The success of the Dead Space series has always been its immersive scares, which have earned it the reputation as one of the best horror franchises in gaming. But just like a horror movie, scares can be much less terrifying if you have friends to deal with them. This makes Dead Space 3’s co-op mode all the more impressive, for how it manages to let you play with friends but can still deliver on scares.
While it isn’t the ending many wanted for the trilogy, Dead Space 3 is an underrated co-op adventure that’s well worth diving into, now that it’s on Xbox Game Pass.
The most common tips for the faint of heart who want to play horror games are to never play them at night and to play with a friend watching. The ability to share in the terror of a good scare makes the event communal and gives you someone to talk with who makes you feel safe. After the terrifying first two entries in the Dead Space franchise were released, developer Visceral Games learned that audiences wanted co-op, to lessen the scares. Dead Space 3 delivered that co-op, albeit with a Visceral twist.
Dead Space 3 can be played solo, and you would never notice any problems. It plays as it should, following Isaac Clarke on an icy planet full of necromorphs. Along his journey, he will cross paths every once in a while, with a man named John Carver. Yet if the player chooses to experience the game in co-op with a friend, Isaac and John become companions fighting through the game side by side. The co-op mode also was part of a move to incorporate more action elements into the game than previous entries in the series. That doesn’t mean Visceral erased all the horror out of Dead Space 3. Those who play the co-op mode are treated to a special type of terror.
Co-op in Dead Space 3 was online only, a point of contention but something that feels necessary considering the main selling point of this mode. While combat scenarios play identically to the solo mode, players discovered that campaigns occurred very differently. Different cutscenes would play for Isaac Clarke and John Carver, with players discovering they had conflicting accounts of cutscenes that had just played when compared to their co-op companion.
This feature was called “asymmetrical dementia” by the developers at Visceral and was implemented to reflect the different delusions experienced by Clarke and Carver brought on by their respective mental deterioration brought on by the events of the game and their previous adventures.
One such cutscene has Carver hallucinating a woman alone in the snowy tundra of the planet limping out of sight. He encourages Isaac to help search for her, to which Isaac states that there was nobody there. Delusions turn darker and more alarming as the game progresses, and the inability of the other player to understand exactly what you have experienced makes cooperation feel disjointed. What else can you not trust from your partner?
While Dead Space 3 at large is not on the same level of terrifying horror as the first two games, the co-op mode still maintained a sense of horror and tension. The entire point of co-op was to make players feel less scared, yet Visceral turned it into a vehicle for unique terror in the form of differentiated cutscenes.
Dead Space 3’s co-op mode is a highlight of this often-derided entry in the franchise, and it's the perfect time to grab a buddy and face the frozen tundra one more time.