GAME NAME: Dead Space 3
DEVELOPER(S): Visceral Games
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Adventure, Action, Survival Horror
RELEASE DATE(S): 8 February 2013
I’ve seen things in the Dead Space franchise that those who’ve never played it wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen a head with spidery legs crawl into a dead body and bring it to life, turning it into a shambling zombie called a Necromorph. I’ve had an unstoppable monstrosity chase me down corridors while waiting anxiously for a timed door to open. I’ve also seen a needle being stuck into the protagonist’s eye (ewwww). It’s these unexpected and terrifying events that have left a mark in an industry that’s run out of the once abundance of survival horror games… and it seems this trend might have moon jumped to Dead Space.
Our third journey into the unknown with Isaac begins on planet Earth. Set after the events in Dead Space 2 Isaac Clarke lives in secrecy on a colony. By now he’s already been romantically involved with Ellie and has since parted ways from her. Isaac is rudely interrupted in his cabin by Ellie’s new love interest, Captain Robert Norton, telling him that Ellie has gone missing on a space mission. As could be expected Isaac is sent on an adventure to rescue the princess (Mario would be so proud) and put a stop to the new appearance of Markers. If you’re a Dead Space veteran prepare yourself for real shock and horror – the first hour has nothing to do with survival horror. You’ll be shooting from cover (Gears of War style) with the enemy being humans. Yup, you want to shoot heads and not limbs this time. It’s not long before you find yourself in familiar territory in space however and this is where the game finally gets going.
Your first frightening experience takes place on a shipwreck. Everything is familiar. Shooting and stomping on baddies present you with ammunition or health pickups and the atmosphere is as chilling as it’s ever been. Seeing messages smeared in blood on walls will once again remind you of past dreadful experiences. What has been given a major facelift is the weapon system. Find a ‘Weapons Bench’ and you’re greeted with a horde of options. You can create weapons from scratch (by finding parts scattered about), build it from blueprints you found and you can upgrade the weapons specs such as reloading, rate of fire and damage. Parts are interchangeable. Want a gun that electrifies as well as scorches victims with flames? You got it. How about a weapon that shoots blades as well as spit acid into the eyes of foes? Find enough minerals and you can customise as you please. To activate the different attachments you either press RT or RB to use your weapon. Don’t expect to find any nodes lying around for upgrading purposes. Those days are gone. You now scavenge for resources and minerals such as scrap metal and Tungsten along the lines of Mass Effect. To help you in this regard you now have a scavenger bot that can be deployed to find you extra minerals while you focus on finishing a chapter. Finish the space bits and it’s on to the ice planet. It’s here where things, well, go south.
Make no mistake, Isaac is not alone on Tau Volantis. One short trudge up a snowdune and a humanoid necromorph attacks. It’s a standard slasher type with the remnants of a fur-lined jacket still wrapped around its frame. It’s here where you can expect three to four ambush attacks at one time, which makes a constant Statis supply very important. Now, based on the type of games you enjoy this either means you’re stoked or rather bummed. I was the latter. Set piece after set piece introduced some interesting boss fights but never anything that will have you running to the next room for a change of pants. Most of the events on this ice planet takes place in daylight and open areas. It’s rare that you’ll tip toe though corridors with flickering lights to freak you out. After leaving orbit it’s best that you accept that you’re about to play an action adventure game (with Indiana Jones-like bits towards to end – go figure).
This brings me to the co-op. Now, the co-op feels pretty pointless when playing the main campaign on normal difficulty. Isaac and new guy John Carver slice and dice the enemies with ease and the few puzzles in the game are an even easier task. I recommend you play this by yourself on the first playthrough and then on a harder difficulty with a friend thereafter. At no point is it ever scary as you’ll be laughing away at all kinds of funny events… that’s not supposed to be funny (Yes, we’re sadistic bastards). The three extra co-op missions though are to die for. Ironically these three missions are also the best part of the game. It does not affect Isaac as much as it does John as you dive back into his past. The player who controls John’s character will experience unforeseen hallucinations while Isaac is aware of nothing outside of the beasties attacking them. It’s as close to the original Dead Space as you will experience and brings something fresh to an already stale Isaac story. Those without buddies will find plenty of optional missions that will draw you away from the critical path.
In the end Dead Space 3 has taken a new direction that’s more focussed on action than it is on playing mind games, the Spider-man like menu soundtrack adds to this weird new direction. Running vertically up and down a mountain slope is fun but it’s at no point scary and the narrative is a step back from previous outings. It may appeal to a new crowd who wanted in on the franchise but was too scared to ever pick up a controller, but for now there is still enough Dead Space in there to keep the original fanbase in orbit.