Dead Space 3 is aiming to be the biggest and best Dead Space game yet, as you step into the shoes of Issac Clarke to take on the Necromorphs. Dead Space 3 is the fourth instalment in the Dead Space game series (Extraction knocked the numbers off). 

We sat down with EA and Visceral Games to have a play through a section of one of the early levels of the game. Due for release in February 2013, it's still a long way from launch date, but the important elements of Dead Space 3 are all in place.

Announced at E3 2012, with teasers of various features, we had the feeling that Dead Space 3 might be slightly diluted, that the core gaming experience might have been shifted slightly to appeal to a wider gaming audience. From the E3 trailer (below), it looks like a shooter. 

We pitched this to Visceral Games, which reassured us that all the core Dead Space features were there, and fans of the series will get the same single-player play-through they expect. So you have the shock factor, the gruesome situations, the frights, the isolation and atmosphere. Visceral says this is what Dead Space is about and that's not going to change. 

The difference, however, comes in co-op mode, which makes its debut in Dead Space 3. Co-op means you can play as John Carver with a friend, or invite someone to join you. It's online co-op, not local. This isn't a diluted co-op mode with gawky missions, it's the same game, the same story, locations and everything else.

Co-op does bring some changes with it. There are dedicated cutscenes and dialogue, of course, to make co-op fit in seamlessly, so it brings new elements not seen before, along with the chance to explore the somewhat frosty relationship between Clarke and Carver.

The idea behind co-op is to appeal to all those gamers not too set on the intensity of the Dead Space experience. It means you can work as a pair, giving each other some sort of moral support as you move through the game.

It also means that if you have a friend playing and you get stuck - and the integration of various interactive puzzles means this is a distinct possibility - then your friend can drop in and help you out. And that's how co-op works: it's drop-in, drop-out so completely flexible.

dead space 3 preview image 1

Some might see that as diluting the Dead Space experience, but Visceral and EA see it as a method of bringing Dead Space 3 to a wider audience who might not have seen the appeal previously. So, widening the appeal yes; diluting the experience, no.

If you're a fan of Dead Space, you'll have no doubt seen the new ice planet. Known as Tau Volantis (we're already calling it Hoth), Visceral told us that the ice planet may well hold the key to stopping the necromorphs. 

We didn't get the chance to play on Tau Volantis, but the new location doesn't abandon the principles of Dead Space. Blizzards restrict your vision and deep snow will restrict your movement, as well as your having to deal with the cold. The new environment is designed to keep things fresh for Dead Space gamers and introduce new dynamics not previously seen.

On to the actual level we played, Visceral didn't tell us too much, it was a case of getting involved and seeing what happened. Set on a research ship, the aim was to retrieve a data key. The level wasn't complete, for example some of the in-game video content (played on a monitor) was missing, but otherwise, graphically, it looked superb.

Darkness is obviously key and at points in the level you have the slight feeling of panic because you know that something is out there and you just can't spot it. The audio is superb at reinforcing this, building tension and setting the scene. 

As we played through the level, we were faced with various challenges. The necromophs are perhaps the least of the problems, although we did manage to take a few hits while clubbing some of the gruesomely animated corpses. There are new necromorphs in Dead Space 3 and one that we saw brings with it a few chuckles too.

dead space 3 preview image 2

Little reanimation critters come scurrying out and invade any corpse lying around, so in our case - as we turned to leave an area having completed a task - some of the dead workers were invaded and transformed before our eyes. It's amusing to some degree, watching the conversion and then slaughtering your new enemies.

Everything in your armoury is on test and sometimes it’s a case of trying a range of things to see what lets you move on. Interacting with the environment is critical: it's about lifts, switches, opening doors, rerouting power and so on.

It's really this part that makes Dead Space 3 interesting, based on what we've played for far. It isn't just a fright-a-minute, it's interactive and immersive. There's story, there are things you have to think about as you progress. It's these elements, rather than the fighting, that might see you opting for that new co-op mode. 

Sadly our time with Dead Space 3 was limited, but it looks set to be a fantastic continuance of the Dead Space story. It's set for release in February 2013 and having played a short section, that feels like an awfully long time to wait.