By Darren Franich
Updated June 06, 2012 at 07:30 PM EDT

The Game: The space-zombie franchise departs from dark-corridor spaceship environments in favor of the chilly expanse of an ice planet called Tau Volantis. Dead Space 3 also adds co-op game play into the mix with new character John Carver, a hard-bitten military veteran who joins up with long-suffering everyman protagonist Isaac Clarke to fight a massive new wave of Necromorphs. (Available Feb 2013 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.)

What We Saw: We played a half-hour sequence from the game’s second act. First, we played solo, navigating Isaac Clarke away from a crashed ship through a mountaintop blizzard and towards some sort of mining facility. When a giant arachnid monster attacked, we started to play in co-op mode — a demonstration of the game’s drop-in, drop-out multiplayer capability.

The Good: I was worried that — by moving the game outside and adding in a buddy character — the new game would lose the sense of claustrophobia that made earlier games in the franchise so terrifying. But within the first few moments of the demo, I was wandering blind through a snowstorm, down into dark caves and along fragile mountain passes. It’s different from the shadowy-corner horror of Dead Space 2, but that’s a good thing — it feels like the developers are trying to one-up themselves. (It’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, another horror tale about a morphing alien who lurks in the snowy wastes.) Dead Space 3 adds attacking humans into the mix, and in an effort to make human-on-human combat easier, the game features a dynamic cover system. There is no “cover button,” like in Gears of War and every game that has tried to be Gears of War. Instead, you just move behind something — a wall, a box, a rock — and when you aim, the game automatically nudges your aim right or left. It’s a smart new touch in a franchise that already had perfected a nifty combat style.

The Not-So-Good: Even now that I’ve played a significant portion of the game — a sequence that looked more finished than anything I played in Resident Evil 6, which is coming out three months earlier — I still feel skeptical about the new additions to Dead Space 3. Pretty much every action-ish franchise has added in a co-op mode and a cover system. Most of the time, those new additions feel like corporate-mandated affectations. Maybe Dead Space 3 will make them feel necessary.

Excitement Level: The gore-splattered aesthetic of the Dead Space universe is at once repulsive and addictive — a weirdo mix of industrial sci-fi, fantasy-world expansiveness, and Evil Dead-worthy creature effects. From what I saw, Dead Space 3 explores new territory without losing the franchise’s freaked-out soul. I admit to some bias, since I put the last game on our top 10 list. (My colleague and fellow E3 correspondent Adam B. Vary was decidedly less impressed with Dead Space 3.) Let’s call this one an 8.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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