Visceral Games and EA have done something that one of my favorite developers has not… they have released the third installment in the Dead Space series, Dead Space 3, to the masses. Did you read that GabeN? 3. But just because you have reached that magical number, that doesn’t make it an instant success, does it? Let’s take a walk through Dead Space 3, but be wary, there may be a few spoilers along the way. You have been warned.
Dead Space 3 comes off an excellent backdrop of story development that has led up to this installment. Brought back into the fold is protagonist Isaac Clarke, stuck hiding away on a lunar colony after the events of Dead Space 2 have transpired. Messages broadcast throughout the colony from the Church of Unitology, with their leader Jacob Danik speaking of the end of the humanity. We learn quickly that Isaac and Ellie are now separated, and Isaac appears in shambles when we cut to him after the prologue. This scene of melancholy changes quickly, as his hovel is quickly intruded by Capt. Robert Norton and Sgt. John Carver. Ellie and her team need to be located, and they need to be found as quickly as possible. So begins Dead Space 3.
Well, not entirely. There is an epic Prologue that kicks the game off with a soldier scouring the surface of Tau Volantis looking for a mysterious Codex at the request of Dr. Serrano. You quickly assume control of Private Tim Kaufman, who through the harsh winter wastes locates the Codex, having to fight off some Necromorphs en route. Following some epic action sequences, Kaufman finds himself back at base, only to lay eyes upon his slain company. General Mahad, waiting to greet Kaufman, proceeds to give him some crock about loving Earth and his family, and then proceeds to kill the private. After flicking some switches on the Codex, the thing resets.
200 years later, we now pan in on Isaac damning himself in his crappy apartment. After the confrontation with Norton and Carver, we assume control of our protagonist, and quickly find out that shit is about to go down. Unitologists are on the hunt for Isaac, and he must escape through the streets of the colony to the USM Eudora, where he can get off the planet. This doesn’t work out though, and eventually Isaac gets captured by the Unitologists, only to meet the leader Danik as he activates the Marker located on the colony. And you know what that means… it’s Necromorphin’ time! This opening sequence on the lunar colony serves as a bit more tutorial, as did the Prologue, and establishes the story that will drive the rest of the game. There are 19 chapters to this story, so there is much to accomplish in Dead Space 3.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but you will find yourself back in space by the 2nd hour of the game, and for those of you who have played previous iterations in the series, the familiarity sets in right away once you put on that RIG suit. The innovative heads-up display still shows inventory, objectives, etc. The control scheme is set up the same, but still no quick turn around option, like those featured in Resident Evil 4 which I grew very dependent on in these action horror games. Call it a gripe, but I hate it when a Necromorph pops up behind me and I immediately begin my 180 degree run forwards to turn backwards motion. I’ll continue to blame the dexterity of the RIG suit (or the laziness of the programmers).
But I digress. The gameplay and combat are the best part of the game. They have been for the series. Those times where you are beginning to run low on ammo, but you have an onslaught of Necromorphs to fight off that are backing you into a corner is why you play this game. Coming out alive always feels like a triumph. Every defeat feels just the opposite, but keeps you coming back for more. It helps with the diversity of weapon types and upgrades in this game, as the Bench system has been revitalized for this iteration in the Dead Space series. New weapon blueprints are waiting for you to build the newest innovation in Necromorph obliteration. You’ll scour hallways and dark crevices for parts to upgrade your weapons or your RIG suit, and the New Game+ option will give you the opportunity to look for even better items for upgrading. We received the Dead Space 3: Limited Edition, which gave us access to the Evangelizer and Negotiator weapons, both of which were immediate upgrades to the stock plasma cutter and sub-machine gun.
The co-op play that was added is a first for the franchise. Sgt. John Carver not only adds new lines of dialogue and missions, but a feeling of less isolation as you take on Necromorphs with a partner. The additional missions lead you to learn more about Carver and his past. There are also tougher encounters that would have been impossible for just one player, leading you to rely your partner’s abilities just as much as your own.
The atmospheres are still immersive, daunting, and downright horrifying. Visceral continues to build on these lavish environments that will have you distrusting every door, ventilation shaft and quiet area in the game. The harsh climates of Tau Volantis are welcome additions to the confines of creepy, deserted shipwrecked hallways. The Dead Space 3 soundtrack contains the most mood appropriate compositions in gaming, relating to what many feel as a real cinematic experience. Sound effects were spot on, leaving you to cringe at every creak or ambient noise, and accelerating your heart rate at every Necromorph scream. And believe me, I had my surround sound cranked up so I could hear those footsteps behind me.
Yet, I didn’t feel as though this game achieved the level of horror that was Dead Space, in which I agree with James in his Observations piece he did last week on Dead Space 3. It could be the additional cast in tow with you, or the addition of co-op character John Carver, both leading me to feel less alone in my adventure through the darkest depths of space. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Visceral may have intended for this game to reach a wider audience. Or maybe I am just becoming more desensitized. However, the evolution and growth of a series is just as important for its success as the gameplay or atmosphere. The new levels of urgency due to what is going on in the Dead Space universe just keeps getting larger and larger, and the role that Isaac Clarke plays continues to grow, as he is basically the last hope for humanity. These thematic elements were seen in Dead Space 2 as well, and while I know that this is a review of just Dead Space 3, writing this up makes me reflect on the series as a whole. And it’s been a damn good ride.
All in all, Dead Space 3 is a great game. Aside from my ‘quick turn around’ pet-peeve, there are repetitive elements of errand running and back tracking. The encounters you face and the possibilities of find spare parts to upgrade your favorite weapon will keep from getting too caught up in the tedious task at hand, but believe me when I tell you that if you need to retrieve an item from that abandoned building, everything that can go wrong on your way there will go wrong.
8.5 out of 10