The original Dead Space was a definite surprise. Not only was it an original IP from EA, but it was a damn fine survival horror, with the emphasis on scares and atmosphere. The second game lost a lot of the horror element, but refined the gameplay, making for a better, smoother action title. And now, the third adventure for Isaac Clarke aims to bring in even more action, co-op play and variety, but will this dilute the horror even more?
After the events of the first two games, and Isaac’s run-ins with the mysterious markers and Necromorphs, our space janitor has gone into hiding, and wants nothing to do with the cosmic threat. He’s also lost Ellie, his girlfriend he was so intent of saving not long ago, and she’s off trying to find out more about the markers, and a way to stop them. Oh, and the Unitologists, the religious cult that worships the markers and their promise of ‘rebirth’ is also after him. All side effects of being a limb-chopping hero, I guess.
Dead Space 3 picks up a while after the second game. Isaac is hiding out on a space colony, and he’s soon discovered and thrown, once more, into a Necromorph-laden mission to save humanity. This time, however, his adventure spans a few more locations than previous games, and he has a friend along for the ride. Well, if you have a chum to play with, that is.
At first, Dead Space 3 throws in a couple of smaller prologue missions that set the stage for the game. Here there’s a smidgen of running and gunning against human foes, and a bit of, admittedly ham-fisted, cover-based shooting, but this soon passes into the game’s first major act, which takes place in a large debris field surrounding a ruined space station.
Here events are much the same as the first Dead Space, and the feel and pacing will please those who liked the first in the series. Elements of the second game are there too, but this is old school Dead Space, with some nifty wide-open space walking sections and a semi non-linear mission structure. There are main missions to undertake, as well as optional side missions as you travel to and from various wrecks.
It’s quite refreshing, and the tried and tested corridor-based action, along with the open space walks/flying sections and resource hunting work well. You’ll soon meet the Necromorphs, along with some new, disgusting members of the family, and there are plenty of jumpy outy moments.
Wrap up warm
After this first third of the game, and a well handled planetary decent, you’ll finally end up on Tau Volantis, a frozen snowball of a planet, and this is where Dead Space 3 really starts to open up and show its differences. These differences aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but they do take the game to different places, including the chance to roam around larger, more open areas. And, it also adds a couple of new game mechanics, notably the need to keep Isaac’s body temperature up when wandering around outside, much like the 2002 video game adaptation of John Carpenter’s, The Thing.
It’s all good stuff, and one thing that’s immediately apparent is that Dead Space 3 has lost none of the gameplay qualities of its predecessors. It’s still as satisfying as ever to chop foes limb from limb, the atmosphere is still oppressive, and the missions and locations are all designed well enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, ready for yet another gruesome attack.
The sad thing, though, is that the actual horror content is pretty much gone now, even more so than the second game. It’s all sci-fi action and gore, and little to no horror. This is a shame, as the first game managed to achieve a great balance between the two, but as EA has plainly said, it wants to make the game appeal to the mainstream, and action and shooting do that better than anything else, so horror has been bumped off the menu. Ah well, Dead Space 3 still does what it does very well.
Isaac has a few new tricks available to him this time. Not only does he have a partner (more on this later), but he can now make use of new weapon crafting and resource gathering functions. Gone is the previous power node upgrade system, and you can now find weapons parts, blueprints, upgrade circuits and raw materials which you can use to craft weapons, make items such as ammo and health packs, and you can upgrade guns and suits.
Parts and resources are found all over the place, such as in lockers and on dead bodies (which, for some brutish reason you have to stomp to bits to locate said loot), and you can use Bench terminals to utilise these new abilities.
The weapon crafting is quite in-depth too, and each gun has a variety of parts, such as a frame, upper and lower weapon mounts, upgrade slots and so on. This makes for a system that lets you create a whole host of unique guns. Want a machine gun with an underslung cutting beam? No problem. Fancy shredding foes with a shotgun sporting a grenade launcher? Fine, go do it. As long as you have the parts, you can make the gun. And, you don’t need to rely on preset weapon blueprints, the game lets you experiment on your own, which is nice.
The ability to manufacture supplies is a life-saver too, and you can create all-important ammo and health packs, as well as special lock pick items that can open various, otherwise inaccessible doors. The resources required to make the picks are precious, though, so you have to weigh up the potential benefits hidden behind the locked doors against the already owned supplies that can be used elsewhere.
You do have occasional help with your resource finding too, and you can find and use resource-hunting robots to gather more materials. Set them down in an area, and they’ll wander off and find loot for you. Eventually, when you log onto a Bench, they’ll report in and deliver the goods and you can then send them off again.
Aim for the limbs!
As I said, EA wants Dead Space 3 to appeal to more players, and the route it’s taken here is two fold, one is to make the game far more action-based, and the second is to add in co-operative multiplayer.
There’s no denying the fact that Dead Space 3 is a constant barrage of enemy attacks, and the action quotient here is far heavier than before. Enemies attack from all sides and en masse, and the monster closet is used far, far too much for my liking. Still, it keeps the pressure on, and the tempo up. You’re also not likely to run out of ammo any time soon either, as enemies drop ammo, health and resources constantly. This removes the survival horror element almost entirely, with it being present only on the harder difficulty settings, and even then it’s nowhere near what you’d expect from an ammo and supply conserving type of game.
As a fan of classic survival horror titles that make you value each and every bullet you have, I find this a little disappointing, but in truth it’s not so bad as the game is designed around faster-paced play, so hunting around for ammo would have a negative impact on the flow, so the ready supply of rounds works well enough.
There are some problems here that have also resided with the previous two games, but are far more noticeable due to the heavier action. The camera is one of the most glaring, and can also be your nemesis at times. Often you’ll end up backed into a corner by lighting-fast Necromorphs, and you’ll be all-but blind, your view so obstructed that you’ll see nothing but blackened close-up textures. In fact, in this sate you can barely hit anything, and on harder difficulties you may as well return to the previous checkpoint, as you’ll be dead meat anyway.
The sluggish controls are another issue. Again, as the action is heavier and faster, you’d expect Isaac to be a little more responsive and lighter on his feet, but no, he’s not, and it’s sometimes a royal pain. The game often assaults you from multiple sides in an instant, and unless you know what’s coming, you’ll not be able to react fast enough to survive. This can make some sections of the game more trial and error than anything else. It’s a little cheap, and some refinement in the controls would have worked wonders.
It takes two
Perhaps the most polarising new feature of the game, and one that generated plenty of hate ever since it was announced, is the co-op mode. Fans of the series were quite vocal about the introduction of the co-op option, and understandably so. Horror games always work best when you’re alone, and wandering around darkened corridors knowing that every noise and shadow is a potential enemy is a key element to why the previous games packed in the scares. Having a friend stomping around with you would surely take that sense of dread away, no?
Well, yes, it does. The thing is, the game isn’t actually scary anyway, even on your own, so the co-op only adds to the package, and doesn’t have a negative effect. And, even if this still irks you, there’s the solo campaign, which isn’t affected by the co-op at all, so there’s no problem.
However, the co-op mode is definitely worth a shot. Not only is the game a very different experience with two players, but the story is changed too, making allowances for your partner. It’s clever, and works well enough, certainly better than Resident Evil 6’s co-op mode, which in my opinion left a lot to be desired. It’s certainly worth playing through twice to see how things change.
Some features are also designed specifically for this mode, such as weapon attachments that benefit both players. For example, you can attach a medical module to a weapon that then makes any used health pack also benefit the other player. These boosts are also found in single-player, and are still useful, as another player can drop in at any time. Some puzzles and action sequences are also altered when two players are present, adding to the co-operative feel.
All in all, the co-op mode works very well, and I’m as surprised as many of the early haters, being very cynical of its inclusion myself. It adds a lot to the game, and greatly extends its lifespan.
Bugs in space
If there’s one thing EA knows, aside from how to milk a license, is how to polish a game, and Dead Space 3 is, by and large, no different. It looks good (although not amazing), sounds good and the story is intriguing, especially if you’ve played the previous games and are invested in the overall story arc.
However, there are some bugs present, such as doors not opening, sometimes requiring a checkpoint reset, and foes glitching, getting stuck in walls. Some sections are also buggy in their execution, such as a side mission that locks you in rooms full of enemies that can be easily overcome by simply standing in a door way or using a lift to break scripted enemy spawns. And this is after a day one patch.
And, whilst it’s not actually a bug, I have to draw attention to the inclusion of QTE events. Why, EA? Why? Some scripted sections here don’t resort to QTE, and give you full control, but some, even less ambitious scenes simply get you to mash buttons. QTE events can be necessary in some situations, but not here. It’s just lazy development, and it’s annoying.
Overall though, Dead Space 3 is a solid title. It’s more varied and faster-paced than its predecessors, introduces some great new game mechanics and doesn’t mess with the core gameplay too much. Fans of the series will no doubt miss the survival horror elements, but if you enjoy shaving limbs and avoiding zombified space-puke, this is your game.