Review – Dead Space 3
It’s Necromorphs, Necromorphs everywhere, with Dead Space 3 marking the third game where dismembering limbs is the song to saving your skin. But with three games in, is the tune a little too overplayed? Have Dead Space’s scary monsters lost their fear factor? The answer to these questions is a resounding HELL NO.
Dead Space 3 sees you stepping back into the Necromorph stomping shoes of Isaac Clarke, who must be one of the most unlucky guys in the history of video gaming. If he’s not being torn apart by nasty flesh ripping Necromorphs, or being taunted by the ghost of his dead girlfriend, he’s smack bang in the middle of a tug of war between unitologists and EarthGov forces who want him for what’s inside his mind. It’s enough to make any guy just want to hide away and hope the world forgets about him – which is where we find Isaac at the start of Dead Space 3. Sadly for Isaac, he can’t simply forget about the past, and when a certain individual comes knocking at his door with a very personal request, he’s forced back into the Necromorph stomping action we know and love him for.
Those who have played the previous Dead Space games will understand the series is known for two main things: the strategic dismemberment of enemy Necromorphs who want nothing more than to slice Isaac up faster than a well-baked ham; and that feeling of unsettling terror that comes as a result of never quite knowing what is around the next corner. The original Dead Space crafted a foreboding, unsettling atmosphere that was almost suffocating in its level of dread, and Dead Space 2 combined this atmosphere with a liberal dose of action. The world expanded in Dead Space 2, with Isaac traversing a whole station instead of the claustrophobic corridors of the Ishimura of the first game. Dead Space 3 builds on this expansion, allowing Isaac the best of both worlds – you’ll search through the scary silent insides of star ships as well as explore the cramped confines of a creepy scientific base on an icy planet, all the while searching for a way to rid the world of the Necromorph threat once and for all.
The atmosphere created in Dead Space 3 is a perfect balance of creepy foreboding and heart-racing action. There are times when you will cautiously creep through corridors and underground bunkers, watching the hallways in front of you for any signs of threat. Conversely, there are times when your heart is beating so fast and you’re racing through areas because you know that stopping means instant death. I can’t count the amount of times I found myself gripping my controller in an almost vice-like constrictor grip, and it was only after finishing a section of a game and only then noticing I hadn’t taken a breath in a while, that I realised what an amazing experience I was a part of. Dead Space 3 manages to capitalise on both the player’s sense of flight and fight and keeps you guessing as to just what you’ll be facing in the next area. Visceral have done a superb job at keeping the player on their toes, making them question what they believe to be true. Areas you think would be teeming with Necromorphs are silently empty, whilst places that seem safe are anything but. It’s an exceptionally difficult feeling to create – to have the player questioning everything around them – and yet Dead Space 3 manages it time and time again.
The plotline and pacing are similarly well done, with the story progressing at a balanced pace. The story and dialogue are well written, providing an individuality to characters and conveying their motives and goals in a way which allows you to understand their actions, even if you don’t agree with them. The action aptly advances the plot, and optional side missions provide that extra flavour and backstory that fans of the series will enjoy. Whilst completing the optional missions can make the main mission feel a touch drawn out, they provide a richness to the story that only enhances the sense of unease and adds to the psychological terror present within the main plot. I’d recommend any fan of the series complete them, as it’s within the optional missions where the horror of what is unfolding around Isaac is able to be glimpsed in its purest form.
Several mainstays of the previous games make a re-appearance, including the suit kiosks and weapon benches. The weapons system has been expanded, however, and Dead Space 3 is all the better for it. Now, Isaac is able to craft weapons from different parts found (or crafted) in game, allowing a depth of customisation not seen in the previous two games. There’s a sense of macabre fun in discovering the many ways you are able to combine weapon parts to create tools of bloody slaughter – some of which are perfectly designed to eviscerate any Necromorph or soldier who dares step into your path. Another addition that runs alongside the new weapons crafting system is the resource collection system – Isaac now has access to tiny scavenger bots that can collect resources for him. These resources allow Isaac to not only craft weapons but also enable him to craft the necessary tools of his trade – stasis modules, ammo clips and med packs.
The resource collection is an excellent inclusion to the game, as is the fact that now all guns use the same ammo. Gone are the days of needing to use critical inventory spaces to carry different types of ammo for your different guns. It’s amazing how such a small change can have such a big difference to the game, but it is noticeable and the game is improved by its addition. Unfortunately, Isaac is limited to carrying two weapons in Dead Space 3, making your weapon selection all the more critical if you want to push through the more difficult areas. There is an upside to this, however, as being limited to only two weapons makes certain areas much more unnerving. In addition, the weapon customisation available allows weapons to have both a primary and secondary fire feature – which is fantastic news when it comes to deconstructing Necromorphs.
Boss battles also make a re-appearance in Dead Space 3, and for the most part they are handled well. The battles still rely on the tried and true ‘shoot them in the glowy parts’ mode of foe defeat, yet the battles themselves are spaced out in such a way that they never feel overly taxing or cumbersome. In addition, one of the biggest surprise moments of the game is attached to a boss battle, and its inclusion most certainly enhances the gameplay experience.
Power nodes have been removed in Dead Space 3, replaced with upgrade circuits which improve different parts of your weapons. As you progress, you’ll find circuits which increase your weapon’s clip size, damage, rate of fire and reload, and it will be up to you to decide which combinations of upgrades work best for your play style. In effect, this creates a customisation element on top of a customisation element, practically doubling your ability to personalise your guns to fit your unique play style. It’s an excellent strategic addition, and a valuable inclusion to the third game in the series.
Shop Kiosks have also been removed in Dead Space 3, with currency no longer an important element in the game. Instead of money you’ll be trading in resources – and it will be resources you’ll need to secure new weapons, med packs and stasis modules. Luckily, resource collection is easy in Dead Space 3 – simply listen for the cues that tell you you’re near a resource rich area, deploy one of your cute scavenger bots and wait for them to return to a bench, depositing the resources they’ve found during their exploration. Simple. It’s incredible how easy resource collection is, and it’s a great nod to Isaac’s beginnings as an engineer – it makes perfect sense for him to be able to craft weapons and items using raw resources, and the collection element aptly balances the game.
One area where the game does suffer due to the removal of a previous mainstay is in the removal of save points. Dead Space 3 favours a save at crucial points style of saving your game progression. Whilst you are able to save at any point in the game, doing so only saves the contents of your inventory, and does not save your game progress. Players will need to take note of the areas where the ‘Save in Progress’ graphic is displayed on screen if they wish to begin from that exact moment. Otherwise, selecting the ‘save and quit’ menu item only saves your inventory.
In a game with so many standouts and examples of elements that work, I feel it’s important to mention the spectacular job Visceral Games have done with Dead Space 3’s score. The soundtrack that accompanies the game is something that defies words and must be experienced for the full effect. Music has always been a centrepiece for the games – a storytelling device the developers have used to heighten the mood throughout the series – and it is beautifully woven into Dead Space 3. The soundtrack creates an atmosphere that is hauntingly melodic and perfectly captivating. It’s fair to say the music is the unsung hero in the series – often doing more to heighten the sense of dread and paranoia than anything on screen does. In Dead Space 3, the soundtrack is expertly crafted and a perfect accompaniment to the action unfolding on screen. Nothing quite compares to the feeling that is created when you hear the soundtrack begin its sinister, almost Hitchcockian tones.
There is one major addition to Dead Space 3 which I have intentionally left until last to discuss, and that is the co-operative gameplay inclusion. Unlike previous Dead Space games, Dead Space 3 offers two campaign modes – a single-player mode and a co-operative online mode. The single-player mode undoubtedly offers the classic Dead Space experience, where players control Isaac Clarke, whilst the co-op mode allows players to team up with one of their friends to tackle the game’s campaign using a second character, John Carver. According to the game’s developers, the co-op mode provides further details about the game’s plot, in addition to enhancing the overall gameplay experience.
I played several hours of the co-op mode with a friend, and whilst I enjoyed playing through the game with them, I did not enjoy the co-operative aspect of gameplay. I felt the game lost that feeling of unease and foreboding when playing with another player, and as those two feelings are part of the ‘core’ Dead Space experience for me, I felt the co-op lessened the game. Perhaps given more time with the game I may come to appreciate the co-operative aspect, but as someone who has played both previous Dead Space games, I see the Dead Space experience as a single player experience at its core. In addition, I started the game playing in co-op mode, and the drop-in, drop-out nature of the gameplay meant that I missed a lot of cutscenes and a lot of backstory which, for someone who’s a self-diagnosed backstory nut, is like a punch in the guts. Playing through co-op, I had no idea what was happening or why I was doing what I was doing, and only in restarting the campaign in single player and revisiting areas I had played in co-op was I provided with the backstory I needed to understand what was happening. As a result, I definitely wouldn’t recommend starting Dead Space 3 via the co-op campaign. It’s my belief that fans of the series will gain more enjoyment through exploring the single-player campaign first, and then trying out the co-op once they’ve finished their single player campaign.
Dead Space 3 is an expertly crafted experience which retains the feeling of fear and foreboding the series is known for and adds action-packed moments of jaw-dropping awe. Fans of the series will find a game that incorporates everything they love about the previous two games and improves upon them by adding gameplay elements that work. Dead Space 3 feels like a coming of age, an addition to the series that matures not just the gameplay, but the characters and events that occur within the game world itself. Isaac is no longer the voiceless engineer he was in the original game – he’s grown and matured into a capable (yet fallible and flawed) protagonist who’s seen more horror than any man should and yet continues to fight and adapt because he must. Dead Space 3 as a game mirrors the maturity and growth shown by Isaac, combining the elements that worked in the previous games with new additions that improve upon the original formula to deliver an experience that is both memorable and enjoyable.
If you haven’t already, buy this game. Dead Space 3 offers an exceptional gameplay experience that is unmatched in its ability to simultaneously scare and entertain. Here is a game to play with the lights off and the sound up. A game to be devoured for all its gore and glorious fear. If Dead Space 3 is setting the bar for releases in 2013 – what a spectacular year we have ahead of us.
Dead Space 3 scores a 9 out of 10.