“In space, no one can hear you scream.” So states the classic tagline to the film that really started the sci-fi horror genre, Alien. But what if in space, all you could hear were the screams? That’s the question on the minds of just about everyone who has played Electronic Arts Dead Space game series. The instant-classic horror series first appeared on the scene in 2008 and has kept gamers on the edge of their seats for two full length games, several shorter spin-off titles and even a few animated movies! Now it’s time to dive in for a third go around with engineer Isaac Clarke in Dead Space 3, but can the development team at Visceral Games keep this series alive and kicking, or will this three-quel flatline and leave fans wanting?
The Dead Space series tells the tale of engineer Isaac Clarke, a man who proves to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For two games we’ve seen this man put through hell, being the sole survivor of the USG Ishimura and then one of only a handful of people that made it out of the Titan Sprawl space station alive when the necromorphs took hold. If you don’t know what the necromorphs are, you probably should stop reading this review, step away from your computer, and go play the first Dead Space game. It would explain it much better than I could in a shorter time span.
Dead Space 3 opens up with a prologue about 200 years prior to the events of the first two games, showing an origin story of sorts for the planet that the bulk of the game is set on. It certainly sets the tone right away and lets us know that this game is going to be an action packed adrenaline rush! After the prologue wraps up, we find ourselves back in the shoes of Isaac Clark, who is being dragged out of his apartment at gunpoint by two generic soldier-types who are insisting that they’re really only there to help him. It seems that Isaac’s now ex-girlfriend (and Sprawl survivor) Ellie has gone off into space as part of a research team trying to stop the Black Markers, only to drop off the grid entirely, and these soldiers were recruiting him for the rescue mission. Cue the crazy cult types that are trying to ‘free humanity’ from its shackles and allow them all to be ‘reborn’ in the next step of evolution involving the infamous Black Markers. These guys have determined that Isaac ‘the marker destroyer’ needs to be taken out of the picture if they’re to succeed, so the race is on for Isaac to find Ellie and to potentially find a way to stop the Markers once and for all!
As far as story goes, Dead Space 3 carries on in the tradition of the first two games, giving a solid story throughout the game with a rather tragic backdrop to play through. Isaac’s story comes full circle as we see him in a much stronger role than ever before. The first two games featured a man who was pretty broken with questionable mental stability, but here we see a much more assertive Isaac who has come to kick ass and take names. Isaac has gone from being the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time to a full on badass, and it’s a role he wears very well. One of the other things that makes the story of the Dead Space games so involved are the text, video and audio logs that you find throughout the course of the game that tell the sad stories of those who were in these locations before you. No matter how hopeful some of these logs sound, you know that every single person that left these notes or logs is long since dead, having been massacred by the Necromorphs, so you actually develop a real sense of loss as you proceed through the game. Dead Space 3 also takes the time to answer some of the lingering questions fans have had about the Markers and just what purpose they served.
The big change most people will notice in Dead Space 3 is the actual tone of the gameplay. While the gameplay in this series has always been fantastic, Dead Space 3 changes things up a bit and takes a big step back from the edge of your seat horror atmosphere, trading in its nuanced scares for a much more in your face action style of gameplay. I like to refer to this as ‘Resident Evil 4 Syndrome’, where a game series that was traditionally based in horror moves more towards being an action game with horror-elements. This feeling is hammered home by the new ammo system in which all guns utilize the same ammunition and it is quite plentiful. I don’t think I ran out of ammo once in my entire run through the game, and I used it quite liberally. The first two games forced you to be careful and strategic with the ammunition you used, but Dead Space 3 throws that out the window, knowing damn well that with the hoards of enemies you’ll be facing you will need as much ammo as you can get. Dead Space 3 would rather have you back into a corner and shooting for ten minutes straight as enemies never seem to stop coming rather than give you a legitimate scare. Again, this doesn’t make for a bad game by any means, just a rather different experience from the first two games in the series.
The new weapons customization system is pretty interesting, leaving things very open ended and customizable. There are literally hundreds of combinations possible with all of the weapons parts in the game, so if designing custom weapons is your thing you’ll love Dead Space 3. The add-ons to the existing weapons are quite a bit of fun, and there is nothing quite like adding a flamethrower or a shotgun as a secondary weapon on top of the rail gun you’re already using to rip the limbs clean off these space-zombies. The circuit-upgrade system is also heavily modified and allows for you to constantly upgrade and alternate your weapons abilities, which can be immensely helpful in a tight situation.
Dead Space 3 also introduces co-op to the series, which is normally looked at as a negative for survival horror games, but Dead Space 3 actually pulls it off with ease! It was handled very well and allowed for a second player to participate in the full campaign without compromising the single player experience in the least! There are several optional side-missions that require a co-op partner to complete, but there are no clunky AI-partner portions of the game where you’re dependant on a rocks-for-brains NPC to complete a menial task that a real player would be done in seconds. The only real gripe about the co-op is that it’s ‘online only’, so don’t plan on split screening this one over an afternoon with your buddy!
Overall, Dead Space 3 was a great gaming experience. While it wasn’t quite up to par with the first two games, looking at it realistically, the first two games set the bar pretty high to begin with. It changes the formula up a bit, and while it might not have that same spark the earlier games had, it certainly shines brighter than the bulk of other games released these days. It’s a fantastic action game with an involved story that hooks you in early and leaves you begging for more by the time the credits roll. If you’re an action-horror fan, or even just a fan of sci-fi games, Dead Space 3 is an action-packed gore-fest that’s certainly worth checking out sooner rather than later!
Dead Space 3 is in stores now for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 gaming consoles.