Why Dead Space 3′s Co-Op Could Actually Be Scary

By Nathan Grayson on December 14th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Dead Space 3 has co-op. You may not have heard – unless, you know, you are any human being on this entire planet with functioning ears or eyes. You’ve probably used your mouth to voice distaste for Isaac’s new foul-mouthed best pal Carver, too. After all, it’s much harder to be afraid of the dark when someone’s whispering sweet, soothing nothings into your heavily armored ear. Plus, Visceral’s flatly stated that co-op will help make Dead Space more accessible for the faint of heart. So obviously, there’s reason to fear the worst for, well, fear in general. But that’s also ignoring the new possibilities adding another person to the mix presents, Visceral producer John Calhoun claimed during a recent showcase. Yes, one’s the loneliest number, but two can be just as bad.

I’m still not sold on Dead Space 3′s co-op. I’m still worried that aspects of its design could seep into single-player like so much freshly spilled, colder-than-an-ice-planet necromorph blood. But, if nothing else, I came away from a recent Dead Space 3 co-op showcase convinced that Visceral’s not just tossing Carver into the mix out of pure obligation. There’s a method to what many initially (and very angrily) considered madness, and at least one portion of it was born in the name of adding scares – not dampening their effect with friendship and rainbow bunny heart sparkles.

You’ll remember that Isaac had some pretty serious dementia through the first couple Dead Space games. Well, he’s mostly over it now because of reasons, but this is Carver’s first time gallivanting about on necromorph Marker-strewn turf. His brain, then, is starting to crack like a big ol’ nutty egg, and that has a direct effect on the way some co-op sections play out. Carver, man, he sees things. Crazy things. Terrible things. But they’re not real. They certainly don’t pop up on Isaac’s radar. That knowledge, however, probably won’t be of much use to you if your co-op partner’s off in some cave in Siberia, and you’re halfway across the world in your game room.

“I imagine people are [frantically] going to be like, ‘OK, I’m seeing a rock. Are you seeing a rock?’” said producer John Calhoun. “We’re not gonna waste your time on rocks, though. These things are gonna stand out.”

A comparison could, perhaps, be made to console cult survival-horror hit Eternal Darkness, which occasionally tested the sanity of both main characters and players with sickening sights and sounds that weren’t always just in their heads. With multiple people, though, you clear a nice, wide (and potentially dead) space for a killer more methodical and insidious than any necromorph: doubt. And so, as players take heavy, hesitant boot steps through hungry darkness, they’ll become a partial source of one another’s fear.

“You’ll be playing with a friend,” explained Calhoun,” and one thing could scare you. You’ll be freaking out, but your friend will be like, ‘Come on! There’s nothing happening here.’ Or you hear a noise off in the distance, and you’re like ‘Well, that’s just a noise. It doesn’t scare me.’ Horror’s a difficult thing to develop, but we put our best foot forward in Dead Space 3.”

Calhoun admits, however, that it’s not an exact science. Horror hits everybody in different ways, after all. I, for instance, am scared to death of spiders, but you could have a cage full of pet spiders that all wear tiny hats and snuggle around your face in some kind of furry terror beard formation each night when you go to sleep. Point is, even the best horror’s hardly full-proof, but Visceral wants Dead Space 3′s co-op scares to hit home as hard as anything else in the game.

“I hope so,” Calhoun replied when asked if co-op’s scares will sometimes outdo single-player. “I mean, it’s hard to say what’s going to be scary for everybody. To me, the scariest movie in the world is Psycho. I dread those long shots where you’re not sure what’s going on, but that’s not for everybody. Other people just like Saw V and think that’s the scariest thing ever. Me, though, I’m like, ‘Oh, well that’s just gore.’ So it’s hard to say what’s going to scare people. We have our formula. We have our dementia moments. We have our jump scares. We have long periods of time where nothing’s happening, but you think something’s going to happen. You don’t know. We try to keep you on edge.”

And yet, certain aspects of co-op seem… problematic if that’s indeed the goal. It all goes back to Carver. His mind might be failing him, but – based on trailers and some gameplay demos – his mouth sure isn’t. Somewhat infamously, Dead Space 3′s E3 demo saw him brashly toss out a mean-mugged “Man, fuck this planet” after what should’ve been a heart-stopper of a boss fight. It lent a certain buddy cop bro movie feel to the proceedings, and longtime fans immediately viewed it as a fatal tumor on the face of authentic fear. Well, good news and bad news, folks. That line, you see, isn’t going anywhere. But Calhoun insists it won’t suddenly transform Dead Space 3 into Army of Two.

“That’s an example of something you won’t hear in single-player, and we’ve come a long way in terms of finalizing the tonal voice of Dead Space 3 since E3,” he said. “We’ve really kind of nailed that sweet spot of having Carver fully fleshed out as a character. He’s a soldier. He’s not afraid the way Isaac is afraid when he encounters new things. He’s capable with a gun, while Isaac’s just an engineer.”

“So when Carver says, ‘Man, fuck this planet,’ that’s his character. We’re proud of that line. It kind of demonstrates his attitude. Don’t worry, the game’s not all like that. But he needed to feel like he was responding to the situation in character. And that’s as a career solider who’s gone on missions before.”

And, at least, based on an extremely brief demo, he was right. As a partner and I fought our way across snow-drowned mountains and frigid coves, Carver never made a peep. In fact, the only people who piped up were friends of Isaac on the other end of a radio. They screamed and died, naturally. It wasn’t particularly scary, but I was definitely unsettled by it. That said, I was playing as Carver, and I never noticed anything that stuck out to me as a hallucination or a sign of my character’s slowly unraveling mind.

By and large, it was pretty typical Dead Space, but with a few new tricks. For instance, I got to use a gun that ricocheted explosives off various surfaces. That, combined with the game’s lack of friendly fire, was pretty killer in cramped areas. Also, toward the end, there was a mountain-climbing section that saw both of us strap into harnesses and battle our way up an icy cliffside while swinging to avoid falling rocks and slithering enemies. It was impressively intense, but again, not exactly horrifying.

Granted, it was only a tiny, 20-or-so-minute slice of the game, so there’s still plenty more to see. No, it probably won’t be exactly like previous Dead Space games, but then again, that’s kind of the idea.

“We didn’t just want to remake Dead Space 1 and 2,” Calhoun concluded. “We had to try something new and innovative. So for us, that’s co-op. We put a lot of time into how our co-op works.”

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52 Comments »

  1. Stupoider says:

    “Visceral Games”

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  2. Outright Villainy says:

    It’s funny when people talk about the lack of horror in each sequel, when really they’re just playing to their strengths. They’ve a much better grasp and what makes Aliens good as opposed to Alien, so to speak, and I’m actually looking forward to having a good co-op experience. Dead space was good at being tense, rather than scary, and co-op can definitely be tense.

  3. Berzee says:

    As a person who definitely has at least Some ears and eyes and lives, if not on this entire planet, on a person-sized portion of it — and who also has never bothered to know anything about any of the Dead Space games ( because “ehhhhhhh….horror? =|” ) I for one…um.

    • bill says:

      I don’t think i even knew there was a dead space 3…. if i did then i forgot. I will now proceed to forget again…

  4. Vagrant says:

    Its about time they make Dead Space scary! The last time this series was scary was 5 minutes into the first one; Then they gave me the ability to cut the limbs off aliens, and telepathically stab them to death with their own arm.

    The only thing scary in Dead Space is Isaac.

    • Stromko says:

      Meh, as soon as Dead Space gave you a gun it wasn’t a horror game, just a gory game. With fun combat.

      I don’t care if Dead Space 3 is scary or not, the only question I have is will they make it fun to run around eviscerating freakish undead enemies and upgrading my equipment and guns. That’s all. It’s not Amnesia: The Dark Descent and never was, if you want scary there’s scary games, and personally I only like to watch OTHER people play Amnesia.

    • max_1111 says:

      telekinetically*

  5. Silva Shadow says:

    Dead Space 3 won’t be scary, it will be another Gears of War clone, like Dead Space 2 was.

    • ZIGS says:

      People need to stop thinking of Dead Space games as scary/horror games. They’re action games. Dead Space 2 is a great action game

      • Manburger says:

        Agreed! I quite like Dead Space 2, but it’s not exactly terrifying. It is really intense though, in a way that leaves me fatigued, but in a good way — at the end, I felt like me & Isaac had been through a goddamn gnarly journey.

      • DrGonzo says:

        Dead Space 1 was an exploration game, with a fair bit of action. Dead Space 2 was a straight action. So yeah, it’s an action series, but the 2nd game took all of my favourite parts out and left only the worst bits in their place.

      • DigitalParadox says:

        I think action-horror describes these games pretty well, same as something like the Resident Evil series from 4 onwards. While not always focused on scares, it still has that sort of uneasy horror vibe going, but the biggest difference is in that first word. Survival-horror implies a certain lack of power, a struggle to merely keep on living, every new room explored without some horrible beast tearing out your organs feels like a great victory. Meanwhile with action-horror you’re blasting things from room to room, feeling less of a sense of dread and more of the tension that comes with any action games. Survival-horror is about surviving, while action-horror is about winning.

        • Zyzyx says:

          I don’t understand the difference between Action and Action-Horror then.

          I liked DS1 because I was looking for horror and found some. I didn’t like DS2 most likely because I had the wrong expectation; I think I’ll skip DS3.

      • The Random One says:

        “People need to stop thinking of Dead Space games as scary/horror games. They’re action games.”

        Agreed. The people at Visceral and EA really need to stop that.

        • x3m157 says:

          Yeah. Dead Space (1, the only one I’ve played [so far]) had excellent atmosphere and a couple of HOLY SHIT WTF moments, but I didn’t think it was that scary. (at least not compared to SCP-087-B)

    • CommentSystem says:

      I’m sorry, but calling Dead Space 2 a Gears clone is a stretch, it doesn’t even have a cover mechanic.

      I am also tired of people saying Dead Space is an action game not a horror game like the two are mutually exclusive.

      • max_1111 says:

        Eeeh…. I could’ve sworn that part of the big uproar about DS3 (co-op mode aside) was that it was adding universal ammo and a cover system…

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    DanielBrauer says:

    Having each player see different things is somewhat interesting. I hope they turn you against one another, though. It would be cool if they managed to pull off panicky friendly fire situations because you thought the other guy was an alien.

  7. Shooop says:

    Dead Space can’t be scary anymore. It just can’t.

    Why? Because it’s already shown its hand in the first game. The horror of the first was not knowing what the hell was going on, why things with blades where their heads and limbs should be were everywhere trying to kill you.

    Now all that’s left are the gimmicks of being as disgusting as possible and flicking the lights like strobes.

  8. Zyrxil says:

    #Inceptionsound

  9. tobecooper says:

    I thought Dead Space was rather tense, too. I always felt relieved when getting into the monster-free hub areas and dreaded going too far away. Very memorable.

    I’m also one of the people who believe in ‘Carver is an imaginary friend’ theory, so I think you won’t be able to kill him in DS3 until the end where the two will have a showdown.

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      jezcentral says:

      This is sounding a little “Kane and Lynch” in space.

  10. uNapalm says:

    The Walking Dead was horrifying (rather than scary) because of the things it forced you to do. If Dead Space 3 can combine action, scares and some deeply unsettling player choices then it would be awesome. And they could do it all in Zero G for double intensity! Woo!

  11. SuperNashwanPower says:

    They are totally cuddling in that top pic.

    • The Random One says:

      Isaac and Carver, in a tree…

      Edit: I obviously knew the contents of the picture in question and it just happens that the two creatures pictured have the same names as the protagonists. What a coincidence!

  12. tobecooper says:

    I laughed out loud at the PR spin they gave to the ‘Man, fuck this planet’ line. They are apparently proud of it, because it shows Carver’s character very well. I follow the line of reasoning, but it doesn’t make the text any less groan-worthy. I understand all the game soldiers say stuff like that but it’s nothing to be proud of. Really, sirs. It’s not any poetic combination of fucks or a cuss symphony, it’s shit people say when playing games. Don’t be proud of it, please.

    • Nate says:

      Right– it’s like, if that shows his character, then he’s a douchebag who learned how to talk by watching bad action movies, and I’d rather not spend ten or twenty hours in his company.

      Video games are notoriously bad at characterization, and part of the reason for that is they lack subtlety. Usually, less “character” is better than more.

  13. Felixader says:

    After two of these incidents i wouldn’t call Isaac a Amateur any more.

  14. Arithon says:

    I thought Dead Space was an FPS with next to no ammo.

    “Can I find some health enough to get to a poxy checkpoint before I’m killed?”

    Not scary, so much as frustrating.

    • Felixader says:

      Nah, i never had any problems finding enough ammo in either of the previous games. I even have had moments where i had to leave back some stuff cause my inventory was so full.

    • Citrus says:

      Next to no ammo? Are we playing the same game?

      I had so much ammo and health kits in both games that I actually started SELLING HEALTH AND AMMO to pay for all guns I can buy. Yeah, I tried out as many guns I can because I would carry items using gravity gun thingy and sell them to nearest store.

  15. Jupiah says:

    I really don’t understand why 90% of the comments on every article about this game are all variations lf “lol dead space isn’t scary.” No crap, that’s never really been the point. It’s hard for a game to be scary when your character wears armor, carries a small armory of weaponry and annihilates every monster he encounters.

    What Dead Space is is unnerving, freaky, stressful. Isaac is too powerful for the game to be truly scary, but if the fantastically dreadful atmosphere and jump scares don’t keep you on the edge of your seat every time you turn a corner dreading whatever horrible, freaky, gruesome thing you’re going to find or meet next, then you are a far tougher person then me. Whether it’s a hallucination where Isaac almost kills himself, or a corpse banging it’s head on the wall until you get near, or an insane nurse who cuts her own throat open right in front of you, or a 15-minute long section where absolutely nothing happens but each second you become more and more convinced that *something* must be about to happen… these games make me paranoid, okay? That’s why I enjoy playing them.

    • hypercrisis says:

      i dont understand why the remaining 10% complain that it isn’t supposed to be scary, even though the game very clearly markets itself as such.

      • socrate says:

        hahaha so true….but i did like the first 1 i think scary doesn’t really mean BOO!! and AAAHHHH!!…i think its more of the feeling of feeling alone and paranoia or the fear of the i don’t know wtf happened and whats going to happen next….the fear of the unknown and strange i guess…there is a load of kind of fear and the first one had a really nice feel to it and did it quite well…

        That said the second one was just more of the same which is quite horrible(not in a good way) when it come to horror game and it would tend to lean toward more action paced gameplay with more of the same enemy and modification of known enemy….add to this that it was made to actually make quick $$$ off something EA didint even take seriously at first and then you have their new milk cow out of a thousand of them.

        This video ending with pre-order for a stupid big game player as EA just turn me off even more,that company need to be crushed,they make bad game and turn brillant idea into pile of crap all the time and then when one is actually interesting they exploit and destroy the title to capitalise on it till there is no life left into it.

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    PikaBot says:

    Dead Space 1: Tense, but only very rarely really scary. Scares were so amateurly implemented (oh look a necromorph just jumped out of a vent a million miles away and is running straight for me! Too bad it will never get anywhere near me, just like the other five million times this happened) and with the exception of that regenerating son of a bitch none of the enemies were very threatening.

    Dead Space 2: Better on a technical level in almost every single way. Weapons were better balanced, enemies were better…contrary to popular opinion, I actually feel Dead Space 2 was significantly scarier than Dead Space 1. They got a lot better at building tension and constructing ambushes that were actually threatening, and the new enemy types were inspired. Unfortunately, the narrative structure sucked. Whereas in DS1 everything you do is based on a structure of ‘there is a problem, go fix it’, which really sold Isaac as an engineer/space repairman and gave the player an ongoing sense of purpose, in DS2 you spend 90% of your time just blindly following the directions of the voice in your ear,going somewhere but with no real reason to do so except that the game tells you to. This made is a less satisfying experience on the whole.

    DS3: From the footage we’ve already seen it really appears to be the worst of both worlds. It doesn’t look remotely scary in SINGLE player, worse than either of its predecessors, so I have absolutely not faith that they will manage to make co-op frightening in the least.

  17. Dangerdad says:

    I’ve been seeing the construction ‘first couple Dead Space games’ instead of ‘first couple OF Dead Space games’ lately… Is this becoming a common variant or just an error?

    I hope DS3 works out. I actually played the first game when I was sick at home (and my wife and kids were on a trip). I played the entire game in a single 20+ hour session. It was the most amazing gaming experience I’d had since childhood. Please keep the single-player game as the centerpiece!

  18. Moni says:

    Hmm, I wonder if a multiplayer game based on “The Thing” would work.

    It would basically be Spy Party, but with more heads spontaneously sprouting legs.

  19. PancreaticDefect says:

    So the transformation into “John Carpenters The Thing: The Game” is almost complete…

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      strangeloup says:

      There already was one, on the PS2 and original Xbox as I recall, but unfortunately a good number of the mechanics were seriously broken.

      To its credit, it had some really great ideas that as far as I know haven’t been looked at again since.

  20. Zogtee says:

    “We’re proud of that line.”

    The most tired and overused line you could possibly imagine and they’re proud of it.

    • pyrrhocorax says:

      If I ever feel scared during a game again I’ll just imagine my beard made of friendly spiders and feel serene once more.

  21. DK says:

    Let’s make people in coop see different things to be scary and freak them out! Let’s not have any friendly fire or consequences, because then they might actually be a reaction to the different viewpoints.

    Visceral doesn’t have the guts to actually follow through on their claims.

  22. Kamikaze_Tutor says:

    I was expecting this video when I clicked to read the rest of the post.

  23. Citrus says:

    Even Dead Space 1 and 2′s SP weren’t scary so somehow I doubt it they managed to make the CO-OP scary.

    I played through and finished the previous games because it’s fun cutting up the monsters limb by limb. The storyline is good enough as well and keeps you interested (the visuals and SFX are top notch obviously).

    I definitely didn’t play Dead Space cause it was a “horror” game (just like F.E.A.R. isn’t).

  24. Caiman says:

    Not at all, it’s just that everyone who didn’t find Dead Space scary has to tell everyone about it. But like Nathan discusses in the post, different people find different things scary. I can’t understand why people get freaked out by spiders, I think they’re kinda cute and awesome, But Dead Space I found incredibly frightening. DS2 was less so, but still very tense, the scariest part being Chapter 10 where you revisit something particularly frightening! But the combat was easier, there were more weapons, and the consequences of entering into melee range were much less severe, so the fear was reduced.

    Still, I’m keen to see how they can introduce some variety in the Dead Space universe with the third one.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Kong says:

    Every time I look at the PC DVD “Dead Space” it seems like it was not really there. It rests there on the shelf, just in reach. My hands would never touch it. Freaking thing.
    I have faint, dreamlike memories of a game on my computer. A never ending prologue, repeating itself over and over. I have to watch and listen to it a thousand times. At the end things get to look really ugly and no matter what I do, I never have any control.
    Dead Space makes me shudder. Me and my trusted machine stay away from that hell. Promised.

  26. Spakkenkhrist says:

    I wouldn’t say I found Dead Space scary, but the enemies certainly caused me to panic and feel threatened by them.

  27. Cloudiest Nights says:

    So close to making a Three Dog Night reference in the opening paragraph…

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