E3 2008: Dead Space Updated Hands-On

We tackle the surprises, scares, and alien-splattering fun of the E3 demo of EA's sci-fi survival horror game.

Trapped aboard a city-sized spaceship that's been overrun by horrific aliens, engineer Isaac Clarke does the only thing a video game character knows how to do: He arms himself to the teeth with badass futuristic weaponry and starts to blast his way through a seemingly never-ending wall of alien flesh in the hopes of finding a way out. That's the setup for EA's new sci-fi survival horror game, Dead Space. Announced back in September of last year, the game has actually been in development for more than two years. At E3 2008, EA is showing off a new level and a grisly boss battle, both of which we got to check out a bit early to see how this surprise-filled game is shaping up.

The E3 level comes from roughly the midway point in the game, as Isaac finds himself on the hydroponic deck, where all of the food for the Ishimura crew members is grown. Half of the level has been infested by a strange substance known as "corruption," which is a nasty-looking substance secreted by the necromorph aliens that have invaded the ship, as well as makes the ship a more hospitable place for the aliens to carry on with all their mindless slaughtering and eviscerating. The corruption substance doesn't have a negative effect on Isaac (other than preventing him from running), so your job is to wade into the muck and face down whatever monstrosities are lurking in the corridors of the ship.

This was once a crew mate of yours. Now he's your worst enemy.

The atmosphere on the hydroponics deck has been corrupted by "poison pods," which are former crew members who have been converted by the necromorphs in to half-dead, poison-spewing husks of humanity. Isaac's first mission on this level is to find all of the poison pods on the deck and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. Sure, it may be Isaac's former crew members he's blasting into oblivion, but that's the way it goes in survival horror.

Before you can guide Isaac on his mission, your first stop will be to gear up and get ready for the fight. First, you'll stop at the store to pick up ammo, health, and stasis packs (the latter of which you can use with your stasis power, which enables a stasis field around objects or enemies, temporarily disabling them). Thanks to the wonders of preview code cheats, we had plenty of cash on hand--when you're playing the final version of the game, you'll have to pick up money off of dead crew members. You'll also find tokens strewn throughout the levels in the game; these tokens will be used to upgrade your weapons at specific locations strewn throughout the game. Weapon power-ups use a grid system, where you must spend tokens to advance to each place on the weapon-specific grid.

The weapon power-up system is reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X; spending tokens on certain grids will give you a boost to that weapon's damage, capacity, or reload speed, but in some cases, you have to spend tokens just to get to the upgrade spaces. In addition, you'll have to choose your weapon's power-up path wisely because there aren't enough tokens in the game to fully max out each of your weapons.

The four weapons we carried included a basic pistol, a flamethrower, a shotgunlike weapon that spewed multiple projectiles at targets, and a single-shot contact beam that had to be charged up first but was incredibly effective. The weapons are tied to the D pad on the Xbox 360 controller, so changing from one to the next was as simple as pushing in any direction. Each weapon has its strengths against different types of enemies. For the guardians (evil-looking mounds of alien flesh that attach themselves to walls and attack you with greasy, ropey arms), the shotgun and the contact beam work well, giving you a chance to stay away from the reach of the necromorph monstrosity while dealing the pain. For smaller, more agile enemies, the flame thrower is a good option.

Then there's the brute, whom you meet fairly early on in the E3 demo of the game. He's a hulking, heavily armored bull-like baddy whose first instinct is to run right at you. While you can damage the brute by shooting him head-on, the better tactic is to make liberal use of Isaac's stasis powers. By tapping the X button as the brute closes in, you can temporarily trap him in a stasis field for a few seconds. You can then move Isaac to the rear of the brute, where his armor is less effective and then unload on him. While it's an extremely effective technique, you can only use stasis so many times before it runs out. Luckily, this isn't the only technique you can use to take the brute down. By carefully aiming your shots at the brute's soft bits, you can dismember him and slow him down. A legless brute is still a dangerous brute, however, and it will still take multiple shots to take him down.

The E3 demo of Dead Space had plenty of surprises--and not just your standard boilerplate "shock" moments that are the staple of every horror game. For example, when entering one hallway, we were immediately accosted by a massive slithering alien appendage that grabbed hold of Isaac's leg and began dragging him down the hallway toward a hole in the wall where certain death awaited. While the scene is scripted, you can free yourself as you're being pulled in by shooting the appendage at the right spot. Should you fail to do so, however, as we did when we played the game, there's an amusing animation that teases you into thinking that Isaac still manages to free himself, inches away from being sucked into the hole. Just when you think he's safe to continue his adventures, however, the arm once again emerges and yanks him into the hole. It's a fun death sequence that had us laughing from start to finish.

The antigravity sequences are another pleasant surprise in the game. Periodically, Isaac will encounter sections of the Ishimura in zero gravity. In these sections, debris will be floating in midair; while Isaac cannot float freely throughout the level, you can easily jump from floor to ceiling or to perpendicular walls by simply aiming and pressing the Y button. The perspective change of walking on walls and ceilings can be a little disorienting, but you'll soon learn that these zero-gravity wall jumps will be a crucial strategy, especially during the boss fight that ends the E3 demo of the game.

You spend most of the level killing the poison pods that are contaminating the atmosphere of the Ishimura; once you've destroyed them all, the formerly locked doors to the food-storage locker opens up. Through those doors, the Leviathan awaits, a massive beast of a boss with (yes, you guessed it) huge tentacles that look to do you nothing but harm. The Leviathan rests at the bottom of what appears to be a huge tank, and thanks to the zero-gravity environment, you can leap from wall to wall. In fact, you'll have to use your zero-gravity leap frequently in this battle because it's the only way to avoid those pesky giant tentacles. You'll need to take out those tentacles first to get to the second stage of the boss battle, where the Leviathan is spitting out huge meteor-like rocks your way. Using Isaac's telekinesis powers (which are enabled by an attachment to his futuristic space suit), you can grab those rocky projectiles then fire them back at the Leviathan's maw, where they'll do him just as much harm as they would to Isaac.

You don't need a flashlight to know this is bad news.

If you blast enough rocks into his mouth, the Leviathan will eventually go down in a hail of gore. With the Leviathan defeated, the E3 demo was over, but the cutscene that ended the fight hinted at where the game heads from there: Isaac will have to make his way to the mining deck to send an SOS signal from the Ishimura in hopes of being rescued from the ship. If the E3 demo is anything to go by, there will be plenty more surprises, scares, and alien-splattering fun as Isaac's adventures continue. Look for more coverage of Dead Space in the coming months.

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Discussion

121 comments
hi-buzz
hi-buzz

Holloween is almost here, and we need horror games like this one and Silent Hill:Homecoming(still waitin for gamespot's review)but I'll get both anyway..

crudmanIV
crudmanIV

Me wanty. I loved (and was scared ****less) by event horizon and if this is anything like it it will be great.

wogglies5
wogglies5

@dmdavenport I totally agree with you :) Its sorta like throwing a pool party or something behind enemy lines

aroonie
aroonie

Horror games are good fun ... but i dont like the idea of money and tokens. Why would you have a gun vending machine or anything like that? Altho Bioshock did that too, and did it VERY well.

kilroyrichard
kilroyrichard

this is basically resident evil 4 ripping off aliens, those guardian baddies are extremely similar to ripley's alien love child in alien 4 too, however it still looks amazing and should be fun

amber_jade
amber_jade

As much as I generally dislike EA, I hope this does well so that EA allows another small group of it's members to develop their ideas. With the all that money behind them, hopefully the next team will be allowed to make something innovative, which can only be good news for gamers...

dmdavenport
dmdavenport

What?? This is totally different than when the game was first announced. Then they said you would fight with stuff found on the ship, things you put together yourself. There wasn't a "store" or "tokens." Sounds stupid to me - who's going to be cashing tokens on an abandoned space ship while fighting aliens? EA does it again.

Vasot
Vasot

Looks great !!

scorch-62
scorch-62

Looks Doom-ish. Hope there's co-op :lol:

shinian
shinian

IMHO this looks a lot better than BioShock

aaaaaa12
aaaaaa12

Watch the demo first b4 u say anyrhing guys... The game looks great and the gameplay looks awesome. Watch the stage demo if u dun believe me.

icym
icym

Man, between Dead Space, Silent Hill, and RE5; I'll be scared for the rest of 08 and well into 09! ;)

dark_being
dark_being

I CAN'T WAIT TO PLAY THIS GAME! It isn't out yet, and I'm all set to declare it the Survival Horror game of the year! screw RE5, Dead Space is the new king!

aduana69
aduana69

this game may be the next winner of the year

Macgyver40
Macgyver40

i'm not a big fan of survival horror as a general rule

ImSpartacus811
ImSpartacus811

I'm not sure this will be that great of a game. They say you'll constantly be low on ammo, but Bioshock said that too. I played through Bioshock on hard and always had trouble with my ammo maxing out too much. Then again Bioshock was am amazing game so, who knows?

Nerissa
Nerissa

Once you played a few survival horror games you played them all...

BloodMist
BloodMist

Eh, after seeing plenty of footage of it, the game just screams mediocrity.No originality whatsoever, which isn't the problem, the problem is it's been done a lot better, IE Bioshock.The combat is really really boring, with zero panache.RE5 kicks the living crap out of it, especially in the actual combat department.That's the impression i get from it, at least so far.

otanikun
otanikun

I smell awesomeness on the horizon, it's like a Bioshock set in space, but without the awesome music of the big bopper

grambyte
grambyte

Interests in this are growing, but that's it.

maverick_76
maverick_76

If it is anything like RE:4, in space; then count me in!

mikeyg756
mikeyg756

In a video interview, a guy warns about the game not giving out alot of ammo, and you'll constantly be scared of running out. I hope thats true, and this doesn't turn too *actiony*. I need to play a good scary game. :D

lilnorris64
lilnorris64

Rip off of system shock 2..... minus creepy A.I.

Tharizden
Tharizden

Looks to be an interesting venture. Similar to an updated F.E.A.R. goes into space. Can't wait to see the PC version

Shosta211
Shosta211

This looks like it shaping up to be a great horror game

Vampyre11487
Vampyre11487

This can go one of two ways: System Shock or Prey, both of which I enjoyed a lot, but only one of which was critically acclaimed. Time will tell...

tgh93_29
tgh93_29

Wow, it catches my interest more every time I see it, looks great!

chechak7
chechak7

gear up and get ready for the fight ,it will be plenty more surprises I like that ......i hope it will be also on PC

combatsoldier
combatsoldier

This is the biggest title that ive been waiting for for over a year.

Viral-venom13
Viral-venom13

I like the way of how EA is moving their game projects into new directions. this game looks great and sounds cool so far and i hope it delievers at the time of its release!!

xt3kn1x
xt3kn1x

Looks promising. Sci-fi games open a whole world of possibilities.

bigelf72
bigelf72

Yeah, its like.... Bioshock meets Doom meets Resident Evil.

blakepowell
blakepowell

it reminds me more of doom3 than bioshock cause the people are all zombified and there are giant monsters

IXIWhistIXI
IXIWhistIXI

"I didnt know much about this game until i read this but now im pretty excited. It kind of reminds me of almost Bioshock in space." That's because the trailer is basically the same exact concept of the bioshock one. It uses the calming blissful music cut with scenes of excessive brutality. It's basically the same trailer...this one is a lot more violent though.

gears90
gears90

I didnt know much about this game until i read this but now im pretty excited. It kind of reminds me of almost Bioshock in space.

Nicholai69
Nicholai69

w000t finally a return of some old school survival horror :D