Having enjoyed both the critical and commercial success of the previous games, EA hopes to expand on the franchise by taking a more action orientated approach to it’s survival horror series in Dead Space 3. Will this eradicate the roots of a genre that is already slipping away, or will it entice an all new fanbase to join the dismemberment club? Let’s find out!
With the Earth’s government in tatters and Isaac being a recluse mess in a dingy apartment, needless to say, things aren’t going well. At least two hulking marines haven’t kicked the door in to ‘persuade’ you to save the world again though…
With markers being created and activated all over the place essentially bringing the harbinger of destruction to Earth; only Isaac knowing how to destroy them. Pretty much the whole story is laid out within the first 10 minutes of play.
What with Isaac’s previous experience of dealing with all things necromorph related, he quickly gets into the swing of things during the opening scenes. That unfortunately, is about the level of character progression to expect throughout.
Carver, your somewhat reluctant co-op partner, tends to be more interesting despite his somewhat generic space marine appearance and demeanour. Luckily, for co-op players, his story fleshes out a little during the optional missions.
Dismemberment was the original’s draw, being accurate enough to slice appendages whilst being fearful of every corner and cranny made for a unique experience. This third iteration attempts to blend that with set piece events reminiscent of an Uncharted and Call of Duty hybrid. Ships explode violently, pathways creak and collapse to help transition you to the next area. It can sometimes feel a little scripted, (partly because it is!) but it still works well and is integrated well into the game.
Dissecting limbs is still a large part of the game, however you might well feel a little disappointed in regards to the classic plasma cutter of old. It simply doesn’t cut it anymore (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) in comparison to the obscene amount of weapons you can construct at the workbench. You may only carry two weapons at a time; however, the workbench essentially lets you craft two weapons in one, so effectively it’s the same. Initially, the workbench can be a daunting prospect, the tutorial attempts to explain things to you, but at first, you don’t really have a clue what kind of weapon you’re creating. Thankfully, the weapon crafting is probably the most fun aspect of the game; of course it encourages exploration. Hours can be spent attempting to balance what features you wish upon your armament. Fancy a weak but fast fire rate ‘push back’ weapon with a top mounted sniper rifle along with stasis bullets? I did! Or perhaps an LMG with an underslung rocket launcher complete with splash guard preventing damage from your own explosions, again, I did!
Of course the bench is not just for weapons, during your travels you’ll come across many different resources to scavenge, these can be used for a myriad of things, crafting weapon parts, upgrading your suits ‘rig’ for extra health or stasis storage, or just good old fashioned health packs and ammo should supplies become scarce.
Limb removal can occasionally be surprisingly difficult when getting bum rushed by small skinny enemies that attack in vast numbers or the more stacked necromorphs that have a tendency to regrow their own extremities. As stated earlier, the plasma cutter is nigh on useless after the first few hours so upgrading early is wise! Again, everything playing into the more action-orientated style of play.
Unfortunately, herein lays a problem with Dead Space 3, what with the lack of scares, mainly due to the fact that we’ve seen it before throughout the past two games. It occasionally attempts some cheap scares by spawning enemies behind you whilst in an already challenging fire fight. Whilst this can and will make you jump, it can be infuriating to back into something a bit stab-happy, whilst more ferocious enemies encroach from ahead. This inevitably leads to you getting caught in some kind of horrific necro-sandwich, often resulting in you taking huge damage.
There is a recurring boss fight during the course of the game, three times you are required to fight this massive behemoth, unfortunately the first time you encounter it is by far the most difficult. Between my dwindling stasis supplies and poor choice of weapon setup for the encounter, coupled with little to no cover, it proved mainly irritating how it could hit me no matter where I ran or rolled. Oddly, the second time, there is plenty of cover and therefore very little chance of getting hit and the third time, you don’t even have to fire a single round. Strange choices there!
Whatever you do, try not to rage quit however! Dying and subsequently re-spawning at a checkpoint will not usually set you back more than five minutes, letting you get impaled to death once more, reasonably quickly! Saving and quitting to main menu on the other hand can potentially be a lot more disastrous depending upon when you do it. It will always save your inventory at least, but it can put you back in terms of game progress by up to twenty minutes, my advice? Don’t save and quit until after you have seen the saving text in the top right hand corner of the screen!
Returning once more are the puzzles of Dead Space, often requiring you to move or rotate something with kinesis in order to match the symbols correctly, not particularly taxing but it can be a nice change of pace from fending off the hordes! Speaking of changing the pace, occasionally, you will encounter zero gravity sections outside the ship. These sequences are impeccably serene. With highly dampened sound and the ability to rotate and fly in any direction within a large open space, it can be eerily disorientating; it works like a charm. Unfortunately, with not much to actually accomplish during these sections, it can be a little disappointing. The level of freedom and tranquillity here is in stark contrast to the intense, dank, tight corridors that lie ahead in wait.
Co-op is available almost always as an instant drop in affair, letting you dismantle necromorphs with a buddy or stranger. Everything is better with co-op right? Well, mainly yes. It’s always nice to have someone watch your back whilst you solve puzzles or hold off barrages of vicious creatures together, covering one another during a hectic reload in a tense situation is as gleefully satisfying as you might expect, until one of you drops that is, then it gets inevitably frantic!
There is one mode where co-op isn’t possible, it’s one of the excellent, unlockable game types made available after completion. Classic mode sets the difficulty to hard, disables co-op, the dodge roll, changes the crosshair and makes it so you can only craft weapons from the previous games. It’s a fantastic challenge for those reminiscent of the old games. If that’s not quite extreme enough for you, there is also hardcore mode, much akin to Dead Space 2’s hardcore mode where you had a few saves to tide you over for the playthrough, on DS3 however, if you die, you start the game from the beginning! Oh dear! Other modes such as new game plus are very welcome, letting you run through the game again with all your loot and weapons intact. I love new game plus; I think it should be incorporated into most if not all games!
The sound in DS3 is utterly brilliant, engrossing and well above par. Creaks, explosions and haunting screams will stay with you for days after; they will chill you to the bone whilst playing. Voice acting is great, even if the script seems a little hammy from time to time. Graphically, Visceral Games have done a cracking job, facial animations look believable and some of the snow effects will put Uncharted 2 to shame! Of course, probably the best HUD in a game returns with all the information necessary on Isaac’s back, be it health, QTE events or oxygen. Of course it looks good, EA rarely release a game that isn’t at the peak of what the current generation can do. On the other hand, what I believe EA do poorly is release games with slow, unnecessarily lethargic main menus; this is the case here. The main menu is unappealing; goes through an overly convoluted animation before letting you resume your game. On top of this, for some reason, artistically it looks like something from the late 80’s! Considering the entirety of the game looking hauntingly beautiful, this was an odd choice.
Should you buy?
Yes! I suppose I can’t really leave it at that though! Dead Space 3 is not the best survival horror game, nor is it the best 3rd person action game, what it is however, is a fantastically fun experience co-op or not. Upgrading weapons and sharing your best creations with co-op partners is addictive; with the gunplay itself being so good you really can’t wait to get back out there and annihilate some necromorph. In terms of replayability, there is so much content here, the first playthrough alone will take a minimum of 15 hours, plus the co-op, the extra modes and the weapons bench meaning you’ll get your money’s worth!
This game does require an online pass (included if bought new) in order to play cooperatively online, you may also purchase in-game resources through the now infamous micro-transactions which have been implemented. I personally felt no need to do this, nor did I feel they were thrust upon me at any point. Either way, resources can be farmed if you want the best equipment and are prepared to put the effort in, or you’ll get by just fine if you don’t!
Yes, there are some iffy boss fights and the further you get in the game, the more it slows the pace down. Along with a little backtracking in the final hours and the odd glitch or two, it’s by no means perfect, but it sure is addictive!
Overall, it’s in co-op where Dead Space both shines and fades simultaneously, co-op is great, but with multiplayer and action intertwined, comes the end of the scares and at it’s core, what made Dead Space’s legacy in the first place.
Reviewed on the PS3, also available on Xbox 360 and PC.