E3 2012: Dead Space 3 adds co-op, man-eating necromorphs

Visceral's alien carve-em-up lands on an ice planet

Dead Space 3 takes the action planetside with blizzards, a mouthy co-op partner and necromorphs hiding in snowdrifts. Brrr...

Twisting corridors. Flickering lights. Power tools. Dead Space's gameplay has always been an exercise in making the best of very, very bad situations - whether that's down to carefully managing every last round of ammunition or desperately trying to put space between you and the gaggle of screaming necromorphs that just burst out of the ventilation system.

Dead Space 3: Gameplay

Isaac Clarke has sliced his way through alien monsters on ships and space stations across the galaxy, and while Dead Space 3 is the first in the series to move the action outside (battling armies of twisted monsters on the new ice planet of Tau Volantis), the demos we've seen at E3 show that the Resident Evil 4-style over-the-shoulder camera and slow, trudging walking pace are alive and well in Dead Space 3 - even if everything else in the game has come over all dead.

Aesthetically, things look much the same on Tau Volantis as they did in the previous games' Titan Station and Ishimura mining ship.

Isaac wanders around a deserted facility, looking for things to power on or controls to reset, all the while fending off a bevvy of bug-eyed monsters that will separate Isaac from his limbs in trademark graphic finishing moves, if not swiftly cleaved up with Isaac's arsenal of engineering tools - so far, so Dead Space.

However, psyched as we are about being pounced on by necromorphs skulking about in snowdrifts, there were more elements than the ice planet setting of the game that left us cold.

Controversially, Dead Space 3 is the first title in the series to introduce co-op play, pairing Isaac up with badass soldier stereotype John Carver.

We're not sure how we like the sound of a survival horror game in which we're forced to tolerate a wise-cracking tough-guy sidekick ("Oh sh*t! Now it's really pissed!" Eugh.) - Resident Evil 5 went the co-op route a couple of years ago, and that critical sense of isolation and helplessness suffered badly for it.

Presumably he'll be bumped off in one of the later cutscenes (NPCs historically don't have a long shelf-life in the Dead Space universe), but it would be nice if we weren't actively trying to shunt him toward the gaping maw of one Tau Volantis' ice monsters when it happens.

Still, with the game's release date pushed back to 2013, here's hoping Visceral get him to pipe down a bit by the time launch day rolls around.

Dead Space 3: Storyline

As always, Isaac's got himself into a bother with the Church of Unitology, a cult of space-crazies hell-bent on getting their hands on a mysterious alien artifact known as the Marker.

According to the Unitologists, the Marker has the power to help humanity put aside its differences and be 'reborn as one'. And, in a way, they're right. It's just that what people who come into contact with the Marker get reborn as are murderous spikey space zombies - not exactly 'The Big Society' vision they had in mind, one suspects.

While Dead Space 1 and 2 were both set in tight, gunmetal grey corridors (the first onboard an abandoned mining ship, the second on a space station on one of Saturn's moons), Dead Space 3 shifts the action to a planet which the latest E3 trailer cryptically reveals as "the source" (the source of what, you might ask? We don't know. Probably not flowers and rainbows, though.)

Isaac sets off for a look-see with Dead Space 2 survivor Ellie and the afore-mentioned Carver, and against all the odds they find the marker almost immediately, drop it into a volcano and all go home safe. Except instead of that, their ship crashes, Ellie and Isaac are separated and Isaac has something of a breakdown while battling the planet's host of slash-happy necromorphs.

So, it's the standard Dead Space formula: battle to escape with your life, while stopping off on the way to destroy a marker and rescue your girlfriend. Peachy.

Dead Space 3: Enemies

Dead Space wouldn't be Dead Space without a healthy infestation of its signature necromorphs.

As ever, these staggering, spike-riddled monstrosities are all that remains of the human inhabitants of Dead Space 3's ice planet, and range in size from the height of a man to towering boss monsters big enough to swallow Isaac whole (we're not exagerrating - check out this Dead Space 3 co-op demo, which ends with Isaac trying to blast his way out of an alien esophagus like one of the cartoon firemen in a Gaviscon advert gone wrong).

For the first time in the series' history, however, Isaac will also have to fend off human enemies, who will tackle our hero with their own arsenals of ranged weaponry, and work in squads to keep him and Carver pinned down.

The trailer doesn't explain who these human adversaries are or what they want with Isaac, but smart money is that they're governement soldiers sent to secure the marker and transport it back to Earth. Because, you know, third time's a charm.

Finally, there's Ellie, Isaac's sidekick-cum-sweetheart who escaped the Sprawl with him in the second game. While she doesn't feature heavily in the trailer (and not at all in the gameplay sections), one tidbit we do get to hear is Carver sternly reminding Isaac that he's on the planet to get the Marker, and "nothing, not you, not your obsession with Ellie" is going to get in his way.

Fans of the first two games will remember the grisly way Isaac's last relationship worked out (no spoilers here, but curious series newcomers should YouTube 'Dead Space' and 'Nicole'), so surely with another Marker working its psychological trickery on Isaac's addled brain, we can expect some sort of mental battles to go along with the more physcial, visceral slicing up of monsters.

Dead Space 3: Release Date

Dead Space 3 is one of several E3 favourites that won't be scuttling down the chimney for Christmas, touching down instead in February 2013.

Want a closer look at the inhabitants of Tau Volantis? Take a look at the Dead Space 3 trailer below.