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Balancing horror and action in Dead Space 3

Bags Hooper

The Dead Space franchise was founded on the core tenet of isolation – a single-player survival adventure against horrific necromorphs. In Dead Space 2, the franchise shifted its focus toward the growing blend of action and horror, a direction the Resident Evil franchise has been firmly set on in its last few releases.

With Dead Space 3 Visceral looks to offer more of a balance between action and horror. Though the series is still planted within the action-horror sub-genre, Dead Space 3 will attempt to match the level of scares seen in previous entries while ramping up the action as the story progresses.

"We don't want to ever just be only action," Chuck Beaver, Dead Space 3 story producer, told Joystiq. "I think survival horror is morphing into something else."

Gallery: Dead Space 3 (11/8/12) | 7 Photos

The Dead Space franchise looks to add something completely different to the mix, too, with Dead Space 3 featuring a second primary character, the irascible John Carver, allowing for drop-in/drop-out co-op play alongside series lead Isaac Clarke.

My hands-on with Dead Space 3 began controlling Clarke – alone, as he's come to expect – on the frostbitten planet of Tau Volantis. It was a familiar, isolated Dead Space experience. After navigating through a snowstorm, Clarke took a long elevator down into the horrific depths of a nearby installation. The quiet areas left my nerves on end, wondering where the nearest necromorph encounter could come from.

Walking over to a workbench, Clarke began experimenting with piecing together ad-hoc weaponry from a slew of customizable parts. Adding fire to any weapon is always great, and worked well here with a standard Line Gun. After leaving the bench my encounters began, with Isaac facing off against various franchise enemies: Twitchers, Stalkers and black Slashers.

Same great combat, only glossier with improvements made to the visuals.

Playing the same chapter again, I was paired with a co-op partner. Having a partner steadied my nerves as the elevator dropped to the installation's ground floor. Once we moved past the bench, however, things started to change as more enemies appeared to attack the both of us. As we approached the exit, Carver started having visions. My partner's entire screen became a convoluted swirl of dark colors. Back on my screen, necromorphs were attacking. It become my duty to protect a defenseless Carver as his visions subsided. Dying as Clarke during Carver's mental breakdown ends the game. Once most of the necromorph horde was diced, Carver snapped back to reality and helped fend off the remaining foes.

Balancing horror and action in Dead Space 3
The momentary interlude felt like something out of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, where the mental state of a character affects the action. Once we made it outside of the area, the regular action of necromorph versus man continued.

The unique moment did have a feel of survival horror attached to it. Players will want to play the game as John so that they can experience Carver's dementia first-hand. However, once they commit to Carver, they'll be leaving their fate to their co-op partner.

"We want to own the space of action-horror," Beaver told Joystiq. In the spectrum of horror games, titles like Amnesia are "way over on the horror side," while "Resident Evil has gone more towards the action side."

Visceral's goal is to find the balance between both pieces to "blend" two sides of the spectrum.

Dead Space 3 launches for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on February 5.

Bags Hooper is a writer based out of Brooklyn, New York. He has contributed to multiple outlets, including BuzzFocus, USA Network, Showtime's Pop Tudors, Monsters & Critics and FHM. You can follow him on Twitter at @BagsHooper.

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