Isaac Clarke has experienced unspeakable horrors. His exposure to an alien artifact known as the Marker has left him psychologically unhinged, making him a target for medical experimentation and betrayal. He has been haunted by the spirit of his girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, nearly losing his own life through her manipulations. Through it all, he’s had to battle the necromorphs, a terrifying alien threat that repurposes organic life, corrupting and twisting its hosts into mind-bending forms. Through the series, players have been left with a series of nagging questions. Who build the Markers and why? How do they work? With Dead Space 3, Visceral Games is not only providing answers, but it’s delivering an installment that will make players look at Dead Space in a whole new light.

Isaac awakes with a start, coughing. His eyes dart around frantically as he tries to gain his bearings. He’s suspended upside-down, and his face is banged-up and bloodied. More disconcertingly, his hair is dusted with a layer of frost. He’s in a confined space made from walls of twisted metal beams and paneling, and flames lick through small gaps. His breathing is labored, and he strains to free himself. After a few agonizing seconds, he drops down, and the camera spins to meet him on the ground. 

The impact frees a few icicles from the misshapen ruins of what’s now clearly a crash site. Isaac rises to his feet and activates his suit’s helmet, which slides over his head. The camera pulls back, giving us the first full-bodied view of the engineer. A low-health beacon flashes on his back, providing visual confirmation of what we already figured out: Isaac Clarke isn’t doing so well.

He takes a few tentative steps out of the flaming scrap, and he’s enveloped in a powerful blizzard. The wind howls and whistles as snow obscures the wreckage in his immediate vicinity. He trudges forward, holding a forearm up near his face in an effort to block the wind. “Ellie?” he calls out desperately, hoping his Dead Space 2 companion has also survived the event.

Welcome to Tau Volantis. This inhospitable planet is the stage for our gameplay demo. It’s desolate and brutal. An unrelenting wind scours the surface, making trips of otherwise mundane distances a gamble. This is the second chapter of the game’s story, which picks up a few months after Dead Space 2 left off.

Isaac lurches on, knee deep in the snow, which is also accumulating in spots on his segmented helmet and shoulders. As a precaution, he pulls out his trusty Ripper, a rotary saw that carves through flesh as easily as whatever it was once intended for. Ahead, he sees an opening in the snow framed by a swinging gate — a sign of civilization. Suddenly, a ghastly sight pierces the haze. A creature with a glowing orange, grimacing face rushes out, and Isaac quickly dispatches it with a few well-placed blades. Isaac isn’t alone.

A New Enemy
Inside the cavern, Isaac is insulated from the elements, but he’s certainly no safer. A few corpses in yellow parkas lurch upright as Isaac approaches, and the Ripper is once again called into action. Necromorphs. As he blasts these new Fodder enemies apart with his weapon, we see one of Dead Space 3’s new features. The Fodders transform from their biped forms into one of two other abominations depending on how they’re attacked. After one enemy has a leg dismantled, four large spidery legs burst from the bottom of its torso and it skitters forward. Isaac drops the beast as it charges, dragging its remaining, useless leg behind it. Another Fodder enemy gets its top half ripped off, and it responds to the destruction by growing four tendrils near its exposed spinal column. This variant is particularly aggressive, and Isaac barely has time to dismember the creature before it slashes him apart with its whipping arms.

Isaac makes his way through the cavern, dropping a few necromorphs that pop out of the snowdrifts and collecting valuable ammo and health packs. They’re nowhere close to piñata-like showers, but ammo drops are more plentiful this time around, says lead gameplay and combat designer Ben Walker. Before you think that’s an invitation to fire blindly and hope for the best, consider this: Your errant shots could end up clipping an unseen Fodder, twisting it into a form that’s difficult to deal with.

Eventually, Isaac’s way is blocked by an abandoned excavator that’s stopped next to a ***-tightening drop. He opens the door, and the body of its driver slides out, plunging into the darkness. He’s only able to enjoy the refuge of the vehicle’s interior for a moment before it lurches toward the abyss with a groan. Now Isaac has to climb up and out of the vehicle, which has listed precariously on its side. He inches up slowly, steadily, gripping the seats and working toward the steering wheel. After a few agonizing seconds, Isaac slams the frozen driver’s side door open with his shoulder, escaping seconds before the machine disappears into the void.

Isaac has been doggedly travelling forward, but that isn’t the only way to play, says Visceral Games’ head and Dead Space 3 executive producer Steve Papoutsis. “Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 1 were very linear games. If you think about it, you start the game and go from point A to point B, and it’s fun and awesome. With Dead Space 3, we really wanted to open it up a bit. You’ll still have that really consistent and linear experience if you choose to experience the game that way, but if any moment you want to go off the rails so to speak and see what’s around, you’ll have the ability to explore the environment and find unique beta missions that aren’t required for the completion of the game.”

Ahead, he sees another tunnel. With any luck, that doomed vehicle was near an outpost. Isaac advances, taking out a few scattered necromorphs along the way. After clearing his way through the snowy burrow he emerges in front of a massive wall. Guard towers and spotlights line the structure, which at least implies that the location could be secure from the body-stealing necromorphs.

Shelter could provide more than a psychological break from the elements. Visceral wouldn’t specifically say how the cold affects Isaac, though senior producer Dave Woldman says the setting is more than window dressing. “You have a natural assumption of what that could mean for the gameplay and it’s our goal to deliver or exceed on that.” It seems likely that players will have to keep track of Isaac’s body temperature in the unforgiving cold or suffer the consequences, similarly to how oxygen management is a critical part of certain space sections in previous installments.


This preview originally ran in the July issue of Game Informer magazine.