Genre: Action Developer: Visceral Games Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 7th Feb 2012 Platforms:
Average of 5 Ratings
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Isaac Clarke suffers reversals of fortune with such speed and regularity, it's like it is bound to some sort of wheel. A wheel... of... fortune. His reversals get reversed, he climbs to the top of a mountain only to be thrown back down - he's a representation of the Buddhist philosophy that life is suffering, all trapped in a welder's mask barely capable of surviving.
We find him in Dead Space 3 resigned to the idea he is the only person capable of saving the world - so far he has come since his desperate struggle to live in the first game. It's familiar character development, best recognised in the difference between John McClane in Die Hard and With a Vengeance. Without the wisecracks though, Isaac needs something to drive the player forward - and in Dead Space 3 that driver is the surprisingly good supporting cast.
Chief among these is Sergeant John Carver, the gruff space marine who also serves as your coop buddy (should you play that way). Superficial inspection would leave a person to think he was just another gung-ho alien killing moron of the Gears of War variety, but Dead Space 3 does an outstanding job giving him depth and making him a perfect foil to Isaac.
Where Isaac appears to have given up, Carver clings to life with a fervor not reflected in any other character in the game. In a lot of ways he's the self-insertion character for players - when Isaac is about to throw his life away in the pursuit of something, John will pull him back from the edge with a gruff remark. In a horror movie, Carver would be the person who points out that splitting up is not their best idea.
Of course, you spend most of the game separated from the entire rest of the group - at first I saw this as a flaw, but it works well when you realise Dead Space 3 isn't a horror game, it's just pretending to be one. And a pretend horror game would cling to horror tropes hard - and divide and conquer is a classic.
None of the tension in Dead Space 3 is derived from a sense of fear. Thanks to the projected persona of Isaac, even the idea of climbing into the body of the biggest damn Necromorph you've ever seen is just another part of his day job. If Isaac isn't scared - and he knows the score enough by now to not be - the player won't be scared either, and it is obvious early on this is a conscious decision on behalf of the development team.
Instead, tension in Dead Space 3 is derived from the challenge the game throws at you. It's a logical conclusion for an action/horror game to make - the final transition away from horror (in the traditional sense) and into action. As you get deeper and deeper into the game your grasp on resources slips, and as you begin to neglect certain resources in favour of others, the game challenges you in different ways.
If you haven't the 'somatic gel' to make medkits, you'll spend a lot of ammo making sure you don't get hit. If you haven't the scrap to make ammo you'll need to move a lot to make the most of the ammo you have. If you're suddenly thrust in closed corridors, you'll find yourself having to think of some new solution to your problem - and as the game goes on, you get better alongside it.
It's a very subtle management of the player which sees you well prepared for playing through the game again on a higher difficulty when you're finished. The trick for the game is finding a reason for the player to start the new game plus - and depending on your affinity for making gun combinations, Dead Space 3 may or may not have that reason.
The crafting system is a new addition to the series which lets players combine weapons in all sorts of ways. Each gun can have two 'tools', each tool can have a modifying tip and they can all have a bunch of other damage, rate of fire, reload speed and clip size modifiers. It's left to the player to combine weapons the way they want - and there's an astounding amount of variety available.
That said, for me I stuck with a machinegun with a flamethrower underbarrel for the entire time I was able (since about a third of the way through the game) - because I just want the most efficient killing tool available. I didn't spend resources experimenting with guns which shot sawblades while freezing things - and so a new game plus doesn't offer me much (except to play in coop, to expand Carver's story).
What really hurts Dead Space 3 when it comes to replayability is the staggering amount of backtracking in the game. Isaac is constantly taking one step forward and two back before he can make any progress, and the way the game loops around on itself can be terrible for both any sense of momentum and for any possibility of exploration. Too many times I found myself taking what I thought would be the less-logical path only to find myself standing before a locked door. Half-an-hour later those doors would be unlocked and the blue path guiding me around would drag me back to them.
It's a nod to the first Dead Space (which built upon the mechanics of early Resident Evil games) - where the player spent their entire time looping back through one ominous location. To me though, it's just another way Dead Space 3 reminds me of a sort-of chicken **** Dark Souls (in Space).
It ticks the right boxes - tension through challenge, horrifying art without actual horror, artificial size through looped pathing, delicate resource management and character movement which is awkward to begin with, but eventually becomes second nature. Where the two differ are in obvious areas - in the way the two punish players for mistakes and in the way they tell story.
Dark Souls tells the player very, very little - letting the player figure everything (everything) out for themselves. This ties in well to that game's natural sense of exploration. Dead Space 3, on the other hand, is an utterly linear experience - sure, there are some branching side missions, but most of Isaac's journey is as guided as the little blue line which points you to your objective.
It's a very key point of difference for the two games, and it ties back in to how the backtracking level design grates on the player. Where in the other game the looping serves to remind the player of how far they've gone, in Dead Space 3 it reminds you of how rigid the story is.
Still, rigidity doesn't mean the story isn't fantastic. I've always been enamoured by the tale of the Markers, and Dead Space 3 continues this plotline beautifully. As I already mentioned, the characters are well written and the game features great acting, but it's the story of the ice planet Tau Volantis which really stands out. Despite the linearity there's a significant amount of history written into Tau Volantis - it was the location of some terrible, terrible things - and through this snow-covered planet Visceral weaves a fantastic sci-fi plot, centred around that ever-present trope of sci-fi horror, the terrible secret of space.
Two thirds of the game takes place on the planet Tau Volantis - but that doesn't mean the game's characteristic space-walking sections have disappeared. One of my favourite things about Dead Space 3 is that it really lets you float around in space this time - the zero-grav sections now offer players more freedom than any other part of the game.
DS3 could do a number of things better. In coop John Carver's appearance in cutscenes is more comical than involving - he's there, but he looks like he shouldn't be. The game definitely spends too much time retracing its steps, which can ultimately feel like an artificial way to lengthen things. And it's disappointing, but in ten years or so if the Dead Space series is remembered it will probably be for having the worst mini-game challenges of all time - and DS3 is no exception to this.
Dead Space 3 isn't a horror game. It has horror themes, and borrows heavily from the genre of sci-fi horror, but it's an action game. As a huge fan of both Dead Space 1 and 2 I thought this would be a massive disappointment, but Dead Space 3 successfully illustrates that it's tension I crave from these sorts of games, not fear. Because Dead Space 3 anchors its tension in the challenge the game presents, the player is able to customise how tense an experience they have through the difficulty settings (and it gets pretty bloody difficult). This is a good thing, and both Dead Space fans and sci-fi fans will get a lot out of this sci-fi shooter.