The Dead Space series has become well known for being a survival horror. So it was a bit of a surprise when EA announced that Dead Space 3 would include the ability to play with another player. It’s a bit of a risky move, but can developer Visceral Games make it work and still make it a frightening experience
Dead Space 3 sees the return of long suffering survivor Isaac. Isaac is happily living a life of booze and denial, when trouble comes knocking on his door. Once again everything is going to hell and it’s up to Isaac to save everyone from the very forces he has been avoiding.
It’s a strong beginning to a series that has always been about slowly building up to some truly disturbing sights. Unfortunately Isaac and his merry bands of heroic Earth soldiers soon find themselves in a bit of a situation.
To make matters worse they are forced to board a derelict spaceship, after their own spaceship is literally torn to pieces by exploding space mines. Being stuck in a spaceship is pretty standard for Isaac, who is put in charge of gathering various resources to start up a small space craft, that will take him and his group to the nearest planet.
Unfortunately what this means for the player is navigating yet another spaceship for what feels like half of the story. There is some enjoyment to exploring this abandoned spaceship. It mostly comes from floating about in space, when moving between sections of the spaceship. But otherwise, it’s just another couple of hours running back and forth dark corridors, to fetch the various resources that the group needs.
Fortunately the latter half of the story starts to become more exciting. Isaac lands on a frozen planet. It’s here that Dead Space3 becomes more challenging. Isaac spends more time alone with no communication from his team. He must also survive the harsh weather conditions and the threat of necromorphs simultaneously for a while. It’s the sort of ideas that made the other Dead Space video-games so compelling, since Isaac was also exploring by himself most of the time.
This new setting does wonders for the story and makes for an interesting twist on the Dead Space formula. Enemies can now hide in the snow and jump out when the player least expects it. Perhaps the scariest moment in Dead Space 3 are those where it’s not possible to see what is out there. The blizzard makes it difficult to see far ahead. A section in a dimly lit basement area, filled with starving necromorphs, will surely make most players jump due to not knowing when one of them will attack.
Visceral attempted to make Dead Space 3 more like a shooter. There are times when the player will feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of enemies that appear at once. Not only that, but the inclusion of human enemies, means that it’s not always about surviving the many horrors that persist on stalking Isaac. Not that it matters, since the human religious cult members are more than often ripped to shreds by the necromorphs. It makes sense to add the presence of the religious cult that is hell bent on thwarting Isaac’s plan, but human enemies just feel insignificant when compared to monsters with sharp ends.
Puzzles that make use of the kinesis (interact with objects) and stasis (temporarily slowdown targets) module are back. These become more complex as the player progresses through the story. In fact, the puzzles found towards the end of the story are very interesting. These powers are also used in combat and prove very handy towards the end. Specially since special circles will enhance the module powers. It feels rewarding to get through some of the puzzles presented later on, such as one that is like a jigsaw puzzle.
Fighting is more or less the same as in the previous Dead Space video-games. There are two weapon slots and the modules help even out the odds against the hordes of monsters. The controls feel more adequate with ideas such as dodge roll being implemented.
The weapon bench is now more advanced than ever. It lets the player make and customise new weapons with resources gathered from the places Isaac explores. At times it’s confusing to attach different parts since it doesn’t seem to have a major impact on how weapons function.
There is also the novel idea of making it possible to buy resources with real money. Fortunately it isn’t necessary to do so, in order to complete the story. A small robot that gathers resources when placed in an area is far more beneficial. Specially since these resources are also used to do suit upgrades, such as increasing health.
At times there are some newly implemented game mechanics that change how Dead Space 3 is played. Some of these are very enjoyable, such as a landing effort on the planet, where the player must shoot those pesky mines and avoid any debris. Another idea where the player is climbing up an area doesn’t work out so well, since it feels like the movement controls are too sensitive. Specially as it includes avoiding falling rocks and other obstacles that get in the way.
Adding co-op to a survival horror video-game doesn’t exactly seem like the best of ideas. Fortunately there is no AI partner when playing Dead Space 3 alone. Oddly enough there isn’t much of a different when it comes to playing with someone else. The only obvious benefit is having another player to count on when it comes to fighting off the various type of necromorphs. There are also some co-op specific missions to play through.
Some of the cut-scenes are different to include the second character. It’s good that Visceral decided to integrate a second player as an optional choice. That way it manages to cater for all players, since it means that it’s not strictly a co-op experience.
Some of the story is predictable, but there are still a few twists that are bound to surprise players. It is a step up in terms of visuals when compared to the previous two titles. Specially once Isaac is down on the planet. The narrow corridors and limited vision make it more like a true horror experience. The soundtrack consists of some inspiring tracks that fit perfectly in with the sci-fi theme. In fact, this feels a lot more similar to old school sci-fi films than some other recent video-game efforts.
The story will last for a decent amount of time and there is plenty to do after with optional missions, collectibles and some truly challenging difficulty settings.
Dead Space 3 is a good experiment that shows the development team tried to add some new features to this sequel. Unfortunately not all of them worked out quite so well. It’s not to say that Dead Space 3 is an average entry, but it could have done with some improvements in some areas.
It’s certainly not as frightening as previous Dead Space entries, but it’s not bad enough to make anyone try in vain to scream for their money back in space. Dead Space 3 is a decent effort from Visceral, but it’s the few moments where it goes back to being a proper survival moment that really stand out.