Pre-E3 2008: Dead Space Updated Impressions
Everyone's going to hear you scream.
At a recent E3 preview event, Electronic Arts showed off more than two-dozen titles from its fall and early '09 lineup. While there were several impressive offerings, one game surprised me more than any other. Dead Space, a third-person survival horror game set in a place where no one can hear you scream, is one to watch.
We've previously laid our hands on Dead Space, but this was the first chance to get some significant playing time. Rather than just a five minute snippet, EA opened up a large chunk of level six, which provided a good taste of what Dead Space will offer when it ships on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this October.
The sixth level puts our hero, Isaac Clarke, in the hydroponics section of the Ishimura mining vessel. For approximately five seconds, you can enjoy the serene beauty of the greenery still growing in greenhouses. By the sixth second, enemies have come upon you. The grotesque mutations that attack Isaac come in a wide variety in this level. There are your standard pesky grunts, the slashers that press forward and, well, slash. Beware that slashers like to play dead, then either rise up and strike when your back is turned or scamper into the ventilation system only to show up unexpectedly later on in your adventure.
Some rooms you enter are filled with a green toxic gas that slowly depletes your oxygen. As with all critical information in Dead Space, your toxicity level appears on the back of your suit. To clear the air, you need to find the mutant that's spewing the fumes and snuff him out. It gets tougher when rooms begin to fill with other enemies that stand between you and the gassy gussy.
Another fun enemy can take possession of dead mutants, reviving them as its own personal puppet. It spreads manta-ray-like wings and digs its stinger into the dead, then envelopes them in new skin as they rise.
My personal favorite is the pregnant mutant. Take a shot at its torso and its swelled belly splits open, spilling out dozens of tiny, hungry babies. These are fun to squash, but easiest to dispatch with the flamethrower. The fire isn't terribly impressive -- you won't see it spread throughout the greenhouse or anything like that -- but it's always fun to burn things. The flamethrower certainly comes in handy for close encounters, but it's the most pedantic weapon of the demo.
What sets Dead Space apart from many other recent survival horror shooters is the inventiveness of its enemies and weapons. In the spirit of the original Alien, our hero must turn work tools into weaponry. Conveniently, many futuristic mining tools are very helpful in dispatching enemies. The Line Cutter, for example, fires a trio of lasers which can saw through enemies. With a quick toggle from a button, you can change the line to fire vertically or horizontally.
Even your "powers" are explained as part of the miner's typical tool set. Your suit is empowered with a temporal freeze ability, which can be used on enemies and traps. Apparently this is used by miners in case of a mine collapse... or mutant invasions. There is also a limited telekinesis ability that can affect metallic objects. You can pull explosive canisters towards you and then toss them at enemies and you can move heavy doors that would otherwise bar your path. I'm not sure what the rationale is from a miner's perspective, but I imagine it has something to do with the operation of heavy machinery.
Though you mostly rely on mining tools turned into instruments of destruction, there is at least one true weapon on board. A few marines were stationed on the mining platform and they had real guns. Though they are dead, you do get hold of a Pulse Rifle. This gun has one interesting alternate firing application. You can set up a perimeter with the rifle. Set it vertically on the ground, squat and the barrel will rotate 360 degrees laying waste to swarming enemies. This is great for clearing out baddies when you are totally surrounded, though it does eat through your ammo quickly.
After wading through a number of rooms with angry enemies waiting in the corners, I made it to a very unique section. The anti-grav rooms completely change up the flow of gameplay. Enemies come crawling from all sides, but there is technically no floor or ceiling. Just aim at a wall you want to move to, hit a button and you will leap through the gravity free zone and plant your grav-locked heels onto that wall -- which then becomes your floor for the time being. Though the anti-gravity section is fairly short-lived in the demo, there's potential for some complex puzzles and fights when these areas come up again in the latter parts of Dead Space.
The demo ends with a series of corridors routinely doused in flames. To get through you need to destroy some circuitry in each room, while avoiding being deep-fried. You can do this with careful timing or you can use your temporal powers on the spout shooting the flames. Freeze it and you have extra time to make your way across. You'll need that time, too, because this is when enemies start to attack. And that's also when the demo ends.
Like many third-person horror games, Dead Space has a very deliberate pace. But while your character moves slowly through the environment, EA wisely gives you a very fast turning radius. So, no, you can't just run and gun through the levels, but each room you enter becomes a heated contest that is very fast and can become very challenging as the AI looks to swarm you from all sides.
Dead Space is going to keep you on your toes. Not just with some good scares, but by mixing up the types of enemies you'll face and adding new gameplay twists from start to finish. There are many survival horror shooters that feel as if each level is identical, just with a different coat of paint. But even in my short time with Dead Space, it felt as if this could be one of those rare games to make each stage feel distinct both visually and in terms of gameplay.
And there is more depth to be discovered. EA has promised to unveil an upgrade system that "is unlike anything you've seen before." Though EA is mum on the details of how you will upgrade and what that will entail, the developers say that the upgrades you choose will profoundly affect the game as you play. EA assured me it won't be as simple as Bioshock, where you slot in a few custom items.
Let's hope Dead Space lives up to its potential. It certainly has a shot at being one of the best games of the year.
That 3 ray GUN is SOOO cool. Love horror action games. Hope EA Redwood Shores make a fun2play game.
Screww you guys, im going home
holy crap! this sounds intense. line cutters, crowbars, time freeze and what not. certainly looking forward to this!
Take my picture by the pool cause i'm the next big thing
Wow man !! its amazing look at the aliens good design
its seem to be good game
Awesome......cant wait for this game....looks Half-life-ish.....
That's Going to be one hell of a Frightening Game
My my.......nice and juicy.
*adds to personal game tracker*
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