Like its protagonist, Dead Space 3 engages in a frequent and sustained attempt to switch genres, an attempt to baffle and confuse the player. Allow me to explain. In the original Dead Space we were introduced to the franchise’s reluctant lead, the John McClane of engineers, Isaac Clarke. Isaac was silent throughout the campaign, and, while a force to be reckoned with, his presence did little to alleviate the game’s enduring sense of foreboding. Despite Isaac’s ability to bring the dismemberment when it was required, Dead Space’s slow pace, unnerving atmosphere and persistent feeling on unease permeated the entire story. In Dead Space 3 (how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?) Isaac is given a voice, and with it the same kind of homicidal rage as Jason Voorhees at a Twilight screening. On the one hand we have occasional tense moments, which owe more to the number or scale of the enemies than to survival horror, and on the other we have a Hollywood-size action blockbuster which refuses to let you catch your breath for a moment. Add to this drop-in and drop-out co-op play, and it begs the question, is Dead Space the fear-fest we’ve come to love or has it become Call Of Duty with lashings of severed limbs?
Dead Space 3 picks up some time after the events of the second instalment. Isaac, frequently troubled by his Marker visions and his past encounters, finds himself alone and disillusioned. Not one to be left in peace, he’s soon approached by Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver (who serves as the campaign’s co-op player), the last remaining battalion of EarthGov. They explain that’s Isaac’s ex, Ellie, has gone missing following an excursion to find the definitive solution to stopping the Markers and their Necrospawn. As the emphasis has turned to action, it’s not long before the shit once again hits the fan, and Isaac’s lunar apartment is overrun with the Necromorphs. Using the outbreak to their advantage, they escape off-planet and go in search of the missing team. As plots go, Dead Space 3’s remains interesting throughout. It’s certainly fast paced and varied, but to say any more would spoil the experience for those yet to play it. Suffice to say, come the end of the lengthy campaign (17-20 hours), you‘ll glad of a Necromorph-free couple of days.
Dead Space 3’s aesthetics have improved with each iteration, and this one is no exception. The graphics, lighting and textures are all superbly realised, and are complimented by a suitable soundtrack and confident voice acting. The title ticks all the boxes we’ve come to expect from AAA titles. Thankfully the same can be said of the game’s combat, the mechanics of which make a comeback from previous entries, refined and expertly implemented. Isaac can now roll and take cover, Gears Of War style, which certainly adds to the experience during the game’s more fraught encounters. The execution remains as visceral as ever, with limbs flying, gore flowing and heads frequently stomped into the ground to reveal essential supplies. Dead Space 3 hasn’t lost its delight in the carnage the series is renowned for, it’s just made it a damn sight noisier. What it has lost, however, is the aforementioned fear the original games came drenched in. While the assistance is welcome, the addition of drop-in and drop-out co-op makes it more reminiscent of the likes of Gears, rather than the trepidation-inducing experience of the original. That said, the game strives to provide scenarios which cater for all tastes, and there are moments that come close to achieving a feeling of dread. Sadly, these are all too infrequent, interspersed as they are which hectic, flat-out action.
While the story is relentless in its pace, the player interaction needs far more attention. As we reach each set-piece it becomes clear that regardless of the environment or situation, Isaac will no doubt be required to fix something. Granted, it’s a fair request of an engineer, but when fixing something equates to long treks in search of missing parts, followed by a long trek back to install it, it soon becomes tedious. Everything in this world is either knackered from the get go or starts off fine and becomes knackered as soon as Isaac encounters it. Perhaps, you might think, the crew would realise this and send someone else on these random fetch quests, but alas it’s not meant to be. The game strives to be action-focussed, but each time we pause we see the same old things go wrong, be it an elevator, a door or a machine, and you can guarantee it’ll need repairing. This is a video game and Isaac is an engineer, so a lot can be forgiven, it’s just a shame the developers had little else to say about Isaac other than he’s adept at killing and fixing.
One final gripe is the way in which the story is so hastily wrapped up. Without wandering into spoiler territory, once again the title loses the appeal of the original, with revelations coming thick and fast towards the end, which (for us, at least) didn’t seem to do the universe justice. Yes, we get answers, and yes, the story reaches a conclusion (let’s not recognise the awful Awakened DLC), but it just feels rushed. Despite all this there’s no denying that Dead Space 3 is a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish. Like most games, it has repetitive elements, and a few design trip-ups along the way, but taken as a cooperative action-focused experience we can’t help but recommend it. Even so, it’s not quite the game we remembered or wanted to see again. Dead Space 3 is indicative of an emerging trend in AAA franchise releases, whereby the majority of the audience want more bang for their buck. Fair enough, but we can’t helping feeling this wasn’t the appropriate franchise to apply that model. Don’t get us wrong, there are scares among the action, just not enough to leave any lasting impression. But as we all know, finding faults with a title is easy, accepting the fact that you’re having a blast whilst doing so is the hard part.