Do you feel you need Limbless undead hordes clawing at your feet, amputated bad-guys in zero-gravity shootouts, exploding zombie babies at your feet – yes, then luckily for you Dead Space is back.
Since its debut in 2008, Visceral Games’ series has developed into one of the best survival-horror franchises around, with its delicate balance of mutant mischief, suspense and the aforementioned combustible infant “necromorphs”. Now the series is back with its most expansive entry yet and while Dead Space 3 seems to lack the creeping dread of previous entries, it makes up for it with action-packed gameplay and superb co-op.
Once again you play unfortunate engineer Isaac Clarke, who alongside space marine John Carver is tasked with shutting down a Red Marker (the undead-creating artefacts of previous games) on icy planet Tau Volantis.The necromorphs are as horrific and challenging as ever, but thankfully you now have the ability to fuse together parts to create new weapons – want a rocket launcher on that plasma cutter? Done!
The addition of online co-op is a masterstroke and adds a whole raft of exclusive missions only playable with a friend – although that does mean that in Dead Space 3, somebody will hear you scream.
However, Until now, Dead Space was a cult sci-fi survival horror series with a reputation for shocks and scares that rivals even the early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. This big budget threequel is a brazen bid to transform the franchise into a mass-market money-spinner while seemingly fighting its own internal battle not to lose total sight of what made it so special in the first place.
It would seem that Visceral has gone down the same path as every other game in this day and age and if you will has “Sold themselves out”. Dead Space 3’s increased size and scale is, inevitably, harder to ignore. While the sprawling 18-hour single player campaign is still essentially you, Isaac and some of gaming’s fiercest and most frightening monsters, there’s so much more of it that the original premise can feel diluted.
As well as claustrophobic corridors of derelict space stations, Isaac must also contend with the snow-shrouded expanses of an inhospitable planet populated by hostile soldiers and super-sized alien bosses with well-signposted weak points. Both feel like afterthoughts but they’re few and far between.
However even after saying this, it still manages to keep true to the Survivial Horror Genre; As yes there is a lot more action and gun play in Dead Space 3 that the previous entries. Although there will be times where the astonishing art direction, audio design and attention to detail combine to rewrite the rules of atmosphere and immersion and having all the guns in the universe wouldn’t be of any help. It’s in frantic moments like this that Dead Space 3 truly shines – its superb combat and addictive new collection and upgrade system brought to life by the game’s crackling production design. The same can’t be said about the frequent errand-running, poor story and overwhelming sense of deja vu that marks much of the 19 chapter adventure. In addition to the stumbling story, much of Dead Space 3’s progression involves a list of chores and errands. Poor Isaac. Anything bad that can possibly happen does, and the solution is almost always finding some lost thing in a building on the other side of wherever you are. This routine feels so similar to the structure (and weaknesses) of the first game, at times Dead Space 3 feels more like Dead Space Again
Despite its problems, one fact remains: I can’t stop playing it. Allow me to explain.
Few games boast as rich an atmosphere as Dead Space 3. Visceral Games’ highly modified Godfather engine handily renders everything in glistening, crystalline clarity (Best played on the game on Xbox 360 and PC as thePlayStation 3 version is suffering some minor slowdown). The haunting depths of space stretch out indifferently in a solar haze, channeling the spirit of ‘80s matte paintings and pulpy sci-fi and horror movies, while the ice-driven snowscapes of Tau Volantis reimagine the Antarctic terror from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The music and sound design are top-notch as well, supporting the world class visuals with crunchy, unsettling noises, and a rousing score from Jason Graves and James Hannigan that traces lines between classic genre soundtracks from Brian May (The Road Warrior), James Horner (Alien), and Hans Zimmer (Inception). The voice-acting is high quality throughout, albeit a bit cliched.
Unlike the other two previous titles , combat reigns supreme in Dead Space 3 – physical, viscous, feral combat. The dismemberment mechanic is the equivalent of Dead Space’s headshot. Severing enemy appendages slows them down and kills them faster than a bullet to the brainpan. Other tools like the slow-mo inducing stasis and gravity-manipulating kinesis put a fresh spin on typical shooter fare. Even if you played the first two games, Dead Space 3’s combat is still some of the most unique and satisfying of this console generation.
The new weapon crafting and upgrading systems really adds to the combat experience. You’re constantly on the hunt for materials and resources to build a new weapon, to modify a favorite stand-by, or tune-up the performance of your RIG suit, but everything comes at a cost. Do you craft a Tungsten Torque Bar to access locked rooms (answer: YES) or do you make an Acid Bath modification for your Ripper blade (answer: DOUBLE YES)? Do you upgrade the hit points on your RIG or do you craft a surplus of med packs and stasis kits? This makes for tough decisions and creates a terrific tension all its own.
The combat system and the world Visceral has crafted in Dead Space 3 is so expertly built and well-wrought, I found myself consciously overlooking my main criticisms, because I love playing it and spending time with it. This is an important distinction to make: loving a game while being fully aware of its faults. Dead Space 3, when played the way I’ve been playing it, on New Game+, is an engrossing and satisfying experience. But it requires ignoring the bad story and the numbing to-do lists. It then becomes all about building up the most powerful, best outfitted Isaac you can imagine. It’s here and here alone that Dead Space 3 succeeds, mostly in spite of itself.