Isaac Clarke's spaceship has seen better days. Electronic devices are exploding, the ceiling is caving in, and the thick glass windows that are protecting him from the cold, dark space outside are beginning to shatter.
All of a sudden the simulated gravity fails, and our hero has to make it through the corridors of the crumbling ship before it all breaks apart. It's the Titanic all over again - this time in space. Isaac's already been through a lot in the previous entries of the Dead Space saga, but judging from my time with Dead Space 3 during Gamescom 2012, he seems to be setting some kind of record as far as bad luck goes this time around. And it only takes him the first few minutes of the demo to set that record.
After suiting up and guiding Isaac through the ship's debris, I find myself alone on another spacecraft that's been drifting aimlessly through space for centuries. This place is much older than the locations that we're used to seeing in Dead Space, with eroded walls, rusted pipes, and door mechanisms that have stopped working. There's no doubt that the place is a giant death trap, and I'm thinking that I might have been better off inside the ship I just left behind.
It doesn't take long before the entire screen is filled with nasty flesh pods that are hanging from the walls. Cue the Necromorphs, the shape-shifting zombies from outer space that needs to be dismembered before being sent back to hell. Fortunately, Isaac is armed with his signature plasma cutter, and even though the developers have been talking about a more action-heavy game, this is the Dead Space I remember. The narrow corridors, the fantastic lighting effects and the amazing sound design kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire demo. And the Necromorphs themselves? Well, they look even creepier than ever, which I didn't even think possible.
For those of you that might have feared that the game's brand new co-op mode would somehow render the scares less effective: you mustn't worry. The way cutscenes and gameplay changes depending on if you're playing by yourself or with a friend is as subtle as it is brilliant, and playing through the demo by myself gave me just the experience that I'm looking for in a Dead Space adventure.
Just like in the previous games, Isaac can use the built-in Kinesis and Stasis modules of his suit while fighting Necromorphs, and these mechanics also come into play when there's some light puzzle solving to be done. However, Visceral Games have completely overhauled the way the game handles weapons. Forget the currency and the power nodes that you'd normally spend on expanding and upgrading your arsenal in convenient shops. In Dead Space 3 you're designing your own armaments completely from scratch.
By gathering raw materials and rare metals, Isaac can generate brand new components that can be used to assemble new tools of destruction. All weapons feature two different firing modes, both of which you can pick from a massive list. This means that you'll finally be able to create that flamethrower/rocket launcher hybrid contraption you've always dreamt about. Or how about a shotgun that also has the ability to shoot saw blades? That's possible, too. You can even apply scopes and other modifiers to your weapons, like ammunition that sets enemies on fire or slows them down for a short period of time.
In an enclosed arena, designed by Visceral for Gamescom, I got to play around with the crafting system and call for the undead horde of monsters to storm me whenever I felt ready. Exploring the deep customization options was a joy, and it even made me shout out the iconic Scarface quote "Say hello to my little friend!" when I introduced the horrid monsters to my wonderful new arsenal of dismemberment.
Before playing the game at Gamescom, I had kept my expectations for Dead Space 3 at a minimum, but Visceral managed to win me over this past week. Thanks to cool new features such as weapon crafting and an intelligent and adaptative co-op system, and that ever amazing Dead Space atmosphere, Isaac's next encounter with the Necromorphs can't come soon enough. If what I've seen thus far is any indication, I'll love every second of being scared to death by Dead Space 3...