I love the horror genre, scary books and movies formed my youth and since playing Resident Evil I have loved survival horror video games.
The tension, lack of ammo, jump scares, things shambling in the shadows and the palpable sense of dread that something is going eat your face of at any moment made for some memorable gaming moments. Then along came Dead Space, combining two of my favourite things, sci-fi and horror, making space horror! Dead Space was awesome, however, recently survival horror games have become a dying breed (I can’t think of a recent new I.P) and due to online rumours was worried about the direction Dead Space 3 was heading. Had E.A. and Visceral Games managed to kill off the Dead Space franchise? With a sense of a different kind of dread, I turned the lights off, took a deep breath and inserted the disc.
Dead Space 3 is set sometime after the second game in the series and the shit really has hit the fan. It continues Isaac’s battle with the Marker’s, ancient alien artifacts that have been replicated by man, in the hope of discovering a new power source. Unfortunately the Marker’s cause people to go mad and kill each other, with their dead bodies being reassembled and given new life via alien genes. These horrible reconstructions of human D.N.A are called Necromorphs and anyone they slay will in turn be reanimated. The Unitologists, a group of religious extremists that worship the Marker’s as gods, have begun to overthrow Earth’s government in order to misguidedly activate the Marker’s to attain a new awakening and era for mankind. Not a good idea. In doing so they have set off another Necromorph out break that threatens to wipe out humanity.
The game starts off on an intense note with the last remaining members of Earth’s military coming to get Isaac, as he has a telepathic connection with the Marker’s, in order to help defeat the Unitologists and ultimately destroy the Marker signal, which is broadcasting to all the replicas that mankind have made. As the game progresses, Isaac and his comrades discover what they believe to be the planet that is the source of the Marker’s signal and Necromorphs, Tau Volantis.
The game is broken into two distinct segments, initially Isaac is in deep space, stranded amongst a sea of space wreckage, the remainder of a military fleet, sent 200 hundred years previously to investigate the Marker signal and eventually you will head (via some pretty cool game play and cut-scenes) to the surface of the planet Tau Volantis. The initial segment is Dead Space of old and you will be fighting Necromorphs along the bleak corridors of what remains of the old fleet.
Upon reaching Tau Volantis things really change, the planet portion plays out like an elongated version of John Carpenter’s classic The Thing (not a bad thing by any means!) as you navigate yourself across the hostile freezing planet from one scientific or military facility to the next. The environments, both internally and externally, of Tau Volantis are beautifully rendered, this game is pure eye candy.
The main game play mechanics have not changed from the older titles. Isaac still has his kinetic abilities, being able to freeze enemies in their tracks and manipulate his environment (solve puzzles and open doors etc.) with stasis and kinesis. However he does gain a new roll move accessed by a quick double tap that I can only guess was included to help you get out of sticky situations when you are mobbed. However I found it unresponsive and honestly only used it a handle full of times. The stomp move is faithfully intact and as in the past games I found myself stamping the crap out of any cadavers in a paranoid fashion, fearful that they would spring up behind at any moment.
The story is an interesting one that continues the mythology of the Markers well, helped along with text and audio logs you find in game, although it falters towards the end, the end twist being a little disappointing. But this is made up for by the further development of Isaac’s character. I have always enjoyed Isaac’s state of mind, his hallucinations and constant battle with insanity, sadly he is not quite as bonkers as in his previous outings. He has his moments and the Marker’s are still constantly calling for him to ‘make them whole’. Although I miss the madness, Isaac has become a more rounded accessible and likeable character. He has an endearingly flawed personality (he has been through some heavy shit) and is a great anti-hero; he is not a futuristic soldier trained in the art of war, although he does wield his homemade ordnance well, he is a thinking mans hero closer to Gordon Freeman than Master Chief.
The biggest change to the franchise (apart from Tau Volantis environment) is the introduction of weapon crafting, accessed at the many workbenches in game. The way to craft weapons and upgrade them introduces a new resource system. In the previous games, the player could buy these things using credits. Now the player must scavenge resources or deploy a neat robot (in certain areas) to be able to get the best stuff. However it is a double edged sword, on the one hand you can create some seriously over powered weaponry (which I did not find game breaking), but on the other there is a lot of fun to be had tinkering around with how you build the guns and ultimately laying waste to shambling monstrosities, the guns are versatile and there a metric ton load of combinations to try out.
All of the different types of Necromorphs and some new ones make an appearance or at the very least, a cameo, oh and the über painful bullet sponge regenerating Necromoprhs are back; JOY! This adds some strategy to the game play as you constantly find yourself attacked by different hordes of grotesquely warped Necromorphs, who have varying protuberances to shoot off, as only shooting and severing Necromorphs limbs and appendages do damage. The new enemies in the game are the Unitologist soldiers who, while an easier kill than Necromorphs, are kitted out with guns and rocket launchers. There are some nice touches when fighting breaks out between you the Unitologists and the Necromorphs, letting you help one of the groups kill the other before finishing the remainder off.
All this is great but any horror game needs atmospheric sound to enhance the experience and Dead Space 3 does not fail in this category. The soundtrack and sound effects are brilliantly employed, with the music rising in tempo as you are assailed by Necromorphs. Visceral Games have done a sterling job with the sound and all developers should take note, this really is how you make an immersive game sound track.
Not everything is perfect though, some changes grated, the fact that ammo is now universal (before you had specific ammo types for specific weapon types) undeniably makes the game easier and cancels the need for micro-management of your inventory, plus ammo isn’t particularly scarce. The boss battles are too infrequent, and not particularly memorable, bar one particularly annoyingly persistent monster, that thankfully you are able to eventually dispatch with a couple of large harpoons, a great and fittingly rewarding end for the blighter. It’s also a shame that each of your Rigs (Isaac’s environmental suits) is no longer upgradable. Instead you go along upgrade trees for armour, hit points, kinesis etc. until maxed out and these carry over to any Rigs you have, basically turning your Rigs into skins. A positive with this is that the Rigs look awesome and everyone is going to have a preference, so playing with your favourite (once unlocked) will not hinder your progress.
I really do not understand some of the negatives that have been aimed at Dead Space 3 since its release. Sure the horror elements have been toned down, but this is what the addition of the varied difficulty settings are there for. Any fan boys complaining it’s too easy or not scary enough should change the difficulty setting. If you want a truer survival horror experience akin to the original play it on a harder setting and then unlock the additional difficulties for a New Game +. The New Game + modes are a welcome addition and should appease any disgruntled fan boys. There is the classic mode, where co-op is disabled, classic aiming is enabled and the difficulty hard, or pure survival, where enemies do not drop health or ammo and these must be made at the workbenches, or the insane sounding hardcore, which when you die starts you back at the beginning of the game. Basically you can save and play, but if you die, you start again. Any good game warrants another play through, a good game has a lot of re-playability, and a great game is one that cries out to be played again once you have satisfyingly finished the final boss, saved the princess or completed the quest. Dead Space 3 didn’t cry out, rather it was a raw and painful Necromorph scream telling me to play a new game + to make it whole again, I just don’t think I will be going the hardcore route.
At the time of writing, I have only played a small amount of the game co-operatively, but what I have done has been a welcome addition. The Co-op play promises another 5 hours of game play (my first play through was just over 18 hours) as well as increased enemy A.I and enemy numbers, to compensate for the extra firepower. This can only be a good thing, adding to the overall replay ability of the game.
These are fickle times in the industry with many publisher’s reluctant to back a new I.P, after all pretty much every AAA over the last six months have been sequels or franchise reboots and more are to come with the likes of Tomb Raider and Gears of War: Judgement. All things evolve in time and Dead Space 3 is part of a franchise that will hopefully pick up some new fans so the series can continue and those that do enjoy Isaac Clarke’s 3rd outing should without doubt go and play the first two, in fact I implore you to. Not everyone is going to be happy with the direction that Visceral Games has taken with Dead Space 3, but for new comers it’s a great sci-fi action, horror hybrid title (and I seriously urge you to check out its two predecessors) and for old hands there are the addition of the harder difficulty settings, which should also prove a great challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed my play through and intend starting a new game + (with more focus on co-op play) as soon as possible. Minor issues aside, it’s an atmospheric, often violent, tense sci-fi roller coaster with a good storyline to boot (albeit a slightly wavering one towards the end) which looks and sounds fantastic. Any fans of the action, sci-fi or horror genres will enjoy the ride and most importantly have a lot of fun.