Engineers are typically a nerdy bunch: they know how to use slide rules, love Linux, and use mechanical pencils. I’m sure if Isaac Clarke wasn’t so busy dismembering necromorphs he would sit down and bitch about how wasteful and slow Windows is, and show you his slide rule. Fortunately for fans of Visceral Games’ Dead Space series, Isaac is way too busy saving the universe to drag us down with his nerdiness.
Trouble at Home
Apparently Isaac hooked up with Ellie after the events in Dead Space 2, but as the new game opens Ellie is long gone and Isaac is playing her goodbye message for probably the hundredth time. I told you he was a nerd. Some gung-ho soldier boy busts in on Isaac’s little pity party in order to motivate Isaac into helping out with a space rescue mission involving his ex-girlfriend. This event coincides with a terrorist attack by members of the Church of Unitology, whom I call the Church of the Magic Marker, who attempt to assassinate Isaac and wreak havoc on Earth by unshielding a marker in the city. The city is soon overrun by necromorphs and it’s obviously time to leave.
Lifeboat in Space
Ellie’s last known position winds up being a graveyard for spaceships in the middle of a minefield. The mines take a heavy toll on soldier boy’s ship, forcing what’s left of the crew to seek refuge in some of the larger pieces of ancient derelict ships. It’s Isaac’s grim duty to gather enough parts from necromorph-infested ship chunks, fly a 200 year old shuttle out of the field to the planet below, and end the Necromorph menace once and for all. The ice planet was the site of a previous attempt to study the markers and find a way to deactivate them. Perhaps Isaac can survive the beasties, the Church of the Magic Marker, and survivor dissention long enough to save the day.
Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
From a technical standpoint the game is nearly perfect. The game’s hellish environments are beautifully depicted and stand up well to HD scrutiny. I could almost believe that the space ship chunks were floating there, in orbit around Hoth’s Dead Space counterpart, for 200 years or so. The ships are rusty, dusty, and creaky...and those fucking air vents are everywhere. Necromorphs love air vents! The polish really shows on the sound effects: shots in space sound different than inside a ship, which sound different on the planet; snow crunches and necromorphs sound appropriately hideous, even from a distance.
I’m not one to go on about how many pixels are in a shot, what the framerate is, or how fucking Dolby the game sounds. However, all of these things come together to produce that signature dread-inspiring atmosphere that is the true star of the series. Dead Space fans always remember things like their first spacewalk aboard the Ishimura, the zero-g battles, the different ways in which they got Isaac killed, and the feeling that absolutely no place is safe. In Dead Space 3, almost every environment is hostile: booby traps, freezing temperatures, and deadly beasties with a disturbing fixation for Isaac all lie in wait to show players how many ways Isaac can die.
There are plenty of new necromorphs for players to face down: skeletal swarmers, replacement head necromorphs, regenerators, and a monstrous behemoth with a place inside just for Isaac....and I thought they smelled bad on the outside.
Isaac can finally put his engineering skills to deadly use. Workbenches now allow Isaac to create weapons and weapon blueprints, as well as upgrade them. Scavenge enough parts, like circuits, scrap metal, weapon frames, etc., and Isaac can craft hundreds of different death dealing options. My favorite weapon was an electrified shotgun with a built in grenade launcher. Other options include a flamethrower, submachine gun, revolver, frost-thrower, plasma cutter, and many more, all customizable and interchangeable.
Scavenger bots may also be utilized to do the legwork, just find a bench and make something cool. Isaac can also create ammunition, tungsten bars, used to access locked doors, and med kits. Isaac’s suit can also be upgraded to extend and strengthen his kinesis ability, armor, and hit points. Dead Space veterans also have access to Shepherd’s N7 suit, from Mass Effect.
Visceral included some nifty new death scenes for our nerdy protagonist to participate in...and you thought the eye thing was bad! I like Isaac but he dies more than any character I know, and every death shows me something new. I especially enjoyed setting Isaac on fire: he’s quite a dancer.
The single player campaign is satisfyingly lengthy. Dead Space 3 now features a co-op mode, which is fairly seamless in its implementation, and includes another stranded soul named Carver. It also features some Kinect interactivity, although that function was not tested in my playthrough, but it looked kind of dorky.
While the weapon selection is great, Dead Space 3 limits players to only two weapons at a time. Remaining weapons must be stored in a safe. The atmosphere is spot-on but much of this game has been played before, as Dead Space 3 tends to rely heavily on it’s tried and true formula: start with a bang, brief respite, spacewalk, more action, dodge some shit while climbing or flying, fight a big necromorph and shoot the yellow spots, rinse, repeat. Nothing really new there. Another low-point was the interaction with the rest of the stranded crew, especially the little love triangle between Clarke, Ellie, and soldier boy. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it forced an unnatural, and unneeded, plot distraction. Foreshadowing is not Visceral’s forte, and I found myself being unsurprised at crucial plot twists. Stick to scaring the shit out of folks, Visceral, foreshadowing is not what you do best.
The Final Verdict
This game is not about plot development, it’s about intense confrontations, a palpable sense of tension, and getting Isaac killed over and over. There’s enough new stuff to make the game stand apart from its two predecessors. This is the most fluid, best looking, and scariest Dead Space
to date. Dead Space
is the premier survival-horror franchise, and this one is the best of the bunch. Just don’t expect to get much sleep.