Those who claim that high-profile blockbuster games are becoming too homogenised just got another case-in-point with Dead Space 3.
With its newly-instituted dive-rolls, cover mechanic, yellow glowing targets on bosses, and bro-tastically banterous co-op, the game bites Gears of War's aesthetic so hard that a crossover could be achieved simply by swapping the packaging of the two games. It appears Visceral Games are content to converge rather than diverge with the competition here - what an enormous pity.
To be fair, Dead Space 3 does look spectacular. This time around, Isaac Clarke has crash-landed on the frozen planet of Tau Voltanis, where it seems the Unitologist fanatics from Dead Space 2 have been experimenting on Necromorphs with predictable results. As well as armed Unitologists and Necros, Isaac will also be battling the harsh environs of the planet itself, but in return, more exploration as well as answers regarding the enigmatic markers have been promised by Visceral.
The biggest change here from previous Dead Space titles is undoubtedly the addition of co-op, which, despite seeming wholly out-of-place, has been approached in a rather novel way. It's drop-in/drop-out after death or a save point, but the second character, an angry man by the name of John Carver, is not a constant AI companion in single player. Rather, two parallel stories exist: one featuring Carver all the way through, and one only featuring him at key moments when his story intersects with Clarke's.
Should a friend join, story two kicks in, and Carver pops in as a player-controlled character and features in all cut-scenes. Should said friend leave again, Carver leaves too, to return only when Visceral dictates he must. Such a system means that two play-throughs will be required to see every scrap of content in the game.
Other nice touches: the difficulty automatically increases when another player joins, and the main player's character is persistent, meaning that upgrades and weapons from a prior play-through may be accessed if starting a co-op game. But in a unique twist, they will be on Carver, not Clarke.
Weapons are teaming up this time around, too. Rather than one gun with an alt-fire, completely different weapons may be fired by using the right shoulder pad buttons - both players can dual wield, in other words. Also, cover may be used for the first time in the series, and it requires players to simply walk up to it - no button press is required. The system is "dynamic" so getting stuck on scenery will never occur, according to Visceral.
It's worth noting that slower, more deliberately-paced gameplay doesn't generally sit well with the sugar-addled E3 press, so what we saw at the conference may not be wholly representative of the full game. However, it's probably fair to say that Visceral is hoping the horror and scares will still be present, stemming perhaps from the gore or story side of things rather than from the innate tension of being alone on a dark spaceship, surrounded by hideous mutants, and with little ammunition.
That's all well and good, but did Visceral really have to turn the characters into such generic one-line spouting idiots? That right there may be the biggest atmosphere-killer of all.
Dead Space 3 is slated for a February 13 2013 release, and we'll undoubtedly see more of it in action before then.