Kotaku AU went hands on with Dead Space 3 today, and in between chopping up nasty necromorphs with the utmost care in limb loss, we spoke with the game’s Producer, John Calhoun.
Having always been at outlets with other people who were rabid horror fans, Dead Space reviews were never delegated to me. This was to be my first — though I had some exposure to some of the franchise's surrounding fiction. Our demo began right at the start of the game, ending at a specific point 2-3 hours in.
My first reaction to the world is noticing strong inspiration from Half-Life 2. A clearly evil zealot preaches from large TV screens all over the city — a constant reminder of your long-term goal. Not to mention the protagonist here is an engineer, not a soldier, and reacts the way a normal person would to a lot of the chaos around him. Calhoun says this comes into play in one of Dead Space 3’s new features: Building guns.
“You’ll be able to put lots of different modifications on each gun,” says Calhoun in an early presentation. "These change things like their fire rate and spread. If you’re up against a really fast enemy, it might be a good idea to put some stasis coding into your bullets, which slows them down, and perhaps increase the rate of fire. Our team working on the weapons is the same team that works on the enemies, so they’re thinking of all that stuff.”
Certain enemies will also spawn different limbs, and mutate in different ways, according to how you dismember them. I asked if you might want to strategically take out a particular limb because the resulting growth will be weak to your weapon setup at the time. The answer is yes.
It’s counter-intuitive for me to not instantly aim at an enemy’s head, but I try to adapt.
My next experience is less pleasant - during one of those newfangled “playable cutscenes”, the upper and lower halves of my body are separated by some large machinery, yet the second part of the cutscene plays on, my disembodied legs going through their usual motions while everything else stubbornly sticks to the ground. The pivotal moment of the cutscene is ruined by the time I can watch it again in one piece.
I had trouble with small groups of enemies before getting the hang of it, but even afterwards, I was unable to get back up to full health. I felt PR people watching over my shoulder and I’d rather they see me dominating when I play a game, but on the plus side, I’m now well acquainted with the stumbling animations. They’re nice.
There was enough time to see another cutscene and take note of some very nice voice acting, before I started chatting to John Calhoun. I mentioned the space environments I had seen on a screen next to me, which looked very open and intimidating.
“Our motto has always been, ‘real space, real terror’", says Calhoun. "We don’t want to be like Star Trek, with Klingons, or have a stylised sci-fi. We want to be more realistic than that.
“The space areas are true zero G, so the audio almost stops, and you only hear what you would hear in your suit. There’s just breathing, and the voicecom, and everything’s very muffled. Light is also very bright, because there’s no atmosphere. And oxygen is limited, so you’ll have to either go straight to your objective or scavenge oxygen canisters.”
And of course, at any moment, necromorphs can pop out of nowhere. The feeling of floating silently and peacefully in space, juxtaposed with a screaming, flailing mutant, is the false sense of relaxation that good horror games are made of. Calhoun says it's all about the additional stress:
“Oxygen puts a time limit on the experience, so you’ve got this tense feeling of really needing to move along.”
There were few moments when I could relax, even when not in space. Sure, there were lulls, but the lack of ammo and health, even these early levels, is designed to never let you feel “comfortable”. In fact, if you’re experiencing comfort, it’s probably just the eye of the storm.
And Calhoun is happy with the fact that cooperative play might lessen the effect of that.
“We got a lot of feedback from people," he says. "Many loved the previous games but there were also a lot of people who turned it off after a short time. They found it way too scary. They found it oppressive, the constant horror.
“So if a couple players are talking the whole way through, or laughing, that’s totally okay, that’s their way of playing it.”
Cooperative play will also feature players seeing different things than their partner, due to dimentia, hopefully promoting dialogue between the two players.
“We also have dialogue between the two characters that are relative to what you’re doing, like if one player is higher than the other, he’ll ask, ‘Are you gunna check up there?’ Or maybe if you’re low on ammo, you’ll verbalise it.”
That kind of dialogue is new to Dead Space games, and Calhoun assured me it wouldn’t take away from the minimalist feel.
“They aren’t chatty,” he says. “When they speak, there’s always a reason.”
Along similar lines, Dead Space 3 is meant to answer a lot of questions that have arisen over the last two games, and the rest of the franchise’s fiction. But that can be both a curse and a blessing — it’s obviously hard to meet expectations, but sometimes canonical fiction just can’t compete with a player’s imagination. Unless handled right, EA could have yet another controversial trilogy ending at the start of a year.
We won’t know for sure until we play the entire game, but what I saw today was very encouraging. Story is a big focus in Dead Space 3, and it’s supported by the movies, comics and anime that surrounds it, as well as the impressive voice acting I emphasised earlier. In my short time with it, I experienced both slow, creeping scares and quick startles. Far from a one trick pony, and definitely one to watch.
Dead Space 3 will be available on the 7th of February for PC, 360 and PS3. The demo is already available on Xbox Live and PSN.