it was present.

New to the franchise is the Co-Op Campaign, which is the same as the main Campaign where friends can drop in and out.  Carver accompanies Isaac directly in Co-Op, and player two controls him.  He handles just like Isaac and one very cool design decision is when one player picks up an item, like ammo, said item is still left there for the other player to collect.  This is great as if you're playing with randoms or item hogs, as they simply won't be able to not share.

I found the Campaign chapter went much faster and was far easier with a buddy, and the story differences weren't anything drastic at this point.  There's an extra conversation or two between Isaac and Carver, and it wasn't anything too deep (though it wasn't out of place either), so for those only interested in one game mode I doubt you'll miss too much by not touching the other.  I will say that chatting with a buddy while playing did reduce the fear factor by a good bit, and Visceral Games didn't seem to add any extra enemies or such to the Co-Op Chapter, so if you are playing for atmosphere I would recommend doing it solo first.

 Visually the Demo looked great on the Xbox 360's aging hardware.  Character model's textures are showing their age now, but the environments are gorgeous and I really liked the boot prints you'd leave behind in the snow.  White out conditions are presented well and add to the overall atmosphere.  The sound effects and voice acting are right up there with the rest of the franchise, and the music has taken a more epic presence than before, actually reminding me more of something sad but dynamic from a Super Hero game, like Batman: Arkham Asylum.  A bit odd, I supposed, but not unwelcome and my Co-Op partner agreed with me on those impressions once he gave the menu tunes a good listen.

While sporting a few odd design decisions that I wasn't keen on, my overall impressions of the Demo are positive and I'm quite looking forward to the retail release of Dead Space 3.  For those who didn't score early access to the Demo, it'll be available on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for all this coming Tuesday.

No comments: