Friday, 8 February 2013

Dead Space 3 (Video Game Review)

There’s no disguising the fact this isn’t a horror series anymore. A series with horror elements in the same sense as Bioshock perhaps but not an actual horror series.

While the first two games were certainly criticised for the amount of bullets and weapons you had to mow down space zombies, there was often at least this attempt to have horror moments. Dead Space 3 doesn’t even bother with that and at the end of the day it’s closer to Borderlands in some respects than the previous games. But does that make it bad? Far from it.

Set several months after the events of Dead Space 2, 3 follows the story of Isaac Clarke as he is forced to confront the necromorphs and space voodo scientology Unitology once more. With Unitology having effectively overthrown EarthGov in their secret war and initiating repeats of the Sprawl incident with artificial markers, Isaac is recruited by a few remaining loyal soldiers. Their mission: To try and find the source of the alien devices and end the threat once and for all. However his recruitment is driven by more personal reasons with his love Ellie Langford having gone missing scouting out the planet Tau Volantis, where this seemingly all began.

It’s about as good a tale as you’d expect with this game and despite the lack of emphasis upon horror it’s not suffered. The settings, ranging from frozen wastelands to orbiting derelicts, definitely help enhance the experience of the game adding a great deal of tension. Not to mention fantastically atmospheric visuals of landscapes, perhaps the most memorable since the first Assassin’s Creed. At least as much as you’d find in the flickering, failing habitation areas of the collapsing Sprawl. All the text logs and lore-porn are there to keep anyone invested in the storyline interested even at the game’s slowest point.

The level design of each area seems to reflect the title’s greater emphasis upon action over horror as they resemble more of what you’d expect from an action orientated TPS title than the corridors of the Ishimura. While lacking row upon row of chest high walls there’s none of the backtracking there was before and far more open areas to allow for running gun-battles. Greater emphasis seems to have been placed on individual, violent spectacles. The sort of hectic one shot events which you rush through and block you from ever going back, like running around the base of an out of control giant mining drill. None of this is to say any of it is bad, quite the opposite in many places, simply that the design is extremely different from before. Thankfully what has been kept is what worked previously, such as the returning zero-G sections where you fly between derelicts orbiting above Volantis.

If you’ve kept track of the promotional campaign or have played the demo you’ll know that Dead Space 3 has a major co-op element. While not necessary for just playing the game it does prove to be an interesting feature, doing more with the idea than the similarly horror turned action Resident Evil 5. The trick to this is through the mental state of the character accompanying Isaac, Sergeant John Carver, who is starting to suffer from delusions and hallucinations as Isaac did in the previous games. In co-op sections of the game feature the person playing Carver seeing one thing while Isaac does not and the game splitting entirely in some sequences where he has to fight his way back into reality. This gives more incentive to play co-op along with single player due to the differing experiences and enhances replayability. Something which the first and second game were definitely lacking.

The actual gameplay and shooting is much closer to what was found in Dead Space 2 than the original. Lacking the close claustrophobic camera angles and slightly clunky movement in favour of the more fluid combat dodges and distant camera to make movement easier and gunfights less of a frantic mad rush. While again this is a choice which diminishes the title’s horror it turns the combat into a major strength, turning it into a solid fast-paced shooter and boosting the effectiveness of its new feature: the weapon customisations.

While the series has always been known for its bizarre designs of guns, usually repurposed tools, Dead Space 3 amps the insanity of its firearms up to new heights. Benches now give you the option to build and rebuild unique variants of guns with the parts you pick up, allowing you to create the sort of overpowered futuristic weapons you’d usually expect to find being wielded by the Chimera. Best of all however is the fact that you can create combi-weapons, single guns which double together two other others present in the game.  So if you ever wanted to combine a line gun with a contact beam, you can go right ahead. Thinking of welding together two shotguns just for the hell of it? Yeah that’s available, as are variants with melee extensions and expansions to help with your firepower. Plus there’s always that moment of hilarity when you realise just how many laser sights certain combos have, such as with the ten you get when mounting a line gun atop a line gun.

That being said there is a few definite bad choices made with the weapons. The most notable one is the decision to make every weapon share the same ammo.  While this might make some sense considering the limited inventory space, multiples ammo typess in levels are usually something which can be used to have players make full use of the game. Switching between guns when they run out of ammo and not run through the entire campaign by specialising in one weapons you’re obscenely good with. Admittedly the first game did screw this up in a multitude of ways, but this is less fixing the problem than completely removing a flawed but essential element of the title.

Despite all the criticism behind it, Dead Space 3 has also opted to limit Isaac to only carrying two weapons at a time. While this is somewhat excusable as it stops you abusing the combo-gun mechanic to carry the game’s entire arsenal on your back, it’s still a frustrating limitation. Feeling like a huge step down from the original and something which causes far more problems than it should. Though Isaac’s all powerful boot is usually enough to keep most enemies down as an absolute last resort you can still be left  armed with guns which are not suited to the foes you face with no way to switch weapons.
Also that unnecessary requirement for you to kick bodies for items to actually drop is back. Apparently no one on the staff considered removing the busywork behind looting to be a worthwhile improvement.

In spite of the game’s complete genre shift, this is still an extremely solid title. Most of its real weaknesses come in the form of minor issues and awkward decisions which are more of an irritation than any outright problem. The shooting is good, the story while not outstanding is up to par with previous instalments and for the most part there have been nothing but improvements on what came before. If you’ve enjoyed any of the tactical dismemberment from the last titles, are interested to see the story to its end, or even just want a decent shooter with co-op capability definitely look this one up.


Dead Space and all related characters and media are owned by Visceral Studios and Electronic Arts.

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