Dead Space games have always been big on scares, but some of my biggest fears from Dead Space 3 occurred during its development. Rumours were rife about the potential of turning the series into a first person shooter, which fortunately didn’t happen. It was then revealed that the game would feature cover-based shooting, Kinect integration, co-op & in-game content available through micro-transactions.
Despite all of these so-called enhancements, Visceral Games have done a remarkable job at staying true to this well loved series & cementing it’s place firmly in the “third game done well” category.
Our main man, Isaac Clarke, has become something of a recluse since the traumatic events of Dead Space 2. His suspicion-filled, solitary life is suddenly invaded by a military strike force, who enlist him to help track down his former love interest, Ellie Langford. Ellie has gone missing near the frozen planet of Tau Volantis, whilst searching for a way to stop the Necromorph crisis, an alien zombie-like plague engulfing the galaxy.
On top of this, a group of cult-crazed humans known as the Unitologists are running riot on the streets and generally making a bad situation much worse. These troubled souls are led by a extremist named Danik White, who believes that Necromorphs are part of a divine plan & looks to encourage wherever possible.
Before long, Isaac is squeezing himself back into the familiar RIG environment suit and stomping the snot out of some hideous extra terrestrials with a huge range of slicey-cutty weaponry.
Before you get the chance to go exploring planet-side, the outstanding and meaty prologue sees you walking the deserted halls and corridors of a series of abandoned space cruisers orbiting Tau Volantis. This section of the game recreates the sense of tension & claustrophobia from the original Dead Space perfectly. A loving homage to feeling of growing dread with every air vent that you pass, just like being back on the U.S.S Ishimura.
The early part of Dead Space 3 also majors heavily in space travel, with Isaac being able to fast travel between a series of ships, using a small cruiser, as well as navigating their exteriors in huge zero gravity environments.
Visceral Games’ sense of tension & the feelings of isolation that they are able to invoke remain in keeping with previous games. So too does the integration of the player’s HUD & menu interface, into Isaac’s armour suit which has always been a thing of beauty.
This, along with the series’ zero loading-screen policy, where load times are disguised by clunky, antiquated doors & airlocks are all elements that make this a classic Dead Space experience despite new developments.
As ever, the Necromorph ambushes come thick and fast, with foes moving much quicker than previous games. Necros also have a tendency to flee when injured, regrouping with others in an attempt to overwhelm you with greater numbers. These developments often hinder your ability to strategically shoot for the enemies limbs and will no doubt lead to criticism from die hard fans.
For me however, this was only an issue early on, as once you start to improve your arsenal, you are given far greater choice over how you go about dismembering those freaks. This weapon customisation builds on that of the previous games, allowing you to craft hundreds of varied weapons using the raw materials & blueprints that you pick up on your travels. Each weapon also has a secondary function now, meaning that despite your inability to carry more than two weapons at once, you always have four different attacks at your disposal.
This freedom of experimentation & customisation is one of Dead Space 3’s best improvements with the ability to create some truly wonderful weapons of mass destruction that complement your play style.
My weapons of choice were a Chain Lightning gun, which zapped multiple enemies, with a secondary function that fired cryo-rockets. Coupled with my Electro-line-gun (like a giant plasma cutter) with a secondary attachment that knocks Necros down and inflicts stasis on them, I was set to take on whatever the Marker home-world had to throw at me.
Customisation is an iterative process though and doesn’t always pay off. Early on I crafted a Flame Revolver, because Revolvers are awesome right? Wrong! Revolvers are pretty useless against our Necromorph pals, being too slow to target individual limbs and too lightweight to stop enemies before they get close enough. Battles with this weapon usually resulted in me clobbering the fiends with melee attacks, which is usually something you want to avoid in a Dead Space game.
Dead Space 3 also features some sections where you go head to head with Danik’s military forces. As we feared, these played out in some rather hideous cover-based gunfights. These play out like a poor-man’s Gears of War but with the inability to stick to cover, or actually know when you are protected from enemy fire. For the most part Isaac simply crouches behind objects with his head sticking up above the protected zone.
As bad as this sounds though, don’t be too put off. Despite the first chapter hinting that this is what the game is all about, these shooting segments are actually pretty few. D far between. Some of the later encounters also see you taking on Danik’s men & Necromorphs simultaneously. On the harder difficulty setting, I found it quite amusing to hang back and watch the two groups tear each other to pieces in a macabre display of meat vs machinery.
The latter part of the game set on the ancient ice planet of Tau Volantis gives a refreshing change of pace & some truly stunning outdoor environments where the foes can literally appear from anywhere, often coming up through the ground for a sneak attack.
It is here that you are treated to many of the game’s outstanding action sequences like rappelling down buildings & traversing the hostile frozen landscape whilst trying to keep your body temperature above freezing. These parts were really well done & fom an interesting departure for the more common interior combat.
Though there are some micro-transactions in the game, (new armour, resources for weapon crafting etc) these are entirely optional, despite the feeling that you are at a disadvantage by not throwing additional money at the game. Fortunately this is not the case & regardless of Visceral’s motives for including this, micro-transactions are fairly subtle & can be completely ignored if the player chooses.
Unfortunately co-op doesn’t add much in terms of story, but allows you and a friend to experience the events of the campaign side by side, adding a couple of additional side missions which result in some decent loot. Though this is well worth a go in new game + mode, it feels a little bit tacked on in the first play through and detracts from the otherwise excellent atmosphere.
You’re treated to some additional backstory to Isaac’s generic chum, John Carver. This does nothing to increase his presence or any real emotional attachment towards the character. That’s not to say that co-op is a total bust though.
The additional missions gained through co-operative play will add a couple of hours onto a single-player play through that already stands over the 15 hour mark (nearly twice as long as previous games). There are also some interesting dynamics that come into play between the two characters. Carver is more vulnerable to the mind-bending properties of the Markers and as a result, that player will often see or hear things that the Isaac player cannot. This led to a few hilarious freak-outs between my co-op partner and I, with me repeatedly asking “dude, what are you shooting at?”.
All in all, co-op is a decent little extra to add replay value, but it should be treated as just that. I would warn against anyone planning to play through the campaign in this way the first time around.
To Sum Up
Despite a whole heap of change to this well-loved series, Dead Space 3, retains the richness that we have all come to expect from these unique entries into the Survival Horror genre.
Isaac Clarke’s RIG armour & his ultra effective weaponry has become a symbol of everything that’s great about this generation and this third installment has the longest, most varied campaign of the series. Like those mystical Markers, it’ll reel you in & keep you captive.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360