5 Reasons Dead Space 3 Co-op Works
1. It’s Unique
It was really easy to label Dead Space 3 as ‘Gears Of Space herp derp!’ following EA’s presentations at E3 and Gamescom of its latest survival horror outing. Really easy. It’s third person, it has chunky characters, it showed an increased emphasis on action, it’s man vs. monsters and it had co-op.
It ticked every box on the Gears Of War list and seemed happy to move into Marcus Fenix’s territory. Fans weren’t happy but Visceral Games anticipated that reaction.
“The addition of co-op on its own… a lot of people are going to have questions about it, we knew that was going to happen,” explained Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis. “But hopefully by showing people the game they can see with co-op that we’re taking it in a very Dead Space direction and we’re innovating with a feature that nobody’s ever done before.”
And that feature is…
2. The Second Player Suffers From Dementia
Well, okay. Not the actual person stabbing at the buttons. Rather, it’s the character that second player is controlling. Unlike the sturdy demeanour of Isaac Clarke, John Carver is a soldier who has seen the death of his wife and son. His goal in Dead Space 3 is revenge but he suffers from dementia and is slowly losing his mind. Which is… a problem.
The Carver player will see things the Clarke player doesn’t. One doorway has a giant wooden toy soldier next to it, which only Carver sees. Getting close to that soldier triggers a cutscene where Carver reaches out to it, only for Isaac Clarke to step in and bring Carver back to his senses. But Clarke’s face has become that of Carver’s dead wife – bloodied, zombified and horrifying.
Yet through the eyes of the Isaac Clarke player? He sees Carver reaching out for nothing, and he doesn’t see his own face as any different. It’s an interesting way to change up the traditional co-op divide and leads to a lot of ‘did you see that?’ moments.
“One of the goals with co-op was that when you chose to play with a friend it felt different,” Papoutsis told us. “It didn’t feel like a tacked-on second character, it wasn’t just a soldier guy with Isaac – it’s John Carver, a man who has his own back story, who is fighting his own demons, who is actually in the Dead Space universe through one of our graphic novels and has his own back story.
“When you chose to play with a friend, that story would evolve and was added to by having him involved – there’s moments in the interaction like you talked about of ‘whoa, did you see that?’ ‘I didn’t see that, what are you talking about?’ – now there’s motivation. Now there’s a conversation. Now it’s meaningful and different and additive to what you normally play. So it feels like I can play the single player, then I can get my friend and jump in with them and I’ll decide maybe I’ll play as Carver so I can see what they were talking about.”
3. Co-Op Set-Pieces Are Unique
Leading on from the dementia angle, it’s not just cutscenes and scenery that will change for Carver but also set-pieces themselves. One ambush takes place in a long tunnel and while Clarke is fending off creatures, Carver sees the tunnel as a burning, twisted, hellish vision of his son’s birthday party. Clarke becomes more of a protector, helping Carver through his own personal hell.
It doesn’t mean the Carver player shies away from any sort of responsibility in the game, as he also has to kill the creatures (which become shadowy, demon-esque… things in his alternate reality). But it does mean there’s potential for some interesting, unusual set-pieces by playing up Carver’s dementia.
4. Co-Op Only Content
Dead Space 3 has some doors that can only be accessed through John Carver. That, combined with Carver’s unique take on events in the game itself, means some players will inevitably miss out on content unless they get stuck into multiplayer. Visceral Games isn’t overly concerned with that.
“That’s one of the challenges when we started the game – we knew that we were going to make content that some people just weren’t going to look at because they just don’t want to play co-op,” said Papoutsis.
“That’s okay. It’s their loss, because they’re missing out on some cool stuff that the team’s done. But hopefully when people see it, read about it, hear about it on a forum and read about how our co-op actually works and how it’s actually additive through an article like this, people will become more interested and want to play with their friends.
“One of the goals with adding co-op was to have people be able to experience Dead Space with a friend – the feeling of going to a horror movie with someone. You can go to a horror movie with somebody and you can both be really into it, it’s tense and you’re on the edge of your seat, or you could go with a friend and you’d be drinking your sodas and eating popcorn and laughing but having a great time – we wanted players to be able to experience the game in a number of different ways.”
5. It’s Still Scary! Sort Of
Aha! This is obviously subjective because fear is subjective. Some players will have balls of steel, others will dissolve into a puddle of wee at the sight of a spider, there are even those who will catapult backwards off their sofa in fright if someone speaks over the headset at the wrong time.
The big concern with Dead Space 3 is that the presence of a second player will rob Dead Space 3 of its atmosphere and stop it from creating a suffocating sense of fear or paranoia.
“Again, that’s one of the challenges we have in making the game. I think it really comes down to who you’re playing with,” answered Papoutsis. “If you’re playing with a friend who is really serious and is playing on the headset and is really into what they’re doing then I think it’s going to be really different to if you’re playing with a friend who’s laughing all the time, who’s talking to you, where you can hear the noise in the background – it’s going to be different.
“What we did create in the demo you saw today was a situation where Isaac had to have Carver’s back and protect him as he’s experiencing his dementia. That adds a different level of tension or suspense to the game that we’re really looking to deliver throughout. So not only do you have the experience of going through the levels and shooting the necromorphs, but now you have to deal with what Carver is going through, what player two is seeing – ‘hey, what are you seeing right now?’ – and how you have to make sure that you both survive.”
It was hard to judge if Dead Space 3 will retain the unease of the original from the part we played, partly due to the environment we played it in (EA Showcase, lots of media chatter nearby, bright lights) and partly because… well, nothing we played was particularly scary. Twitchers were annoying to fight. The dementia bits were definitely interesting. But scary? Real, genuine, sofa-staining fear? Nope.
That’s one challenge Dead Space 3 has yet to rise to.