I’ll readily admit, when I first saw Dead Space 3 I was horrified. Not because it looked scary, but because the video shown back at E3 2012 did not look like a Dead Space game. Co-op? Heavy action? No, not Dead Space at all. To be honest, as I played the newest game in the series, I realised I was absolutely right; this game isn’t Dead Space. It’s Dead Space 3; and a fine, fine game it is.
Visceral Games’ horror series has certainly evolved since the masterpiece first entry, Dead Space, created a following as dedicated as any other series. It was an incredible blend of atmosphere and jump scares, creating an atmosphere of isolation second to none. Then Dead Space 2 streamlined the series, adding depth and an arc for series protagonist Isaac Clarke. Again, it was a masterpiece.
Dead Space 3 streamlines the Dead Space experience further still. Now that may have alarm bells ringing in the minds of the Dead Space faithful. To an extent their fears aren’t without reason: Dead Space 3 is a much more action packed experience. It’s less about horror and more about combat and story. This could entirely (and rightly) alienate some of its more hardcore fans, but for me personally, Dead Space 3 is a fantastic game in its own right.
Isaac Clarke is a broken man, and one can certainly understand that after the events of the first two games. It’s been some time since the events of Dead Space 2 and he’s holed up in a sleazy, dilapidated apartment where we find him at the beginning of the game. A phone message from Ellie tells him she’s moved on. The romance that developed in the time between Dead Space 3 and its predecessor has come to an abrupt end.
Isaac’s wallowing is interrupted by Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver, EarthGov’s last battalion as they try to fight the Unitologists. Ironically, Norton is Ellie’s new love interest, so as you’d expect that situation is a cause of great friction later in the story. The Unitologists have been fighting in the city where Isaac is living. Their purpose is to find Isaac and kill him so they can activate a machine to spread the marker energy. Their ultimate goal is to spread the Necromorph infection, a phenomenon they think will bring human kind to its final form.
After escaping the planet, you’ll travel between multiple space ships in order to find a way on to Tau Volantis, the giant ice planet that is said to be the source of the Markers. It’s in these giant space ships where the game feels most like its predecessors. It’s never scary, but incredibly atmospheric. On Tau Volantis however, the action is far more fast-paced and frantic but still feels fantastic.
When you’re in the early stages of the game it also gives you a good impression of just how good this game looks. The massive planet in the background, the shards of broken metal that float in zero gravity; it’s all incredibly beautiful. The indoor areas look as bleak as ever: dark, damp and suitably horrific. It’s all part of the atmosphere that the original Dead Space games created, and while the jump scares may not be there and the monster closets (or vents) more predictable than ever, it still creates that tense atmosphere that’s so oppressive.
Not that Tau Volantis looks bad mind you. This icy planet is full of stunning landscapes, skyscrapers and beautiful colours; but is also desolate and terrifying, showing signs of human life that has been ravaged and turned into something much worse than a corpse. The outposts scattered across the frozen mountains are eerily quiet and the walls almost painted red with blood. The snow flies incessantly, covering the suits of Clarke and his compatriots as the wind howls in the background.
Sound has always played a massive part in the world of Dead Space. Whether it’s the stunningly eerie music, the howls and screams of the Necromorphs, or their creeping through the various vents, the sound design is specifically utilised to keep you on edge and to keep you fearing for your life. It’s a little less impactful in Dead Space 3 due to the way encounters are designed, but it’s still incredibly impressive.
The sense of isolation too has diminished in Dead Space 3, something that was so important in previous games in the series. It’s perhaps one of the game’s few failings, because it still tries to create an isolated atmosphere. It doesn’t help that the supporting cast in Dead Space 3 is the biggest it has been, with an apparent the emphasis on story. The game will constantly creates situations wherein Isaac gets separated from the rest of the crew – whether it’s a cliff face breaking or a crane falling, but this doesn’t isolate him from the crew enough as they are constantly in radio contact with him.
“They’ve created a game that feels like a true evolution of the series, great in almost every respect. You should absolutely buy Dead Space 3, that’s a certainty.”
Thankfully though, that’s all backed up by great action, something I never thought I’d say in a Dead Space game. The game strays often into the combat room situation mechanic, wherein you’ll go into a room filled with ammo packs and health packs and be forced to fight waves of Necromorphs until you either kill them all or can solve the room’s puzzle to advance. The moment to moment gameplay feels so good that it never gets ever tiring. I found myself constantly looking forward to the next encounter.
The action sequences aren’t crazy like a Call of Duty game either. They’re slow, they’re tactical and require good positioning as well as a decent aim. The combination of various types of Necromorphs means you’ll need to adapt to each different combat sequence and even re-adjust as different enemies join a fight. This means changing your position, weapon, or even tactics to make sure you aren’t overwhelmed, something which can easily happen in the later game.
That’s complemented by a deep weapon crafting system that literally transforms how you think about weapons in a Dead Space game. Let’s be honest, not many of us really used anything other than a Plasma Cutter in previous games, did we? [Ed – there were other weapons?] If you had told me that a shotgun with a tesla cannon would have been my weapon of choice in a Dead Space game before this one, I’d have laughed in your face. Dead Space 3 doesn’t just require you to use multiple weapons, but it makes it fun to do so and that’s a great step up from previous games.
Much has been made of the co-op element before release, with many (including myself) of the opinion that it would ruin Dead Space. Thankfully, not only does it not detract from the game, but it actually improves the game in many situations. What makes it work is that it’s not just a case of having someone play Carver and be with you the whole time. At certain points in the game Carver and Isaac will have different experiences that fit really well within the game’s story, but this highlights how the single player campaign can feel really disjointed in places. At certain points you’ll go through a section completely alone as Isaac and then Carver will appear out of nowhere with no explanation as to why that happened.
However, that’s just one of the few problems I have with an otherwise fantastic game. As I said at the start of this piece, I was very sceptical of how Dead Space 3 would turn out, with the co-op element and the more action focused gameplay being a real worry of mine. But I should have trusted Visceral. They’ve created a game that feels like a true evolution of the series, great in almost every respect. You should absolutely buy Dead Space 3, that’s a certainty.