Review: Dead Space 3 [Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC]
Trudge… trudge… stomp! Dead Space is back – with more hard sci-fi horrors for our delectation. I’m very fond of this series – I was caught by surprise by how much I liked Dead Space 1. As soon as I looked at the back cover of its box, with the legend “There’s no help coming…” it piqued my interest.
Nonetheless DS1 was another game that I was encouraged to try by my dear bro-in-law Dan (again, regular readers) and as usual, he was right to recommend it. Dead Space 1 was a dark, tense, sometimes disgusting sci-fi horror adventure set aboard the USG Ishimura – a vast mining ship or “Planet Cracker”.
I loved trudging along the dark, beaten up corridors of the old mining ship – as if I were aboard Red Dwarf, but through a mirror darkly. It had a wonderful sense of industrial, yet plausible future design. But terrors lay in wait around every corner. The whole ship was infested by foul, lethal aliens called Necromorphs. They were formidable foes – but they had a strange weakness. To hurt them, to kill them, you had to dismember them.
So, no aiming for the head or the heart in this game – you had to precisely blast off limbs. Fortunately DS1 had plenty of industrial / utilitarian weapons, from the synonymous Plasma Cutter, to the Ripper cutting saw – hell, there were even a few guns.
This was the start of the series, playing as our unfortunate hero – the engineer, Arthur C. Asimov… sorry, I mean Isaac Clarke. Poor Isaac eventually prevailed over these terrible creatures and destroyed the source of their power – the alien artefact known as the Red Marker.
Then Dead Space 2 followed – this time set on a human colony on Saturn’s moon, Titan. This colony was nicknamed The Sprawl, and was a bigger and more beautifully rendered backdrop. But something was missing. It was a bigger campaign, the graphics were better, hell – Isaac even spoke in this game and we could relate to him that bit more. But something was missing for me. I missed the dark, sparse environment of that abandoned ship from DS1.
Dead Space 2 also included a multiplayer mode for the first time, although I’ll come back to that in a minute. But all in all, a good sequel, just not as great as the first game in my opinion.
Now we have Dead Space 3 – and some changes stand out already. First up, the multiplayer mode has been jettisoned – great. Some games we buy for their multiplayer modes (Halo, COD, Battlefield, FIFA etc) and some we do not. There is nothing worse than having a tacked-on multiplayer mode added to a game that, while functional, adds nothing to the experience.
Recent culprits include Far Cry 3, arguably Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed 3 – I’m also having trouble seeing what the point of the forthcoming Tomb Raider’s multiplayer mode is going to be.
Instead, EA have provided something much, much better for this series. Co-op. And it’s a very well implemented co-op system at that. Recent triple-A titles such as Borderlands 2 have shown just how much fun drop-in, drop-out co-op can be and that’s what we have here. A second player can join in the campaign for as much or as little as they like, either a friend or a stranger, through online matchmaking.
The way it manifests itself is with a second character to accompany Isaac – a marine called Jacob Carver. If you play in co-op as Isaac, everything is subtly altered from single player – dialogue, events and more. Having him there changes the narrative of the story. If you play as Jacob, even more is changed – you experience his back story, his hallucinations and more.
But that’s exactly what I want from this franchise – something to encourage replaying the campaign, with my friends and with other players online. Ditching multiplayer for this, thus losing one sales feature and gaining another, was a gutsy move by EA, but it was the right call. Parts of the campaign can only be accessed and explored in co-op mode - so if you want to be a completionist, buddy up and fight together.
The other big change compared to the other Dead Spaces is the weaponry. In this game you can craft, modify and upgrade weapons to your heart’s content. You can start off with a frame – a single or double handed weapon frame – and fit up to two weapons to it. I had to have a Plasma Cutter as my main weapon – it’s just the law when playing these games – so a single handed frame was needed, with a plasma core fitted in the top weapon slot. I then had the choice of fitting another weapon to the lower slot, or fitting a rotator cuff, allowing it to shoot horizontally or vertically, like the Plasma Cutters in the previous games. I had to have that.
As the game progressed, I made a few hybrid weapons, from flamethrowers equipped with cutting discs below, from electric arc weapons with shotguns underneath – all good fun. The usual upgrades could be found along the way – upgrade circuits that could be installed. But different tips could also be fitted to the weapons – so by fitting a different tip to a “Military Engine”, it could be changed from an assault rifle to a shotgun.
Also, there are resources to collect. Weapon parts, electronic components, scrap metal and rare metal such as tungsten can be scavenged and used to make items. Along the way you can find Scavenger Bots – little robots that look like an original Xbox with legs – send them on their way and every ten minutes they will be waiting for you at the nearest weapon upgrade bench, with some resources.
I’m in two minds about that – it does add a strategic element and it encourages full exploration of every room, which I like. But, every ten minutes or so you get the same message that they’re waiting to be collected at the nearest bench. Then you have to set your bots down on their way again if you want to scavenge everything. It’s… a bit like an annoying Microsoft Outlook reminder that you’re putting off, popping up again and again…
Fortunately, because I had completed Dead Space 2, the game gave me a “Planet Cracker” tip for my Plasma Cutter – a powerful and handy little head start. But that leads us on to the next feature of this game – there’s a lot of downloadable content for it…
Some of it is free – like the bonus for completing DS2. I also got an extra suit of armour – the N7 Suit – because I had completed Mass Effect 3. That’s all great. What isn’t so great is how much paid DLC is available. EA is clearly trying to monetize people’s impatience, allowing players to by shortcuts.
It’s true that you can complete the whole game and find a great amount of loot without spending a dime. But it is sad to see another angle of commercial exploitation in gaming. That’s how it is now, particularly from EA.
Anyway, the game. It plays well – it feels a lot like Dead Space 2. Encouragingly, the first part of the game is set aboard several derelict old ships, bringing the Dead Space 1 vibe back for a while. Very quickly, the story takes you to the icy, Hoth-like planet of Tau Volantis, where there is a hidden research complex into our alien enemies and their markers.
So it feels both like Dead Space 1 and 2, while incorporating some new features and even better visuals, all good. The campaign is long – I admittedly took my time, trudging every room slowly, scanning every doorway and vent shaft before proceeding and looting every possible resource. It still took me around 25 hours to finish it the first time. I guess a quicker, more care-free playthrough could reduce this down to about 15-20 hours.
That’s pretty damn decent in terms of longevity value (Halo and BLOPS 2 take around 7 hours) and then there is the replay value to consider. As usual in this series, the game lets you play through from the beginning, but with all of your weapons, suits and upgrades kept – New Game +. So that encourages trying out the harder difficulty levels. As mentioned before, the co-op mode will multiply the game’s lifespan many times for me – great stuff.
So, it’s more of the same really. It’s a good new entry in the Dead Space series – with co-op, some new weapons and a good long campaign. If you’ve tried either of the first two games you’ll know what I mean. It isn’t ground-breaking, it is gruesome and I like it a lot. And ditching multiplayer, but introducing co-op makes the game for me, I like it most of all for that.
Worth a look, then, if you’re brave enough…
Dead Space 3 is out now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Xbox 360 version tested.