At E3 this June , EA seemed pretty eager to suggest that Dead Space has changed. Out with the murky space hulks and claustrophobic corridors. In with a huge ice planet built of open spaces, freezing winds, and an unpleasant drilling machine that comes with a taste for human blood. Look left, and there's a huge snow beast boss with handy glowing joints to shoot off. Look right, and there's a gruff co-op partner named Sergeant John Carver. He's a hard ass, apparently, and very probably a badass too. His wife and kid were killed by the Necromorphs, and he isn't here to make friends, dammit.
A few months later, and EA are switching tack slightly. All of that ice planet's stuff's still providing the core of the new experience - and Carver's on drop-in, drop-out duty whenever you want him around - but the most recent press outing for Dead Space 3 suggests that die hard fans of the first two instalments haven't been entirely left out in the, um, cold by this new lurch towards full-on action. The game's latest demo takes place – would you believe it? – on a murky space hulk filled with claustrophobic corridors, and Isaac's back to torqueing open doors, picking up spare ammo, skimming audio logs, and engaging with the odd toggle puzzle in venerable survival horror style.
Necromorph Slashers drop from the ceiling, talons flying, while distant bumps and thuds suggest that you probably aren't alone: this stuff's as atmospheric as usual, of course, but Visceral initially appear to be playing it all a touch too safely. We're three games in and we've been here before. It's only when Clarke reaches his eventual destination that the level starts to get genuinely interesting.
At the end of the demo's final corridor is an abandoned lab filled with corpses. Clarke moves past the bodies, looking for a key card, and then a brand new Necromorph appears, and things begin to liven up a little.
And, in classic Dead Space style, it's those corpses doing most of the livening up. Visceral's latest enemy's called the Swarm Infector and, if you've got your Dead Space Spotter's Guide with you, you'll know it's a cross between the scurrying Swarmer, and the bat-like Infector. The Swarmer's always been great because it's small and horrible and scrabbles around the floor looking a little like an old vacuum cleaner bag that's somehow had a very angry lobster deposited inside. The Infector's a treat because it can turn dead bodies into shambling Necromorphs, transforming what should be pieces of set-dressing into very real threats.
The Swarm Infector's the best of both worlds, hopefully: tiny, deadly, and capable of turning the tide of a battle. It's a gene-splice rather than an entirely new enemy, perhaps, but in amidst the addition of combat rolls and co-op partners, it's also a welcome reminder that Visceral's looking backwards as well as forwards with Dead Space 3. Out there on the ice world of Tau Volantis there will be bigger bosses and more action-oriented set-pieces, but there will also be at least a few ideas that return the game to the horror origins of the series, and a handful of threats that just needed a second pass before reaching their potential. Ick.