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Dead Space 3: First 3 hours prove you can have fun without friends

Hands-on with EA's action-focussed single-player campaign

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It turns out these replicas are being quietly experimented upon in nearly every human colony, and the Unitologists intend to use them to move all humanity along 'the path'. Before that they must destroy the only man with experience of destroying them - you.

The city goes dark. Streets are filled with the screams of the living and the cries of the dead. It's not long before you're back, Plasma Cutter in hand, fighting your way through Necromorph-filled offices, the crimson Marker casting eerie shadows across every surface.

It's a frantic, exciting opening that sets up what's likely another well paced campaign, with set-pieces flying in from every direction.

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In the opening chapter EA's Visceral team shows it's still capable of mixing it up, with gunfights and Necromorph battles spliced between physics puzzles, atmospheric strolls through abandoned, corpse-littered apartments and yes - a firefight with flying gunships aboard a speeding train.

No scares though - not until Chapter 2, at least.

Familiar space

As Dead Space 2 managed with seemingly every act, the next chapter offers something a bit different. Namely, suspense, zero-g exploration and giant spaceships exploding with you still inside.

Having escaped the Earth's crumbling Moon colony aboard Norton's ship, the Eudora, the EarthGov pair reveal their true intentions; leading lady Ellie, fed up with her ex-boyfriend's mental outbursts, has run off on some secret mission gone wrong. A tracking beacon has her located at an uncharted point in space, and the message it's pinging back to Earth is calling for Isaac to come find her.

The downtime aboard the Eudora offers insight into co-op partner Carver, who EA's attempted to humanise with his own tragic back story involving a wife and child lost during a Necromorph attack. This particular point sets up the promising addition of co-op insanity effects, with players experiencing unique hallucinations during the campaign (more on that in our Dead Space 3 co-op preview).

Playing solo, thankfully, means Carver barely features at all. He'll arrive huffing and puffing to the odd end-of-objective cut-scene, but otherwise the explanation is that he's off doing something else. From what we can tell the addition of co-op certainly hasn't spoiled the solo trek - in fact it's more likely offered a strong incentive to play through twice.

Ellie's beacon leads to the ice planet Tau Valantis - the one featured in all the game's marketing - and to the surprise of Isaac and company it's surrounded by the wrecked ships of a long-missing military organisation.

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Our target is seemingly aboard a 200-year old abandoned starship. It's here, with the only light emanating from your neon-blue visor, that Visceral attempts to offer gameplay more akin to the foreboding mazy corridors of the original.

The audio design aboard the dusty ship is unsurprisingly excellent, with the creeks and whirls of the old ship building a truly unsettling atmosphere. Like the previous game though, when the monsters do appear combat is ultimately more intense than scary; familiar varieties of Necromorph burst from air vents and fall from ceilings - but it's predictable, and this time they're even more in your face, dropping to all fours and sprinting to your proximity instead of lumbering down the corridor.

One welcome deviation from script is revealed at the end of our hands-on session: the new weapon crafting system, which allows players to piece together custom weapons using parts collected throughout the campaign. Players can switch in and out their own frames, upper and lower tools and then boost their weapons using a redesigned upgrade system. Various 'recipes' are also on hand to easily construct specific guns.

If it sounds complicated it's because it is, but thankfully you can get your practice in right now via the Xbox Live demo, which has all parts unlocked from the start.

The system attempts to fix one of the Dead Space series' major flaws; its weapons arsenal and specifically the lack of experimentation encouraged by it. The previous games allow you to pick your favourites and then exclusively serve up ammo for those tools. In this game, refusing to experiment means missing out on a pulse rifle with a flame thrower on the bottom. And in anyone's book, that's not a good thing.

The opening hours of Dead Space 3 don't suggest any increase in scares, but they are immensely entertaining. For those looking to get their hearts racing, and willing to give this a chance, the combination of adrenaline and shock could prove just as satisfying.

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