To give it its due, the integration of co-op into Dead Space 3 is at least meaningfully and intelligently done. It's more than just a second character silently following you around; instead, the second character plays a soldier named John Carver who joins Isaac on his quest to destroy the Necromorphs.
When played in co-op (which is drop-in, drop-out) Dead Space 3 can change quite dramatically in response to John's presence. New optional paths will open up thanks to his greater security clearance, while he won't hesitate to pipe up during cutscenes either - though it's his dementia which really acts to define the co-op experience. John saw his wife and son killed brutally and has been suffering hallucinations and post-traumatic stress ever since.
This isn't something that's limited just to cutscenes either, but manifests in the gameplay. John's player will literally see and hear different things on his screen, such as menacing toy soldiers lining the corridor and the far-off screams of his dying family. Occasionally he'll mention this stuff and cause Isaac to get nervous, while other times he'll have full-on delusions which strand him in an entirely different situation.
In a section we played through, for example, John and Isaac get mobbed by enemies (in a tight, unfun corridor) and Isaac is forced to fend them off alone; as he sees it John is running around, yelling at nothing. John, for his part, thinks he's running through a nightmarish gauntlet while his dying wife screams at him.
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While this works well though, it does feel at times like Visceral has stopped short of exploring the idea as far as they could. The developer we were playing with confirmed that, while the idea described above is used a few times, Isaac and John don't get aggressive to each other over the delusions. They can't: there's no friendly fire, remember?
It's also worth pointing out that, though the structure and approach of the co-op campaign in Dead Space 3 is interesting, it's also pretty much the only idea which excited us in the whole presentation. Elsewhere Dead Space 3 seemed predictably banal for the most part, it's potential seriously hampered by a new indecision over whether it was trying to be a shooter or survival horror.
Worse, there even seems to be indecision and division over how the game should be paced. Previous Dead Space titles have typically been slow-burners, with players scavenging for every available screed of ammo and often having to proceed carefully in order to preserve resources.
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Dead Space 3 on the other hand features such contrary ideas as a scavenger bot - a new automated drone you can put down to hoover up resources for you. You don't need to collect the resources afterward either; they just teleport into your inventory without explanation.
We honestly don't understand the motivation behind this. If resource gathering is boring enough to require an automated assistant, why not just change the approach - and why require players to just go through another boring process of collecting, placing bots? If it's not that resource gathering is a boring or unimportant part of the game then...well, why do you need the scavenger bot.
But this is the problem, we suppose. Asking questions like this assumes something about the way Dead Space 3 has developed and the team's approach; it assumes that the decision to include such a feature is based on a qualitative assessment or that the game is intended for a specific audience.
We ended up asking anyway though. The answer we got was that it was basically just an option for some players to use, if they wanted - which only reinforced the idea that Dead Space 3 is trying to be too many things to too many people.
[i]Dead Space 3 is being published by Electronic Arts and developed by Visceral Games. It'll be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in February 2013.[i]