Developers: Visceral Games
Publishers: Electronic Arts
Plot: The Unitologists reverse-engineer the Black Marker to make their own Necromorph generator, leaving Isaac Clarke the only man who can take them down.
When a game, especially a horror game, hits its third entry, the developers have a tough job ahead of them. The first sequel has the difficult job of making their game bigger and better, yet the third one has to deal with mechanics that might be getting a little old on the gamers. Therefore, right from the off, Dead Space 3 has a few new dynamics that might dissuade Dead Space veterans. For one, it is now possible to play this game in co-op, teaming up with a buddy to fight your way through the story mode. This was a popular gaming movement at the time, but it does beg the question how the game can get across the terrifying isolation that makes Dead Space so iconic. Another decision was to take the game away from its claustrophobic setting, in abandoned space vessels, and bring the game down to Earth, or at least an icy planet equivalent. Rather than the dark gloomy tone of the first two games, we are now thrown into a bright, white landscape, which doesn’t quite get across the same sense of dread, even if the fear factor isn’t as diluted as early whispers suggested.
For me, the biggest problem was the reliance on action. I sympathise with the developers on this one, because this whole game seemed stuck in a permanent Catch 22. They could have abandoned the new features and toned back the action to make it a more horror-based experience, but there was a real risk that this would make the third Dead Space game yet another rote adventure into essentially the same game we have played twice before. At the same time, in embracing the fighting side of things, it is hard to not notice that Dead Space feels like it is losing hold of its identity. The game opens with human enemies for example. Narratively this makes sense, as we need time to build into the Necromorph’s return this time around (unlike the last shocking opening to Dead Space 2), and the Unitologists make for a good substitute villain in the mean time. However, as you engage in one of the many shoot-outs with human bad guys, you begin to wonder why you can’t put down the game and pick up one of the several other shooters in the market at the moment. As for the Necropmorphs themselves, the writers feel too scared to rely on the fear factor, for the reasons mentioned above. Their appearances are often driven by gunning them down, rather than cowering from them, something which does make the third game feel like a mindless shooter some of the time. It also becomes a tough game to play, rows after rows of all manner of Necromorphs crawling at you, turning certain sequences into gunfights that last just a beat too long. Dead Space 1 understood restraint, whereas by the end of this game, little will faze you in terms of what is coming around the next corner. You end up siding with the decision of a co-op game, just to get through that one bit you are stuck on. What the action does well is the boss fights. Dead Space 2 almost abandoned them, which was a shame because the bigger monsters really made the original Dead Space so much fun. Here, they are back with a passion, providing some of the stand-out moments in the game. In fact, I would go as far as to say that some of these boss fights save Dead Space 3 from being a forgettable instalment. That being said, the final boss is a mess of ideas, a set-piece too many, that suggests the writers simply ran out of ideas.
The other big change is the snowy landscape. The ironic thing is that, for a little while, the space setting wasn’t feeling too stale. Yes, there were certain early moments where you got a tad fed up of creeping around similar corridors, too well versed in Dead Space’s jump scare mechanics to truly get spooked. However, then the game introduces an open world mechanic. I hate open world in horror games, but Dead Space 3 only half embraces the idea and there is a segment halfway through the game that intrigues. As Isaac works his way around a battered space ship, divided into several chunks floating around space, you are given the option to seek out side quests. The side quests work well at bringing up little side stories, as well as bringing back certain enemies that the main story doesn’t have time to feature properly. Suddenly Dead Space 3 felt new and reinvigorated. It is almost a shame when we leave the open world to hit the snowy areas of the game, almost as if the developers didn’t have enough faith in the concept. If we ever do get a Dead Space 4 (although the lack of ideas here mean that I also doubt it would be a good idea), this is what I would like to see more of. The snow area doesn’t hurt the game as much as you’d expect and as you work your way through the blizzards, taking on enemies that can burst out of the snow or use the poor visibility against you, it actually seems like a good idea. There is a nice dynamic between Isaac and the supporting characters (although Carver, the co-op character is obviously tagged onto every scene), and you begin to get settled into the story. The ending takes you to a brand new set, which begins to tie up the story. Perhaps it isn’t needed, the developers so focused on narrative that they forgot the reason we were playing the game in the first place. However, overall, this game avoids being a train-wreck and earns its place in the gaming cabinet.
Final Verdict: Dead Space 3 changes the style up slightly too much and some ideas don’t work. Yet it remains solid fun.