Developed by: Visceral Games
Published by: EA
Media Reviewed: PS3
What’s with survival horror games these days? Developers are constantly forgetting that “survival” and “horror” are very much the only two words that make up the genre, instead substituting large action set pieces that feel more suited to Call of Duty. Resident Evil is a perfect example that has gone down a terrible path that Capcom has only recently decided to address. The latest entry into the amazing Dead Space saga falls victim to this hyped up testosterone-fest and, as a result, is the weakest in the series.
In case you missed my double review of 1 & 2, feel free to orient yourself with the messed up world of Dead Space here. I’ll wait.
All done? Welcome back. Two months after Isaac Clarke and Ellie Langford escaped, Isaac is living in a run-down apartment on an unnamed lunar colony (where his rent is overdue) and the romantic relationship many fans expected of those two has come and gone, much to Isaac’s chagrin. It was two months, dude. Your last girlfriend committed suicide and haunted your visions, I think you can get over this.
Anyways, things are never calm in the life of Engineer Clarke and in the words of a certain big deal, things escalate quickly. Two soldiers, Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver, break into his apartment to inform him Ellie is missing. At the exact same time, Unitologists (those creepy religious zealots) attack the colony and unleash a Marker-induced Necromorph attack. Y’know, the usual. And thus begins the third adventure. Soon, Isaac and crew head to a backwater planet, Tau Volantis, where the Marker signal originates and discover just where these Markers — and Necromorphs — come from. The plot features the usual twists and turns, but the final revelations, despite bringing all three games together, don’t have quite the impact they should.
The game plays almost exactly like the second, which isn’t a bad thing. Neither is the new crafting system, once you get used to it. Isaac can now create his own custom weapons. It’s a little daunting at first, but you’ll soon get a handle on crafting different items and weapons. Want a line gun with an under-barrel flamethrower? Or a grenade launcher with a shotgun? Or a plasma cutter with a force gun? Why not? The possibilities are quite varied and rather fun to experiment with, provided you have the resources found around the different environments.
Speaking of which, the environments in this game are varied from entries one and two, but not necessarily in a better way. The frozen wastes of Tau Volantis immediately bring scenes from John Carpenter’s The Thing to mind, but sadly, fans of the classic ’82 thriller might be disappointed. The creep factor of walking through an “abandoned” ship or base is all but gone walking through a blizzard with low visibility in the daylight. This is where the “horror” I mentioned above suffers the most. The Necromorphs by themselves aren’t scary anymore — you need the atmosphere and the fear of being attacked anywhere, anytime, to ratchet up the tension. Putting Isaac in a blizzard with 10-12 Necromorphs popping up from the snow isn’t scary — it’s annoying. “So? When you’re running low on ammo and survival is at stake, that’s gotta be nerve-wracking, right?” I hear you ask. Sure it would — if ammo was ever something to worry about. I never (not once) ran out of ammo while playing on Hard. Granted, there’s a plethora of unlockable game modes and difficulties once the credits roll once: Classic, Pure Survival and Hardcore will appeal to fans of the first and second entries in this series. It’s just a shame these aren’t default options.
Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding the pre-release of Dead Space 3 was Visceral’s announcement of co-op. Fans were of the immediate belief that this would ruin the horror and tension, as having a military sergeant with an assault rifle right there beside you feels more like Aliens and less like Alien. Visceral responded by saying Carver (the second player) would see and experience things differently than Isaac; Carver is affected by the Marker and suffers the guilt of losing his family, seeing hallucinations reminiscent of Isaac in Dead Space 2. Regardless, the first problem with co-op is finding a match with someone that doesn’t want to be Carver. It was tricky for me (on PSN, anyway), but once I got a random player (yeah, I don’t have friends) to suit up as Isaac, we got underway. I can say that despite the spookiness of Carver’s mental state (unseen giggling children is always creepy), co-op doesn’t do anything positive for the Dead Space franchise. The only response the game can take against two well-armed guys is to throw a large number of enemies at once; not one or two in a tight, dark corridor, a la Dead Space. There are some that will enjoy blasting Necromorphs with a friend, there are some that won’t. It’s up to you.
Dead Space 3 isn’t a terrible game. The gameplay is identical to previous entries and there are a few moments that might actually freak you out (getting an Arctic Suit in the basement on Tau Volantis. *Shudder*). That said, it all depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re a huge fan of recent Resident Evil games and want nothing more than gory, guttural action, give Dead Space 3 a go. If, however, you prefer your horror survival-ly (yeah, that’s now a word) and you enjoyed the moody atmospheres of the first and second, unless you’re absolutely determined to see the story through to its end, you’re better of letting this one go.