Dead Space 3 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
They say in space, no one can hear you scream. Well, you’d better hope that’s not true, as Dead Space 3 has crept and crawled its way onto shelves everywhere. Featuring a new story, setting, and Co-op mode, does the latest in the survival horror series still have what it takes to scare the pants off of you – or will this bump in the night pass unnoticed? As a pre-caution to first-time Dead Space players, this review will contain spoilers from previous titles. If you don’t want the frightening magic ruined for you, you best go play the first two games now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait!
Are you back yet? Good! Hope you weren’t too frightened. Dead Space 3 rejoins the troubled engineer Isaac Clark, following the events on Titan Sprawl in Dead Space 2. Still suffering from his Marker-induced dementia (though no longer seeing visions of his deceased ex-girlfriend, Nicole), he disappears from the public eye alongside Ellie (the woman he escaped the Sprawl with). However, due to Isaac’s illness, their relationship takes a turn for the worst and she leaves him alone to his mind, until one day he is visited by Norton and Carver – members of Earth-Gov’s last battalion. The Unitologists (who you’ll recall as the Marker-worshiping cult who believes the Necromorphs are mankind’s greatest ascension) have been making attacks on Marker test sites, unleashing Necromorph outbreaks all over the galaxy. In an attempt to stop the Marker crisis once and for all, Ellie travelled to an uncharted planet said to hold the answer to stopping the Markers… but hasn’t been heard from since. Fearing for Ellie’s safety – and persuaded by the gun pointed at the back of his head – Isaac curses his crappy luck and agrees to help in the search, once again throwing himself at the horrors of the Necromorphs – this time on the frozen wastelands of Tau Voltanus.
Along the way, our poor pestered protagonist must not only deal with his third round of undead horrors, but also a love triangle, protecting a crew, facing the pains of failing to save people, the Unitologist threat, and even his own Marker-touched mind. As gamers play through the tale of Dead Space 3 and discover every twist and surprise, they’re going to be constantly glad that they’re not Isaac Clark, as there are few people it would suck more to be. While the script probably won’t win any awards for creative writing, as there isn’t anything overly special or outstanding about it, it does a lot more than simply get the job done, and will be steadily pulling you back in for more – right up until the credits roll. The only issues involving plot actually come from Co-op mode, but a little bit more on that later!
While the narrative is all well and good, gameplay is what will keep you glued to the TV screen… if it doesn’t scare you to death that is! As is tradition, Dead Space 3 takes the form of a third-person shooter with strong survival horror elements. Similar to later titles in the Resident Evil franchise, players take control of Isaac via an over-the-shoulder view point, having him run and gun his way through waves of the undead Necromorphs – giving the game a very action-heavy feel. Each chapter of the game presents the player with an overall goal to achieve, such as finding parts or repairing a shuttle, with waves of enemies for you to shoot, stomp, burn, bash, or cut your way through – depending upon your weapon of choice.
However, the survival horror elements play a huge part as well, including the traditional mechanic, dismemberment. Necromorphic foes take more damage from a single hit that severs a limb than they would from several hits to the body, which makes careful and accurate shots more desirable than spray-and-pray tactics. This is easier said than done though, as the environments are designed to scare the player, or otherwise stress them out into making mistakes. Gamers will walk into a room and see an enemy in the shadows, but before they can raise their flashlight and weapon, the foe will duck behind a rock – and will have already vanished by the time you run to catch it. Other demoralizing events include rooms full of fresh blood and claw marks, walking in on a mass suicide, and regenerating foes that can’t be killed – only avoided. Part of this organic fear comes from needing to conserve ammo and health packs, which can be scarce at times, meaning gamers need to watch every shot and avoid as much damage as possible. After all, there’s nothing worse than having a massive enemy come out of the walls and hearing your gun go ‘click’. If you’re not absolutely frightened by the horror you have to walk through, you will have your heart racing from the nowhere-to-hide style battles against the legions of monsters you’ll need to take on.
Returning mechanics from previous games include Stasis, Telekinesis, Suits, and Benches – the former two are used in both combat and navigating dangerous environments. Stasis blasts will slow down any enemy or object they come in contact with (making for an easy shot or allowing you to pass by something in the environment, like a giant drill for instance, without it mauling you), and Telekinesis can be used to pull, push, lift, or throw objects without making physical contact – useful for clearing debris or flinging a Necromorph’s severed bladed-arm at foes (referred to as TK’ing). A new feature also comes built into Telekinesis, and that’s Torque: the ability to rotate objects. While a very simple mechanic, Torque allows for even more challenges to be presented to the player, instead of just the usual ‘slow this and stop that’, as several puzzles use this new mechanic – such as turning fuse boxes to match ends and carry a charge, powering up machines so you can proceed.
Of course, most people wouldn’t remember Isaac without his signature RIG Suit and Plasma Cutter weapon – both of which are integral to gameplay and are upgraded via Suit Kiosks and Benches respectively. Like in both Dead Space and Dead Space 2, upgrading Isaac’s RIG gives him more health, better armour, stronger Telekinesis, and longer-lasting Stasis – which can be done at any Suit Kiosk if you have the right amount of resources (like scrap metal and tungsten). However, unlike previous titles, the actual Suit you wear has no positive or negative effect on play and is purely for aesthetics, meaning the player can keep their favourite look the entire game or change outfits along with the situation, without any fear of missing buffs or advantages. All of your RIG upgrades stay with Isaac, regardless of what Suit he’s wearing.
Dead Space 3 takes a totally new approach by allowing the players to build and customize their own weapons at Benches, instead of just buying and upgrading pre-made tools. Gamers select a base frame for the weapon, which determines if it will be a small/one-handed or large/two-handed gun, then an upper and lower tool that determines the nature of the primary and secondary fire modes. For example, by selecting a Military Engine as an upper tool and a Pneumatic Torch as a lower one, players can use various Tips to create shotguns, sniper rifles, submachine guns, and assault rifles for primary fire, with either a flamethrower or cryogenic freeze torch underneath. Add in auxiliary attachments like scopes or acid-coated rounds, as well as Upgrade Chips (which effect base performance of the gun like clip size or fire rate), and the options presented to the gamer are virtually limitless, allowing them to create their own personalized weapons to carry into battle.
To build the equipment, however, you need the same resources you would use to upgrade you RIG. While everything you need can be found on enemy bodies, you may also use scavenger bots to seek them out for you. Once you find one of these critters, simply select it like a weapon. You can then use their screen to find the best possible location to survey, and let them go off on their own to explore. Usually gone for about ten minutes, these bots will return to a Bench and await your next visit, where they will drop off their finds. As well, these bots may find Ration Seals that can be used to purchase packs online, which contain useful weapon parts and some of every resource.
Something else a little new to the series is side-missions, which make the game feel a lot less linear. In a similar style to Batman: Arkham City, players have the freedom to explore additional regions and locations around Tau Voltanus, off of the guided path. These missions can range from simply learning how to craft a weapon to searching derelict ships for extra resources or survivors, and while not absolutely necessary these tasks help shed some light on the history of the planet and the Markers – not to mention adding a few more hours to gameplay!
It’s worth noting that the Necromorphs aren’t your only enemy anymore. Several times throughout the game, players will encounter soldiers fighting for the Unitologists, which results in a gunfight between them and Isaac. Here, gamers will feel a bit of a Gears of War vibe, as they duck behind cover before popping out to return fire on a foe. These battles don’t happen enough to distract from the survival horror atmosphere, and actually lend a great deal towards it – as these fights waste your resources like health or ammo in unexpected ways. Thankfully, these scenes have been balanced far enough away from each other to not change the core gameplay experience, yet are paced to give a nice fresh feel to the title.
What’s really great about Dead Space 3 is that it features multiple difficulty settings, allowing you to tailor your experience based on your personality – whether you’re easily frightened, jumping at every whisper, or a grizzled war veteran who laughs in the face of the paranormal. If the former sounds more like you, simply place the game on Easy and let the ambiance take its toll on your bladder control; if the latter, then set the game to Impossible and watch as ammo and health becomes less and less frequent, with foes being increasingly bullet-resistant. Picked a starting difficulty that was either too hard or too easy? Fret not, as the setting can be changed at any time with absolutely no negative consequences – giving you one less thing to worry about! Once you discover that golden setting for yourself, you’ll find that the terrifying atmosphere mixed with the constant search for supplies makes for one very wonderful experience… you know, in a sick and twisted sort of way.
Gone are the days of online Human-vs.-Necromorph multiplayer matches, instead making way for drop-in/out Co-op play. During Co-op games, the second player takes control of Carver, an Earth-Gov soldier rocking some mean facial scars, whose family was killed by the Unitologist cult. While in this mode, the story remains mostly unchanged, save for a few key differences. Anywhere Carver and Isaac would have been away from each other or split up in single player, they now stick together – which in turn provides for a lot more in-game dialogue between the two. As well, some obstacles that could be overcome by one person (such as powering up a massive generator) now need to be tackled by two people, say, one to pull down a panel while the other turns a crank. Finally, there are some optional missions that can only be completed in Co-op, which delve into Carver’s past a little bit, letting you learn more about the man who has Isaac’s back. This mode helps take some of the edge and stress off of the campaign, as having a friend at your back makes the darkness seem a little bit brighter. Just make sure to hand out ammo or health as needed, and keep the communication flowing, as one person’s mistake can spell death for both!
The only issue with Co-op is that it makes the single player experience feel watered down and incomplete. With Co-op, you get to see more character interaction/development as well as some extra back-story, which is mostly absent or cleverly reworded in Single Player. This causes a few moments in the narrative to feel like you missed a conversation, with some character development feeling very sudden and unexplained. Carver simply appears here or there in Single Player, standing in the background for ambiance or offering a few occasional actions or words – which causes him to go by mainly unnoticed, making things somewhat weird in places he is actually key. Dead Space 3 is definitely a game you’ll want to play with a buddy, not only because it’s crazy amounts of fun, but because you’ll feel slightly out of the loop otherwise.
To help keep players coming back, there are a few different game modes available upon game completion including New Game+, Classic, Pure Survival, and Hardcore. New Game+ is about what you’d expect: simply starting a new game with all of your weapons, items, and upgrades from your previously completed game – it’s the others that get really interesting. In Classic, players are only able to use weapons crafted from Blueprints, like in previous titles, and have to use the old-fashioned aiming reticule from the original Dead Space. Survival, on the other hand, keeps the modern play style, but removes any resources found in the environment or dropped by enemies – meaning you can only get health and ammo by crafting them at a Bench, while other resources need to be discovered by scavenger bots. Finally we have Hardcore, where any death is permanent; no save points, checkpoints, retries, or anything – if you die, you need to start from the beginning. Of course, you can still save and quit to start again later, you just can’t die at all, so only the toughest need apply. These modes help breathe some extra life into the title, adding countless hours of replayability.
Part of what makes Dead Space 3 so enjoyable is its visuals, which are nothing short of stunning. The terror of the series is brought to life not only through graphical power, but through creative character design. Technically, the title’s engine pumps out some very pretty visuals, from creative and realistic lighting in low-lit rooms, to massive-scale disasters such as getting caught in a spaceship crash-turned-avalanche. One complaint I always had in previous titles was just how similar every enemy looked – just about every creature sharing a class looked exactly the same, and returning creatures from Dead Space 2 looked identical to their counterparts in the original. However, it seems that in this game, every monster type has been redesigned, sharing similar traits as their predecessors but with a completely new appearance. While there are still a few look-a-likes throughout the game, the general appearance has been greatly diversified.
Also contributing to the creepiness is the audio, which will send a chill down your spine. As you walk down an empty hall, you’ll hear scratches of Necromorphs crawling through air ducts, screams coming from other rooms, and growls of creatures that aren’t there – all to keep you tense and worried. This effect is boosted by the soundtrack, which uses light, stretching tones until an enemy reveals itself, signified by an orchestral sting – attempting to scare you with the sudden crescendo and whirlwinds of clashing tones. Every note and sound within the game will help to keep you on the edge of your seat, and looking over your shoulder in terror.
When the sun sets on the frozen wasteland of Tau Voltanus, Dead Space 3 proves that it has what it takes to survive and thrive in the survival horror genre. With terrifying gameplay, amazing Co-op, beautiful visuals, and spooky audio, this title has what it takes to scare the pants off of you! Grab a buddy, flick off the lights, throw on a headset, and get ready to fight for your life in this horrifying masterpiece!
Final Score: 4.75 / 5.0 and a severed hand holding the Peng treasure.
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