Dead Space 3 Review
We first faced the necromorph threat on board the Ishimura. Those creepy, claustrophobic corridors still show up in my dreams from time to time. Then, when Issac returned on The Sprawl, so did the abominations. As the secrets of the Church of Unitology are revealed, and the depth of the Marker’s history unearthed, you realize there is more to the horror than you had imagined. Sometimes humans can be worse than the monsters. Now Issac is back for the third installment, and along with a small but determined group, set out to destroy the Marker threat once and for all on Tau Volantis (aka Hoth 2.0). And let me tell you, stuff jumping out the dark is freaky, but stuff materializing out of a blizzard and jumping out of the snow is just as terrifying!
Issac is back, as are his nemesis: the fiendish, mutated necromorphs. This time our hero, the most under-appreciated engineer in history, is after the source of it all – the mysterious Black Marker. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that the writers made up some random stuff at the beginning to help things make sense as the story unfolded. There are some pretty major plot holes that almost (but not quite) turn the canon of the narrative on its head.
There is also a terribly thought out love-triangle between Ellie, Issac and Robert. Ellie was Issac’s love interest in the second game, and Robert is a new character with whom Ellie has supposedly moved on. There are some other characters of note (namely Carver who is a playable co-op partner, but more on that later), but none are terribly well developed. However, they go so far out of their way to make Robert the most unlikable man that’s NOT a necromorph that one wonders how Ellie could fall for such an ass in the first place. Ellie has also undergone some plastic surgery, which undermines her hard-nosed character somewhat. Personally, I found it oddly out of place and completely unnecessary. Still, I’m less interested in Issac’s love life or personal vendettas (I think I
actually prefer the strong, silent Issac from the first Dead Space) than desperately trying to stay alive against the horror that is the necromorph scourge.
While the plot may have gone way off the deep end (as if it hadn’t already), the action still remains as tight, fast, frantic and terrifying as you remember. The gameplay hasn’t changed much. Dismemberment is still the name of the game. Getting the crap scared out of you every thirty seconds by horrible monsters jumping out of the ceilings, walls, and beneath your feet while their deformed cohorts are always sneaking up from behind, is still commonplace. Using your kinesis and stasis abilities to both battle necromorphs and solve environmental puzzles also return. However, the argument can be made that in Dead Space 3 there has been an alteration in emphasis, making the overall experience less about the scares and more about the action.
A great deal has been made within the industry regarding the apparent shift in focus from intense survival horror towards over-the-top action and wild set pieces found most prevalently in the Call of Duty games. Critics cried foul saying that Visceral had forgone its roots (and that of its fanbase). From the opening sequence you can tell the difference. However, I found the pacing between the two to be inspired. They strike an interesting balance between those terrifying moments where you are creeping through darkened corridors and monsters are jumping out from everywhere, and those giant set pieces and white-knuckled firefights.
Dead Space 3 boasts a new crafting system that is both addictive and clever. As you search Tau Volantis and other locations you’ll stumble across component pieces that can be combined in various ways to create your own perfect weapon to give Issac and Carver an edge. These can be made of any number of parts complete with attachments (scopes and the like) to upgrade chips that allow for more ammo or greater damage. You want a military-style assault rifle with and undercarriage plasma cutter? What about a shotgun with a force-gun attachment for close encounters? The option is there, if you can find or create the pieces.
And that, of course, is the second side of the coin. Issac will find resources in his travels (usually after stomping on necromorph corpses) that can be combined in various amounts to create pretty much anything. Early on you’ll even find a handy little droid who you can send out to comb the area in search of goodies. Here’s a hint: it’s essential that you send him out immediately after each time he returns to the bench, otherwise you are simply wasting resources!
I love the inherent RPG aspect to resource collection and weapon manufacturing. It’s surprisingly addictive and even encourages farming! In fact, there is almost an instant replay value with New Game + mode. Having the chance to fully upgrade your arsenal, plus tinker with new, outrageous designs, makes playing the same areas not only tolerable, but fun! Here’s another hint: try to conserve your scavenged goods solely for upgrades rather than manufacturing consumables like med packs or ammo.
But the biggest change to the Dead Space universe is that now Issac can share the horror with a buddy! That’s right, Dead Space 3 boasts co-op. Carver, a hard-edged soldier, joins the fight. As one would expect, there are more enemies to face in co-op. In fact, some missions are only available if you play co-op, reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet. But wait, there is even another twist: playing as Carver offers some special moments that only the player controlling him can see, giving players lots of incentive to replay with their friends. But be warned, there is no split screen co-op action, it’s all online. Fortunately, co-op is drop in/drop out, so you can experience the mayhem with a friend as you see fit.
However, things are not all roses on Tau Volantis (that may be the understatement of the year). The plot issues aside, one minor complaint is that once again Issac suffers from errand boy syndrome. There is entirely too much backtracking over the same areas. It’s not deal breaking by any means, just annoying. The menu system can be a little irritating, especially the crafting sections. Things are well laid out, but backing out can be a trial. However, these are minor complaints that do nothing to mar what is otherwise an outstanding game.
From a production standpoint, Dead Space 3 is still top tier. Beautiful (and gory) graphics are made all the more impressive by phenomenal lighting and textures. I can’t recall a single instance of screen tearing or lag when I played. Top it off with an eerie and intense soundtrack and some good voice acting and the end result is a totally enhanced experience.
In fact, the music is much more dynamic. This time around it was designed around building tension in a completely different way… rather than the eerie, quiet, “What was that noise?!” moments, the drama is built in a more Hollywood-esque fashion. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first, but the truth is, it works quite well, especially when interspersed with those freaky, quieter moments as you search corridors waiting for the next necromorph to jump out and scare the snot out of you.
In the end, Dead Space 3 is a worthy entry in the series even if, in my opinion, it’s perhaps the worst of the three (even if only by the smallest of margins). Even ignoring the common complaint that the developers moved away from the scares to a more action driven experience (something I don’t completely agree with), Dead Space 3 is still thrilling, terrifying, intense, and completely worth your time. Fans of the series are already neck deep in necromorph limbs I’m sure, and the new resource and weapon crafting systems are among some of the best I’ve come across, making an already wholly engaging experience all the more so!
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a copy of Dead Space 3 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Electronic Arts.
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