Dead Space 3 added co-op the “expensive way,” and boy was that money worth it
The Dead Space series features an impressively deep back story once you start to dig into the religion of Unitology, and the games continue to plumb that history while expanding the world of series lead Isaac Clarke. The biggest addition to Dead Space 3, at least in terms of the content I’ve had a chance to play, is co-op. One player controls Clarke, while the other takes over a new character named Carver, a soldier who doesn’t have much patience for the supernatural aspect of the situation he finds himself in. “This is definitely a very expensive way to solve the co-op problem,” Ian Milham, the Dead Space franchise art director, told me as he picked up the controller to play by my side. You can jump into a friend’s game at any time, and leave just as suddenly. Here’s the trick: The character of Carver is not always there with you, waiting for a human player to control him. The game changes when another player enters, and shifts back to single-player mode after they leave.“We didn’t want some brain-dead AI following you around if you don’t want to play co-op. Someone getting in the way and blocking the door and all that crap.” The single-player game is completely intact, and you’ll only run into the second character in a limited way; Carver will act like an NPC if you encounter him in the game without another player controlling his actions. This means that two very similar, but iterative, versions of the game had to be created. One of the games takes place with Carver being a constant companion, fighting by your side. In the other game he’s simply an NPC you run into during certain scenes. When you add another player you begin to play the first game. When that player jumps out you shift back into the second version of the game. Certain scenes required new conversations and animations as the players worked together, and you’ll need to play the game twice if you’re hoping to see every little detail the game has to offer. Dead Space 3 will also adjust the difficulty when you bring in another player. The monsters will become more powerful and have more health. Your character is also persistent; if you play a leveled up character in your single-player game, you will get access to those upgrades and weapons if you join a co-op partner, but your gear and upgrades will be on Carver, not Clarke. It’s an effective, and rather innovative, way to handle co-op.
The story and the weapons
“The big difference is the weapons can combo up and join together now. So it’s not just one gun with an alt-fire, there are completely different [weapons] on the right shoulder and the right trigger. If you hit right on the d-pad, there is another combo gun where you have the plasma cutter and the ripper at the same time,” Milham explained. I asked if there will be a mechanic in the game where the player will be able to physically combine entire weapons into these hybrids I tried out in the demo. “They don’t want me to talk about that, but we have some big plans,” he said. I also asked the question everyone worries about: Is the game going to ditch the horror for the action? “Well the balance is what we’re trying to hit, right? We touch a lot of different fans. Some are hardcore survival horror, they want to be freaked out. I’ve had plenty of other people who say the game stresses them out, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve added co-op. It’s like going to a scary movie with a friend.” The section we played was, in fact chosen for the action. It’s an easier concept to sell in 30 minute chunks. “We’ve found horror doesn’t demo well. It’s a slow build, you have to care about your character, so the demo kind of skews to the action side.” This is the third game in the series, although the PR person in the room piped up to correct me when I refer to it as a “trilogy,” so apparently this is the next game in the series, not the ending of the story. Still, expect some questions to be answered, and the snowy planet is very important to the game’s mythology. “There are definitely things that come to a close, Isaac’s story and the core thrust of the games, a lot of that will be resolved,” Milham said. “But it’s a big universe, and there are… options.”