Early access for the Dead Space 3 demo begins today. To get a chance at receiving a download code one week in advance before its public release on January 22, see here. Simply follow the official Dead Space 3 Twitter and Facebook account, and you will be in contention for early access to the demo. Please note, however, that codes are available only for the Xbox360 version of the demo. It appears PlayStation 3 gamers will have to wait for the public release for their chance at decapitating alien mutants.
Several weeks ago, there was a promotion held by EA where you could enter your email address and get a chance at early demo access as well. If chosen in such a way, you receive an email like the one in the picture above. Simply redeem your code on your Xbox. Of course, your code won't be hidden in a splash of red. It will be the typical 25 symbol pattern used for most Xbox360 codes.
As for the demo itself, it contains roughly 20 to 30 minutes of gameplay, depending on your personal pace. Series protagonist Isaac Clarke and newcomer John Carver regain consciousness amidst a crashed ship on the snowy wastelands of planet Tau Volantis.
The co-op in this game is touted as a smooth drop-in and drop-out system. Players can join or leave your game at a moment's notice without interfering with your experience, provided you are the host. When playing by yourself, players that crave the solitary, lone-wolf experience will get just that. John Carver will seldom be by your side played by a goofy computer AI. You will be alone, but the demo hints that you will still see Carver at points in the game, though without much direct interaction in terms of gameplay.
When playing co-op, Carver will be by Isaac's side. The two exchange passive-aggressive banter regularly and you will experience small scenes and quips between the two that you would normally not were you to play alone. No friendly fire. It appears that each player is able to pick up the same item from the floor - it won't disappear for the other player if you take it. This makes playing with strangers less of a hassle, but also throttles the potential for classic survival horror situations where ammo is low and must be shared for the sake of survival.
Playing co-op is definitely a fresh and invigorating experience, even if with strangers. It's utterly satisfying to create improvised combos with the other player, such as when one uses Stasis to freeze an enemy to give you the chance for an incredibly precise dismemberment - or to just run up there and smash and stomp it to oblivion to save ammo.
Speaking of ammo, it's actually not much of a problem to begin with. Ammo seems to have been consolidated as whole this time. Rather than having to pick up specific ammo for each gun, such as plasma rounds for the Plasma Cutter or pulse ammo for the Pulse Rifle from previous games, there's only Ammo Clips. In the demo, they typically came in packs of 5. Pick one up, and every ammo type for each gun you have will raise by 5 clips. Convenient, but at the same time, perhaps a little too convenient.
Weapon upgrades have gotten a massive overhaul. In the past, weapons were upgraded with rare and expensive Power Nodes. Power Nodes could be inserted into a linear progression path that varied with each weapon, granting them speed, ammo, and power upgrades. Now, an additional system has been added where you can alter individual parts of your weapons to change its stats and appearance completely.
The most interesting part is how each weapon can have a new secondary firing type added to it. Tired of the Plasma Cutter's alternate fire being a simple 90 degree rotation? Slap on a Tesla part to it and it will instead fire electricity and have its appearance altered. The demo also gives you a Military Rifle with a Force Gun attached as the secondary fire. The notion and possibilities are quite intriguing. Additional upgrades and even items like health packs can be created with the right schematics and parts - assorted parts drop as items commonly throughout the game.
New and immediately noticeable features are some additions to the controls. Tapping the sprint button twice allows Isaac to roll in a designated direction. This sudden burst of movement makes for a great dodge at the expense of the cramped and claustrophobic atmosphere of previous games. There's also the new ability to crouch, used most often to duck under enemy fire. Yes, for once, there will be enemies that shoot you. But don't worry, this hasn't turned into Call of Duty completely. Dead soldiers reanimated into necromorphs will shoot you, too. Sounds like Resident Evil 4, doesn't it?
Now for the question on mostly everyone's mind - is it still scary? To be honest, that's a hard question to judge based on the demo alone. But I feel that the answer varies wildly. For one, playing co-op is likely to make the game less scary just on the fact that you are not (completely) alone. Yes, there are still the typical jump scares to be found. Frequently. In this environment, you can expect enemies to jump out of the snow and appear from the dark quite often.
Personally, I feel that one part of this demo encapsulates the change of philosophy the game has taken. Scariness has been traded in spades for tension and discomfort. The part I refer to is one where Isaac (and Carver if playing co-op) are trapped in a confined space with a drill spinning wildly out of control. The drill is huge, loud, fast, sharp, and chasing you as if it had a mind of its own. Meanwhile, necromorphs pour in by the droves to disrupt your efforts at disabling the drill. Thanks to all the noise made by alarms and the drill itself, I wouldn't call this scary, but it is certainly immensely intense and uncomfortable. There is no one moment where you can simply stretch and relax - if you're not constantly on the move here, you'll be shredded by either the drill or the monsters.
Are moments like these going to be frequent enough and interesting enough to completely replace the scarier atmosphere of the first game? Perhaps, perhaps not. The only way to tell is when the game launches on February 5, 2013. One thing's for sure, though. Whether you consider yourself an action fan, horror fan, or both, no one should miss out on what is likely to be one of the best games of early 2013. Look forward to it, and try for yourself on January 22 or if you should receive early access to the demo.