After Isaac's ship crashes on Tau Volantis, he emerges from the wreckage covered in blood, limping through knee-deep snow and a blinding snow storm. Necromorph enemies emerge from beneath the snow's cover when you least expect it, evoking the same tension we first felt in the corridors of the Ishimura.
Dead Space 3 aims to throw a lot of new things at you beyond that sense of dread over what's around the next dark corner. You can invite a friend into the game at any time, and upon reaching the next checkpoint or reverting back to the last one, Isaac Clarke is joined by John Carver. He's a foul-mouthed, hostile man with a scarred face and little love for Necromorph disposal.
The game changes depending on whether you're playing through the campaign alone or with a friend. Characters change locations and events play out differently, evidenced during my lengthy behind-closed-doors preview session here at E3. Approaching a massive industrial complex, Isaac spies his buddy Carver up on a piece of scaffolding. Carver yells down to Clarke, before he's attacked suddenly by a group of Necromorphs. He opens fire but soon has to withdraw, leaving Isaac to deal with a massive cicada-esque monster below.
Should you play in co-op mode, though, Carver and Clarke are together at the start of the scene. Their little exchange doesn't happen and the two take on the cicadamorph together. EA is billing it as two different campaigns in one, though the changes – at least seen here – come off as a neat bit of fan service, more than anything that actually alters the events of the game. However, taking on a boss monster with a friend at your side definitely changes the balance of the battle.
It's a decidedly awkward scenario that I think detracts from the core Dead Space experience. Unitology soldiers want Clarke and Carver dead; Necromorphs have no problem possessing the dead Unitology soldiers and pursuing their failed goal. While the shifting alliances in these sudden three-way skirmishes are interesting, these more action-heavy moments are the exact opposite of what I value and look for in the Dead Space series.
Later on, Clark and Carver descend into a mining facility and become trapped in an arena with a giant, spinning top-like drill. It's a major co-op moment where the two must defend against swarms of Necromorphs and warn each other of the drill's location as it slides around in the room. The two must hit the drill with stasis and, upon slowing it down, shoot the fuel pods inside to ultimately destroy it. There's a lot to juggle here, and results in a tense encounter.
The moments where Isaac is alone and scouring the ice planet resonated the most with me. I felt unease while walking across the frigid surface of Tau Volantis – a feeling Visceral Games has gotten very good at capturing and conveying. Let's just hope those moments ultimately outnumber the ones in which you're shooting human enemies.
Dead Space 3 launches in February 2013 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.