|Panel 1 wins the award for 'Worst Looking Bench on the Internet'|
This is by no means a fair review. I was in a rush to finish Dead Space 3, so I played it solo in the space of two days. Therefore, this review doesn’t take into account the new cooperative narrative or gameplay added to Dead Space’s third instalment.
Nonetheless, it was pretty damn good.
Set three years after the events of Dead Space 2, protagonist Isaac Clarke has been in hiding after destroying The Sprawl in order to stop an infestation of Necromorphs – dead bodies reanimated by the mysterious Marker artefacts, central to the series’ plot. However, Government soldiers track down Isaac and shoehorn him into helping them investigate what appears to be the source of the Necromorph threat – an abandoned planet where a previous Necromorph infection was successfully stopped 200 years prior, and may represent humanity’s only hope against the threat.
Dead Space 3 relies on well-established character tropes more than previous Dead Space games. While this would appear to be a flaw in the game’s writing, the situations these characters find themselves in, the quality of the voice acting, as well as the writers finding ample opportunities for characterization, means that they are generally unique enough to compel its audience.
One of the major fears leading up to DS3’s release was that the game would abandon its survival horror atmosphere for a more action oriented one. There certainly are far more Quick Time Events and action sequences involved this time around and some jump scare tactics have been abandoned as a result, but the game can still at times terrify and even stress the player (in a good way). DS3 feels more difficult than previous instalments, as there seems to be far more Necromorphs crowded in every enemy encounter - and with limited supplies available these quickly become claustrophobic and terrifying without ever becoming utterly impossible to defeat. And whilst the classic high-strung violins return to warn of a Necromorph attack, enemies are more than capable of creeping up behind the player with no warning whatsoever.
Unfortunately, whilst limited supplies are great for harrowing the audience, Dead Space 3 also suffers a fatal flaw in its design. For the first time in the series, DS3 utilises an auto-save system rather than the standard save point system used in previous titles. However, whilst there are adequate checkpoints available, saving and quitting the game will not return you to these checkpoints when restarting the game, but instead to arranged auto-save positions. Furthermore, quitting the game saves your inventory as well, meaning that precious resources can be lost after difficult fights, and can thus make segments of the game much harder than before. For the first time in a game, I’ve been crippled by an auto-save rather than helped.
Dead Space offers a wide variety of options to attack and dismember enemies. Most weapons are specialised enough to sever the specific limbs of incoming threats – with basic Assault Rifles also available for general crowd control and frantic fights. Furthermore, the games also provides a Stasis ability to temporarily slow groups of enemies, as well as a Kinesis ability for impaling enemies with sharp objects or for puzzle solving. Finally, a basic melee swing can be used when cornered or running low on ammunition. Thanks to options like these, Dead Space never falls into the trap of becoming utterly impossible to finish.
An all-new weapon crafting system has been introduced in DS3, whereby a player can assemble weapons from parts collected in the environment. For example, it is possible to build a standard submachine gun with an electrified Ripper blade underslung, or a standard Plasma Cutter that fires acidic bullets with an underslung melee blade. Furthermore, these weapons can be upgraded with bonuses to damage, reload time, etc. using circuits found or crafted in the Bench. Almost any combination of weapons is available, though you’ll likely find yourself relying on only a handful of crafted weapons (or even a single one if you utilise the correct parts).
EA provides a micro-transaction service to buy weapon parts and supplies with real-world money, but honestly you’ll never need it. Seriously, don’t do it.
Dead Space 3 experiments with new types of Necromorph enemies that rely on new tactics to defeat. Feeders attack with a pack-like mentality, but their poor vision and hearing encourages players to sneak past them rather than attacking the whole pack directly. Unitology soldiers also arrive periodically with Assault Rifles and explosives that behave in the same fashion as standard shooter enemies. Dividers return from previous Dead Space games, but with the added ability to reanimate dead soldiers and utilise whatever weapons they carry. Whilst most enemies still rely on Dead Space’s iconic dismemberment system to overcome, there is enough variation in enemy types that this same system doesn’t become overused and boring. Gameplay quirks like Zero Gravity and Vacuum areas return in DS3 - though much less frequent than before - as well as a brief section where players must seek heat sources their internal body temperature to prevent themselves from freezing to death. Dead Space never becomes monotonous as a result.
On a visual standpoint, Dead Space suits its survival horror premise well. Half of the game is spent inside dark, cramped and abandoned ships, whilst the second half alternates between abandoned military stations and snowy outdoor spaces. Any source light becomes eerily foreboding and blinding. On occasion, it can be difficult to discern in-game environments and creatures because of their bizarre appendages and in-game lighting, but the lack of visibility makes for a foreboding and confined experience. Dead Space 3’s musical score – now handled by two composers (Jason Graves and James Hannigan) – alternates Grave’s usual unsettling, jumping violins with Hannigan’s orchestral melodies during key cinematics – the slightly different tones of music come about as a result of Graves and Hannigan choosing to work separately.
Finally, The Dead Space series offers a New Game+ feature – whereby character and weapon upgrades are carried over from a completed save file into a new one – and Dead Space 3 adds several extra game modes for returning players, such as ‘Classic Mode’ – a version of the campaign that utilises Dead Space’s original aiming system and removes weapon crafting to replicate the original titles’ gameplay. Even if you’ve completed the game in full, there’s incentive to start the campaign again or simply load a particular chapter, with the added bonus of all of your previous upgrades, meaning that a player is free to explore and enjoy the game with or without the difficulty of the first playthrough.
While it’s easy to dismiss the Dead Space series (I know I have in the past), the fact is that it is one of the most original games released this console generation, and in this regard Dead Space 3 does not disappoint. Whilst there is certainly a stronger focus on action, the game hasn’t sacrificed its claustrophobic fights and limits on resources as a result. I’d recommend completing the solo campaign first before jumping into co-op for the best Dead Space experience. Not for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth playing through.
Even if it relies on some well-established character tropes, DS3’s characters are unique enough not to get boring.
Even if DS3 is far more action based, it still knows when to be cruel without being impossible…except where checkpoints are concerned.
The game’s indoor environments feel dark and foreboding, but some details become hard to make out.
The game’s well-established violin strings are back, but DS3 is just as good at restricting sound in order to scare. Musical score both scares and depresses.
Multiple New Game + options are available, and the game becomes more enjoyable when you can leisurely replay a second time.
Final Score: 7.5 / 10.0
Anyway, I'm going to try and publish a new comic at least every Monday from now on, plus Fridays if I'm feeling charitable. See you then.