ds3_3Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Players: Single-player, Co-op (online)
Genre: Horror, Action, Third-Person Shooter
Rating: MA
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Synopsis: Dead Space 3 brings Isaac Clarke and merciless soldier, John Carver on a journey across space to discover the source of the Necromorph outbreak. Crash-landed on the frozen planet of Tau Volantis, the pair and their team must work together to save mankind from the impending apocalypse.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: yes, it’s true that Dead Space 3 is nowhere near as scary as it’s predecessors, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of everything we’ve come to love from the franchise either. In fact, what makes Dead Space 3 so immensely satisfying is the way the Visceral team have tweaked and evolved our favorite aspects of the series, expanding the universe we love so much and effectively delivering an epic payoff to everything the franchise has been building up to. Easily the most narrative-driven installment, the game allows Isaac and his Necromorph foes to complete one segment of their journey together whilst still leaving plenty of room for more. Most importantly, the game’s seamless blend of horrific action, mystery, adventure and story feel earned. Isaac’s been kicking about in the dark for too long (literally and figuratively) and now it’s payback time.

The story picks up some months after Dead Space 2’s Sprawl incident with Isaac trying to ignore the Necromorphs and markers as best he can. Things take a turn for the worse however, when he’s quickly recruited amidst a Necromorph outbreak to track down fellow survivor (and strained love interest) Ellie Langford by two EarthGov agents named Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver. With Unitologists hot on Isaac’s tail, the trio make their way through centuries old flotillas and eventually to the 200-year old ruins of the ice-ravaged planet Tau Volantis to finally uncover the secrets of the Necromorphs and how to stop them once and for all. Expect plenty of gore, action, spills, chills and an even an extinction-level threat!

While previous installments where deceitfully simple narratively, Dead Space 3 relies more overtly on heavy mythology and character struggles to tell the most rounded and diverse chapter we’ve seen yet. The scope and scale in this game are the simply massive, starting out as a progressive crescendo of mystery and bloody action until finally ending on an emotional note. And while the relentless pace may rob the game of a lot of atmosphere, there’s still plenty of scares, they’re just spaced out more to provide better impact. The last third of the game in particular is breathtaking, utilizing one of the best set pieces I’ve had the pleasure of fighting my way out of in a good while (think of Prometheus‘ haunting gothic chambers, and multiply their size significantly). Character-wise, Isaac finally comes full circle as the man perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time, his journey from begrudging anti-hero to someone who finally realizes that he can’t run away forever is impactful and satisfying. A nice surprise here is the addition of soldier John Carver, who is Isaac’s potential co-op partner. During single player mode, he stays to the sidelines, but when utilized by a friend or another player, he’s one of the more interesting characters of the series. Both characters share a couple of potent moments near the game’s completion which show a heart that the series has never quite managed to achieve until now. In all fairness, some side characters are two dimensional and the game’s repetitious cycle can get a little predictable, but the story’s fast paced mystery is too interesting and fun to make these minor faults a problem.

ds3_4In terms of gameplay, this is one of the best third person shooters this console generation has ever produced. It’s got fast, intuitive controls, an incredible aiming system, some addictive melee/stomping and diversity which amount to a streamlined action horror experience. Instead of relying on the same dark, cramped corridors we’re used to battling ourselves through, the addition of Tau Volantis’ zero-visbility snowstorms are a welcome change, bringing out the game’s Thing-influenced roots more than ever. The harsh weather is just as scary at times as any dark room and in moments when we’re treated to frozen landscapes, its nicer to look at. We also get to fight humans via some cover-based combat, and even though these encounters are extremely sparse and minimal, they’re a nice little addition that add to the already chaotic combat. As for the Necromorphs, they’re tougher, bigger, and more grotesque than ever, and while they’ve seen the least amount of change, there are some new enemy types that offer up a few new strategic challenges. The game really does a good job of switching it up the most out of any of it’s predecessors, keeping things fresh on a constant basis, whether we’re repelling down the side of a mountain, completing time-based missions, strategically battling slimy, disgusting creatures, or flying through zero gravity exploring derelict ships; there are plenty of surprises which never fail to impress. A number of optional missions can at times slow the pace, but I loved every moment of them, and completionists will too.

Next to co-op (more on this soon), the most noticeable change is the infinite amount of customizations which make you really feel more like Isaac as he quickly and resourcefully gets himself out of sticky situations. The mini-hacking games have expanded now, requiring a nice break before allowing you progress into new sections of the game. You even get to craft items for your survival now, and the game’s new weapon-crafting system and plethora of in-game loot ups the replay value significantly. The weapon crafting system is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen as you build weapons completely from scratch, going as far as to creating weapons with two different firing systems (one on top, one on bottom). Admittedly, this does at times make you a little too powerful, but since the Necros have been given some significant strength upgrades, rushing through simultaneous objectives or gauntlet rooms will still keep you on your toes. Don’t pay attention to those much-ballyhooed micro transactions either, they’re pretty much useless, especially since the items you really need can be purchased with currency which is earned in game.

Dead-Space-3-Has-Micro-Transactions-for-Crafting-ComponentsSo what about co-op? It works just fine and it’s plenty of fun (even more so than DS2’s multiplayer mode). Of course, it’s lessens the scares even more to be with someone, but there are plenty of story tweaks including an enhanced storyline for Carver which make the second playthrough worthwhile. Best yet, it’s drop-in drop-out, allowing you to join quick matches at any level, no matter where you are in the game. And despite there only being three co-op only missions, the last two are some of the scariest of the entire game as Carver’s mind gets taken over the marker, giving him visions of his dead family and leaving him alone to fight off waves of necros while your partner sees a completely different scenario from his POV.

As one of the final games of this console generation, Dead Space 3 is a beautiful culmination of everything this cycle’s produced. Visceral’s strength with this series has always been it’s attention to detail through stunning environments and unparalleled gameplay, and this game is no different. It’s ambitiously cinematic, exciting and full of endless possibilities. Dead Space 3 is proof that change doesn’t have to be bad, taking everything we love about the franchise and making it bigger and better without losing what made it special in the first place. Now get in there and let’s kill some aliens.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5