Dead Space 3 review

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In a dank, blood splattered hull, Isaac Clarke pushes his way forward. Flickering emergency lights highlight frantic scrawls of illegible ruins, illegible to everyone but himself. Plasma cutter held straight forward, it’s welding light is small comfort against the enveloping darkness. The corridor stretches into the blackness; small pinpricks of light that could be diodes on a terminal, or the dying embers of life on a listless body. Summoning courage from deep within, courage that has prevailed Isaac through hell and back, courage that never falters no matter how much the evil pervades, Isaac steps forward, one step… two… Then his world turns into hell in a hand basket in a heartbeat.

Beginning with a recap from the previous two games, one sorely needed for those leaving Dead Space 2 prematurely, Dead Space 3 smacks of pure hollywood production value, though departing further from the roots of survival horror into the more commercially gaining action game. There’s still the claustrophobic corridors, threatening malice and horror around every corner, but there is also the vastness of space that offers respite from the continual mental onslaught of ever climbing tension.

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This time around Issac is brought in from being on the run in an attempt to stop the Marker pandemic once and for all. The source of the power that the Markers tap in to has been discovered on a wintry planet, surrounded by a graveyard of abandoned ships. Here the truth is revealed in it’s fullest with one half of mankind behind Isaac to end the spread of infection, while the Unitologists, in all their religious fervour will stop at nothing to end the blasphemy and embrace the Necromorphs as a higher state of being.

Homages are paid to past Necromorphs, from the tricky three headed spitters to the terror inducing regenerating behemoths that require stasis shots to outrun. With armed Unitologists joining in the battles on the surface (often overwhelmed themselves ironically by the indiscriminating Necrospawn), the 19 chapter story never suffers from lack of pace. Arguably the pace is too fast moving from one set piece to the next, but even so they are executed in such a way as too constantly pull your frayed nerves in anticipation of the next scripted wave of horror to reveal itself.

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Visceral have produced a game so gloriously delicious to look at that one can be excused (between the constant horror) of stopping to soak in the atmosphere. From the depressing yet deliciously detailed man made arcs that have broken the speed of light to end up listless and abandoned and ageing with the copper of blood pervading the walls, to the glorious seemingly infinity of space, ablaze with distant nebulas and star systems. Any other genre would benefit from extended pauses to admire the view. At least when in the vastness of space one can.

Oxygen depletion from the first game during evacs into space continued the survival element, though Isaac’s rasping breath served as an unnecessary yet genius reminder that he was close to slipping into an asphyxiated state. Oxygen canisters are so bountiful in the derelict graveyard surrounded the markers that it’s nigh on impossible to run out. While this breaks the pacing from constant survival (especially during the first half of the game), it does allow the grandeur to be appreciated at it’s finest. More so given the absence of gravity has been recreated perfectly with physics that can not be faltered. Dead enemies drift balletically through vacuums, blood droplets independently spinning on their own orbits. Dead Space 3 is truly one of the best looking games of this generation, lighting effects in particular as one would imagine, are particularly good. Flames spitting out of rifles cause warming glows to refract from metal hulls, while electricity arcs and bounces down corridors, highlighting nooks and crannies majestically in it’s wake before enveloping Isaac back in semi darkness.

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Crafting weapons that was sampled in the preview build thankfully realises it’s potential, enabling an almost staggering amount of customisation to design and build the perfect killing machine. Blueprints available to buy from the outset using micro transactions illustrate the potential for absurdly devastating combinations and also those that highlight the more quirky combinations. Though there is no need to shell out real cash for these, utilising scavenger bots when possible (little machines that collect scrap on your behalf, returning it’s bounty to a work bench for refining) rewards the player with enough resources to fulfil even the most determined warlord, one that doesn’t mind constantly scrounging. Another gameplay change that breaks the pace but in lieu of the reward – one for the better.

Co-op play once again removes the tension inducing gameplay for one of constant team play in attempting to survive the horde of necramorphs. Communication is key, more so in regards to weapon load. Without a set up that compliments one another, overwhelming numbers will see the end of your game much quicker than in solo play. Carter is the grizzled veteran taken over by player two and whilst in the solo campaign doesn’t feature heavily, a back story and independent cut scenes add weight to the Co-Op experience and is one that should be experienced. New dialogue isn’t the only benefit of Carter’s and the Co-op’s inclusion but also during the latter stages when tackling the horrors alone is overwhelming, having a wingman is more than helpful; it’s encouraging.

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The score alone deserves a special mention, reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien, especially during the evac parts, married to sound effects that carry proper weight on top of stellar voice acting rounds off Dead Space 3 as the first highlight of 2013. The new reward structure of crafting weapons and the inclusion of co-op ices a game that yes, has departed from the genre defining first but doesn’t suffer because of it. Games evolve and franchise run the risk of being left behind if they don’t have a developer that recognises the need for their IP’s to support and guide the evolution. Visceral have maintained enough of Dead Space so that it is undeniably that but with enough tweaks and polish so that, while intended as a possible swan-song for the series, may very well have pushed the argument to continue it for the foreseeable future.

Game details

Title: Dead Space 3
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Available for: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Visceral
Publisher: EA
Strengths: Visuals, pacing, weapon crafting, co-op
Weaknesses: Story pushed too hard with convolution at times.
Score: 9 out of 10

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