Dead Space 3 screenshots suggest co-op, but is this a good addition for the series?

Will the inclusion of co-op destroy the survival horror element of Dead Space 3, or will having a second character around finally give Isaac someone to talk to when he's knee-deep in Necromorphs? Jack Bromley investigates.

Dead Space 3 screenshot

Issac and his mysterious red-suited companion gear up for some more alien vivisection

A couple of days ago we first heard of Dead Space 3 through the teaser trailer for a new ‘graphic novel’. It wasn’t outright mentioned to be Dead Space 3, but all signs pointed that way. Now, brand new screenshots have come to light and look to feature the new red-armour donning character shown in the teaser, which makes it rather easy to form a link between the two. But what does this new character mean, and where’s our Isaac? Well, he’s in the screenshots too, feeling like the unluckiest videogame character ever at this time, and the featuring of two major-looking characters can be indicative of quite a bit…

Dead Space is a series renowned for its visceral horror, and Clarke’s latest outing brought multiplayer into the mix, pitting a squad of humans against a team of brutal Necromorphs. And now, judging from these leaked screenshots, it seems Dead Space 3 may be adding co-op to what has been – up until now – a single player experience. But is this a good addition? Will it detract from Dead Space’s signature horror? Or will it be a well-implemented, worthwhile addition?

When I play through Dead Space or Dead Space 2 alone, I’ll admit, I get pretty terrified. The countless jump-scenes coming after false triggers and deceptive shadows get me every time, and there aren’t many games which can pull off a cheap scare quite so well. The only time I feel at ease with the game, not tense and constantly on edge, is when playing with a friend. See, I need someone else there beside me to make me feel safe, to make me laugh and talk, which pleasantly distracts from the game at hand and makes the terror that little more bearable. If the inclusion of co-op is in fact true, then that means I can have that moral support all of the time now.

Dead Space 3 screenshot

Looks a bit like Lost Planet. But grimmer, obviously

Giving Isaac a companion could benefit the game in many other aspects, too, more than just giving us wuss gamers a back to hide behind. The inclusion of a second character opens up many, many possibilities to new story arcs, which could boost the depth and substance of an already powerfully-written series. The second game saw Isaac battling with hallucinations of Nicole, becoming overwhelmed with guilt that he was unable to save her. In the ‘graphic novel’ teaser, we see the new character unable to speak with his family after a ship crashes into ‘Residential’ where she appears to be living.

This new character’s story could go in two directions from here, if Dead Space 3 follows the events of the teaser: searching for his partner in the wreckage of Residential to discover she is either dead / alive / dying / a Necromorph (I’m betting Necromorph), or knowing she is dead from the offset, and suffering throughout the game. In both cases, Isaac would have experienced that before, and the interaction between the two characters has the potential to be intense, engaging, and create a very powerful narrative.

Dead Space 3 screenshot

In the future, no-one will need reading lights in bed and will instead just open their hideous light-mouths

Gameplay isn’t going to go unchanged with co-op features, either. A second character roaming and slaughtering Necromorphs is going to be a huge change to the core of the game. It adds another dimension to the combat, throwing in tactical elements, potential for constructed epic standoff events, and the ability for players to scream at their partner: “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, HE’S BEHIND YOU! BEHIND YOU! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!” Undoubtedly, that is going to be a hell of lot of fun, but it doesn’t go without its negative effects.

Scaring players in Dead Space is heavily reliant on the fear of expecting something when nothing comes, and then being shocked with jump moments whenever you least expect it. When a cinematic scene begins to play during the game, it’s hard to be scared, since you’re on mentally on-guard throughout, knowing something will come and not actually interacting with the events. So, the cinematic areas of the games are the less terrifying areas.

However, if a second player is alongside Isaac in his exploration, how are non-cinematic jump moments going to be implemented in a way that both players witness them at the exact same time? Surely both aren’t going to be side-by-side the entirety of the game, and so getting both players to be at a trigger point at once may be a struggle. One way around this, it would seem, would be to increase the use of cinematic sequences. When a trigger is passed, a cinematic played in which both players are present. But, as aforementioned, these sequences are not even close to the surprise horror of unexpected jump sequences, and the increase in these could well result in the decrease of terror in the game as a whole.

As solely single player experiences, Dead Space and Dead Space 2 (story) instilled the fear and worry of being alone with these creatures and no-one else to aid in survival or assist in battle, and that was a powerful factor in both games’ horror. Whilst another character present may make the player feel safer in every broken elevator, and it would be a poor design choice to let it affect Dead Space’s core feel in that way. Conversely, other aspects could be implemented to restructure the horror experience; the fear of separation, for example, could amplify the terror even further. Gears of War style ‘Choose a Path and We’ll Split’ sequences seem likely, and that fear – though infrequent – would be intensely powerful.

More numbers means more limbs, right?

There are two sides to the argument of whether co-op will be a strong addition to the Dead Space series, and I’m unsure as to which side of the fence I lie on. On the one hand, co-op is a major gameplay addition, allowing for experiencing Dead Space with a friend, enhancing combat experiences, and giving the potential for a whole host of new events and story happenings. On the other hand, it could detract from the core horror experience Dead Space has established, focusing on cinematic horror over the more impactful jump-scenes, and eradicating the feeling of being alone in the vast space; a survival horror no more. After all, shouldn’t the multiplayer and singleplayer experiences remain separate?

If well implemented, none of the problems I addressed may even be present, and, after providing two critically acclaimed games in the Dead Space series, I have the upmost faith that Visceral will pull it off. There’s no saying that co-op is mandatory for Dead Space 3’s experience, either. It could be optional, or a separate mode entirely – hell, we don’t even know if it exists yet.

To see the full set of screenshots, go directly to our source, All Games Beta.