"Dead Space 3 is the biggest game we've ever made." Visceral Games general manager and vice president Steve Papoutsis throws that boast out matter-of-factly. "It takes way longer to beat than the previous two games. And we have this huge, complex weapon crafting system." There's no doubt in his voice as he lists off all the features that will make this the biggest Dead Space game thus far.
And to cap it all off, he announces a new bullet point: Kinect support.
I'm shown a new co-op demo for Dead Space 3 that implements simple Kinect voice commands. The voice support provides a way to avoid stopping in difficult combat situations. For example, shouting out "Quick heal!" will result in your character using a healing item. "Help me!" will create a beacon to your location for your partner to follow. "Stasis!" will shoot out a beam of Dead Space's classic time-freezing power-up.
The only problem? In the demo I'm shown, the commands only seem to be working about half of the time. This could be because it's an incomplete build of the game or because we're playing in the back room of a noisy club, but a voice command to replace the button presses for healing doesn't help much when you have to shout it three times before it works.
In the demo I'm shown, Kinect commands only seem to be working about half of the time
Thankfully, the buttons themselves still work, and outside of the Kinect options, the demo is classic Dead Space gameplay — albeit with a snowy cave as a setting and a co-op partner. My screen is focused on long-running Dead Space protagonist Isaac Clarke, while in another room someone is taking on the role of newcomer John Carver.
Papoutsis explains that Visceral wants Carver to be more than a boring companion tagging along on Isaac's adventures. He's meant to be a meaningful character with his own fleshed out backstory, and Visceral has taken an interesting approach to the split between single-player and co-op to ensure that.
"If you're playing single-player, the story has characters that come and go, and Carver is one of those characters," Papoutsis says. "In single-player, you don't have an AI follower. No AI follower. It's just Isaac, and other NPCs come in and out of scenes."
With this approach, Papoutsis and Visceral hope that players who prefer the solitary experience of previous Dead Space games won't be disappointed. But for those willing to jump into co-op, more story and bonus content awaits.
"You get pieces of his story in single-player," says Papoutsis, "but you get more details of his struggles with dementia and his family and backstory in co-op." Papoutsis also mentions whole extra missions that you'll only be able to undertake if you're playing through the story in co-op. Meanwhile co-op players will not miss out on any of the single-player experience's content, so those wanting to get the most out of Dead Space 3 will probably want to tackle co-op at some point.
The idea of bringing co-op to the Dead Space universe isn't new. "We played around with co-op in Dead Space 1," Papoutsis says. "We turned on a second Isaac near the end of development, and we ran around with two Isaacs in the Ishimura. It's cool that we could do it, but it didn't make any sense in Dead Space 1."
"In single-player, you don't have an AI follower"
While co-op finally fits into Visceral's vision for Dead Space 3, competitive multiplayer does not. Dead Space 2's competitive mode will not be a part of this sequel, though Papoutsis doesn't regret having tried it last time around. "It was a huge stepping stone toward us understanding how to create an online game," he explains. "We hadn't done that. That was the first we ever shipped. I'm super proud of what the team did."
My short demo ends with the reveal of another new interesting gameplay addition to Dead Space 3: a rappelling mechanic. Isaac and Carver swing up the side of an icy cliff as horrific monsters spawn alongside it and attack them. It strikes me as a vertical reimagining of the many Dead Space sequences where Isaac is being dragged along the floor by a monster, desperately trying to shoot its limbs off, except now the player has much more control.
Papoutsis promises that as "the biggest game we've ever made," Dead Space 3 will contain many more surprising gameplay shifts, but we're not going to find out about any more before its release on February 5, 2013.