Isaac Clarke is rapidly becoming the Ellen Ripley of videogames. He just can’t catch a break from these goddam space monsters. Much like Alien 3, Dead Space 3 mixes up the formula a bit, abandoning dark and grimy spaceships for a jaunt on a lost, frozen planet, with a new co-op buddy. Well, I mean, there are dark and grimy places. And spaceships. And some of those places are on the spaceships. And the buddy isn’t always there. And the frozen planet isn’t the same as the one from Lost Planet. Just stay with me on this, it’ll make sense soon.
Dead Space 3 follows the continued adventures of engineer Isaac Clarke, once more thrust into battle with the deadly Necromorphs, the mysterious Markers and the wackadoo religion of Unitology. This time, the Unitologists are attempting to free the Markers (kind of like the obelisks from 2001: A Space Odyssey), to force a necrotic rebirth on the human race. They’re also after Isaac himself, for his “crimes” of destroying Markers in previous games. Isaac has to take up arms again, to stop the rebirth, save his skin, and put an end to the Necromorph threat for good.
During the course of your adventures, you’ll visit a varied set of locations. You’ll start back on Earth, before jetting off into space, for a nostalgic jaunt through some old ruined spaceships. This is your classic claustrophobic Dead Space, with the feel of these locations familiar, yet no less worrisome. Eventually, you’ll end up on the Marker homeworld, Tau Volantis, the frozen planet where the majority of the game takes place. The planet offers open areas, for wider scoped encounters, forcing you to pay much more attention to your surroundings. When enemies can swarm from every direction, it encourages a more strategic approach that the tight, panicked corridors.
The gameplay remains fairly similar to the older titles, clumping through the environments, scavenging what supplies you can to improve your arsenal bit by bit. Simply shooting wildly will accomplish nothing, the key to effective combat is still in dismembering your foes. Weapon choice is always important, and they do different “shaped” damages, allowing you to slice off body parts with ease. Human enemies are new (the aforementioned Unitologists) so a cover system has been implemented to deal with these smarter foes. It’s a bit awkward, and the cover isn’t as snappy as you’d like, resulting in standing upright, wondering why Isaac isn’t ducking. Also, getting rushed is a recipe for failure, and it’s too easy to get swarmed if you didn’t bring the right gun with you.
The weapon system has had an revamp, allowing you to build your own weapons from scratch at a Bench. You can only hold two at a time, so getting this right is crucial. You can now pick a frame, a main gun, and a subweapon, allowing you to have two weapons in one. Each gun also has various modifiers you can apply, such as wider beams, or rapid fire tips. You can still apply circuits to the guns, to upgrade damage and ammo capacity. I switched my own setup around a bit to suit the enemies I was fighting, and this gave pretty decent results. You can build weapons directly from blueprints, but who wants a bog standard shotgun, when you can craft a stasis field chucking, sawblade ripping nightmare device?
Loot is dealt with a bit differently this time too. Ammo is universal, so there’s less messing about in menus and more time to shoot things. Some may worry that universal ammo might oversimplify the combat, but in actuality, it’s a breath of fresh air. As weapons can take many different configurations, it’s nice to know you’ll always be able to use the cool gun you just made. You also collect various scrap parts, which are used to construct new weapon parts and suit upgrades. There’s even adorable scavenger bots, which can be let loose to drum up parts independently.
All in all, the gameplay feels similar to the other games, but somehow less scary. It could be over-exposure to the Necromorphs and their tactics, but you won’t experience the same brown-trousers feeling that Dead Space 1 could create. The game still bills itself as scary, and sometimes it really is, but the action is taking a much more active role, mainly to the the larger environments and more human enemies. It’s not a bad thing though, the action is a lot of fun, and barrels along at a decent clip. The scope of the environments and the set-pieces have diverted the feel from claustrophobic to spectacular, with many great moments that stand out in the memory. Think less “Holy crap, what was that?”, more “Holy crap, look at that!”
Remember when we talked about Isaacs new buddy up there? Sergeant John Carver is his name, and shooting people is his game. He begins as a hired grunt, and in single player, this is all he appears to be, but in multiplayer he shows proper, developed depth of character. He’s got his own problems, and will often see things Isaac can’t. You also get modified story cutscenes, and some co-op exclusive ones. Some areas are blocked off to a single player, relying on cooperation to get through them.
In gameplay terms, working in co-op gives you more enemies to deal with, but is somehow much less worrisome. Think of the switch from RE4 to RE5, and you’ll get an idea for how the atmosphere has altered. It’s still fun though, and working out effective weapon combos and strategies is rewarding. My favourite combo was when I focused on freezing enemies, and my partner chopped em up. By co-ordinating our weapon setups, we could more effectively deal with, well, pretty much every encounter. The scariness gets dialed back another step with a partner, but it’s entertaining enough to stand on it’s own. In fact, when I’ve finished this review, I’m off to play some more, so read into that what you will.
Dead Space 3 is an interesting sequel, taking cues from recent Resident Evils, Alien, Lost Planet, even shades of Prometheus. The horror aspect has taken a backseat this time, with bombastic action being the soup of the day. The thing is, it might be less scary, but it’s not a bad thing. The open environments have helped shake up the series, and the co-op partner is implemented in a unique, original way. Sure it might not make you soil your trousers as much as the last games, but you’ll be no less gripped.
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