When news first broke that the Dead Space series would be back for a third installment fans across the globe let out a collective cheer. There’s been a lot of anticipation for (mental space janitor) Isaac Clarke’s latest adventure, but at the same time there has been a lot anxiety brought on by the new direction of the series.
For those unaware, Visceral Games have taken a step back and reassessed what kind of experience they want to deliver and some of the hardcore fans of the franchise have expressed disappointed with the direction that Dead Space 3 is going. It’s more action orientated and feels more like a third person shooter title, as apposed to the eerie survival horror experience of the original Dead Space.
I personally feel that it handles much better, and fans will probably want to lynch me for saying so but on first impressions it’s far more enjoyable than the previous two games in the series. The gameplay is more streamlined and combat is generally far easier to get on with. Likewise Isaac has a lot more manoeuvrability and even his own cover system now, although it does feel as if it was thrown in as a halfhearted effort to add additional features. Nevertheless, Dead Space has always been a little clunky and stiff for me so these are much welcomed changes.
Where the combat falls short is in its repetitiveness. There’s a substantial lack of creepiness which made the series such a hit, this reflects badly on the necromorphs whose frequent jack in the box scares loose all impact. Try as they might, the necromorphs just annoyed me more than anything else. Taking the undead monstrosities down quickly becomes tiresome and I felt that the lavish amounts of gore no longer has any shock value.
What I like most about Dead Space 3 is the new weapon crafting system – throughout the game you’ll pick up many different weapon parts, scrap and resources which in turn can be used to make more weapons, parts and resources via work benches. It’s a neat mechanic that allows you to customise your favourite weapons to an impressive degree, turning a basic shotgun into an acid launcher with additional lightsabre attachment, or a simple pistol into a harpoon gun with under barrel flaming buzz-saws. If you feel like you need a higher rate of fire or larger clips sizes that can be done as well at the cost of even more resources. As well as looking very cool, and creating a greater sense of weapon ownership, it makes dismembering necromorphs easier and more interesting. They don’t hold back either, the frequency in which the necromorphs attack you is quite high, almost to a wearying degree.
As is the case with most sequels, one of the most immediately noticeable improvements is the game’s visuals, particularly when it comes to environments. Isaac gets to float around in outer space using a brand new suit, repairing space ships and salvaging parts as he goes, but the bulk of the game takes place on a back water ice planet called Tau Volantis, a planet where the snow looks like shaving foam and the blood doesn’t stick to it. Things get a bit more interesting here, dark corners and claustrophobic hallways are replaced by snow storms, ice caves and abandoned scientific research facilities. Unfortunately just when the pacing starts to pick up you’re slowed down by some inanely simple puzzles, which pop up far too frequently.
The story on the other hand is weak, predictable and filled with one dimensional characters with some melodramatic immersion breaking dialogue. What I’ve never been able to get my head around either is the Unitology Religion that is responsible for perpetuating and nurturing the necromorph threat. Everyone knows what the necromorphs are, they’re grotesque, nightmarish abominations who kill without mercy or reason. They are the greatest threat the human race has ever known and yet, somehow, an entire religion was built up by people who believed they were divine. The human race has been goose stepped towards extinction because people believed that willingly killing yourself and becoming a necromorph was a good idea. Call me crazy but that seems like a really stupid idea to base a story on. It’s like the entire population lost all common sense overnight. Plus it drags on a bit, outstaying its welcome with only a couple of memorable scenes.
That being said, I still felt Dead Space 3 redeemed its short comings with the co-op campaign. It’s undeniable that Dead Space 3 was built from the ground up to be a two player experience and that’s the way it should be played. However the lack of split-screen co-op is a huge disappointment. Playing online is all very well and good, barring the odd frame-rate issue, but it just doesn’t come close to the experience of playing with someone you’re sat right next to.
Thankfully setting up and joining online games is as easy and smooth as it gets. Other players can drop in and out of your online co-op game at random and the company is always appreciated. This is a particularly welcome feature on PS3 where this sort of experience is less common. However I found it odd that I couldn’t play through the co-op campaign with a computer controlled second character, and can’t help but feel that offline gamers may feel a bit cheated.
The Dead Space series has always been known for its incredible sound design, and I’m pleased to report that this stays true in number 3. The soundtrack is moody, atmospheric, provocative and unnerving. The sound effects are a significant contributing factor in the game’s more tense moments thanks to how loud it is. The sheer volume of necromorphs roaring or walls suddenly tearing down makes you jump more than anything else and I can imagine it would be a major treat if you’re running it through a surround sound speaker system.
Dead Space 3 is certainly more of a roller coaster thrill ride but all the sacrifices made to enhance the broader appeal of the series has sucked the life out of it. It’ll give you a decent 10 – 12 hours of gameplay on your first playthrough if you opt to focus solely on the main story. If you want more bang for your buck there are plenty of optional missions along the way which will double that time and more often than not lead to an abundance of useful resources and weapon parts. Completing the game unlocks more challenging game modes that’ll appeal to fans of the older games, but I doubt many of them will be able to stomach the first playthrough. If you’re the sort of person that is bothered by homogenisation of the mainstream videogame I’d say avoid this for now go back and play the original Dead Space again instead.
Good Points: Literally thousands of weapon combinations, enjoyable co-op mode, dozens of optional missions to flesh out the experience, interesting new environments and fantastic sound design.
Bad Points: Riddled with predictable cliches, long sequences of unsatisfying combat, tedious puzzles, no split-screen co-op and it’s often very frustrating.
Overall: 3 out of 5
Dead Space 3 has added lots of new features to the series and fleshed out the story, but it’s been stretched too thin and in the end it’s a fairly generic action game and an uninspiring survival horror title.