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.”