The first Dead Space game was something pretty special. Its setting of a deserted spaceship infested with seemingly endless hordes of "necromorph" human/alien mutations pushed the boundaries when it came to evoking a sense of isolation and foreboding, interspersed with periods of outright terror. The game was successful enough to warrant a fully fledged sequel along with numerous related titles. We join Isaac Clarke in his latest outing in Dead Space 3. We looked at the game on Xbox 360.
Although Dead Space featured an at times clunky interface and the controls could have been more precise, the game was a winner that delivered an adrenalin-soaked thrill ride with a mix of close quarters melee combat, puzzle solving and a little ranged gun play. The moments the game hurled your way were certain stress-raisers and yet strangely enjoyable, as long as you had a good ticker.
The sequel, Dead Space 2, largely continued this trend, with few changes to what was a successful blueprint. However, with Dead Space 3 we have a few developments that have seen the game change somewhat, although sadly it is not always for the better.
To quickly recap the narrative, you still play the game as the rather "gifted" Clarke, a man who is the only person who seems to have a magical connection to the bizarre "marker" technology that spawns these creatures. As a result, he has now been conscripted to try and nullify a new necromorph threat. Naturally, given the horrible struggles in Isaac's past, he is a very reluctant hero, but Isaac changes his tune when he discovers his ex-girlfriend is one of those begging for his help.
The game's plot is at times contrived, but it is really only a vehicle to frame the many "fetch and fix" quests you must perform to make your way through the story. The voice (over) acting is rather labored during some exchanges too. You aren't likely to care too much though, as Dead Space 3's enjoyment comes from the carnage you get to cause, not the story surrounding it.
This journey will take you from your civil war-torn home planet to deep space and then the frozen world of Tau Volantis, battling hordes of mutants along the way. There is a lot more to the plot than this, but in the interest of not spoiling it, we’ll leave the discussion of the story here. Devotees of the series will get plenty of back story information and those who are not that interested in the narrative can completely ignore it and just go to war.
To fans, Dead Space 3 will feel familiar and fun. The way you have to conserve ammunition and continually use a mix of melee, as well as gunplay, is something those who have played previous games will be very used to. Many of your old foes return, including those horrible regenerating necromorph super beasts that can't be killed. These guys show up often and keep the action moving along, as you desperately keep shooting them just so you can gain enough space to move on and escape.
If you have never played a Dead Space game before, you are also in for a treat. The core mechanic sees you battling relentless hordes of necromorphs. You do this by shooting the abominations and occasionally you are forced to fight for your life in what are often intense and visceral melee exchanges. The game helps you in this regard, as you can swing your weapon like a club when out of ammunition and finish them off with a solid foot stomp.
Some will note Dead Space has a LOT in common with classic horror games like Resident Evil. Many of the nceromorphs you battle refuse to shuffle off this mortal coil quickly too. Indeed, sometimes the game challenges you to more efficiently dispatch threats with shots that amputate limbs as a means of circumventing the bizarre transformations some necromorphs engage in when damaged.
It all gets quite overwhelming at points, but thankfully you can slow time with a technological innovation called the "stasis device." Activate one of these and your enemies will lurch about in a slow motion mode, while you dispatch them gleefully and quickly. This is ideal when you get overrun by superior numbers.
There are also plenty of puzzles to break up the action and these are sometimes ingenious. They often also involve clever use of your telekinesis ability. Telekinesis has been a part of the series since the first outing and it makes a welcome return here. The system has been refined somewhat, and it is possible to sometimes telekinectically grab severed spear-like limbs and hurl them back at fresh enemies, thus killing opponents with their own body parts. This is grisly fun!
There are plenty of circuit diagrams you have to master, redirecting power so that you can turn a system on or off, as is required by the demands of the day. The game also sees you taking the odd space walk and even engaging in a brief serving of "on rails" shooting action. These elements are the least enjoyable of what is on offer. Dead Space 3 really shines when it sticks to the game's core element, namely endless battles in tight confined spaces with hordes of necromorphs.
The action is for the most part enjoyable, even if at times your ability to quickly target and take down enemies isn't up to the task at hand. Often you'll have to beat a hasty retreat so you can spin around and acquire your foes in the cross hairs. The targeting system could have used a little further tweaking, as sometimes you simply cannot acquire a target and aim as quickly as you'd like.
Also, if you are being picky, Dead Space 3 fails to introduce much in the core design that is fresh. The game features a new "workbench" based weapon crafting system. Some will enjoy this, while others will find it slows the pace and is too fiddly. Further, it is annoying the way the game gives you the "option" of buying items for use in the weapon crafting suite. You do this via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace if you are too lazy to find items as you explore. Some might feel this is a tad too mercenary.
Either way, the new elements don't change the design blueprint that sees you “fix, find flush and repeat” when clearing areas. This is thankfully untouched.
Dead Space 3 does have one decent fresh trick up its sleeve, though. The game introduces a quite enjoyable two player co-operative multi-player element to proceedings. Clarke is joined by Carver, a reluctant ally who seems to hate Clarke's guts. You can play with a friend, controlling the two characters at the same time.
The system lets you drop in or out at any time in this co-op mode, and there are some pretty tough co-op only missions that rely on the extra fire power a second player brings to the table. These stages are a lot of fun and add a decent injection of replay value to proceedings, as you will only be able to enjoy exploring the multi-player areas when playing with a friend. You need to be playing online though, as there is no split screen option, which is a pity.
This third installment in the series also has a new faction for you to battle. For some idiotic reason a group of people calling themselves the Unitarian Church has banded together in the misguided belief that mankind's evolution relies on our death and mutation into alien zombies. These nitwits are a great distraction from the faceless necromorph hordes. The interludes that see you battling these zealots add variety in that you engage in a more conventional fire fight against similarly equipped soldiers.
The church isn't that well armed and they are a lot less capable in terms of close quarters combat, but the stages that see you face them add variety. You can usually pop away at individuals from a decent range and whittle the numbers down from safety. If you do get a chance, they are also really easy to take out in melee mode as these misguided men aren't anywhere near as tough when going toe to toe. It is a pity the game doesn't feature battles with the church more prominently, as their maniacal leader is quite amusing.
All in all, Dead Space 3 is a great game. It just doesn't represent a major evolution for the series. If you liked the previous efforts, this installment is fun, even if it feels like the game isn't pushing the boundaries creatively.
Images courtesy of EA
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