After escaping the necromorph menace from the confines of the Ishimura and the rather more spacious and varied environs of Titan Station in the second game, grey-haired engineer Isaac Clarke is back for more. This time, he is all washed-up and sorry-looking, but crucially, much more sane than he was in previous titles. This is apparently due to his prolonged exposure to the menacing Markers of the universe, and despite the help of Ellie, the romantic involvement from the previous game, who has left him but has now gone missing.
Accosted and forced at gunpoint to assist the rescue of her by her new boyfriend, the straight –talking Robert Norton and his sidekick Carver, Isaac is soon finding himself under attack, not from necromorphs, but from the crazed Unitiologists. Led by new antagonist, Jacob Danik, the faceless soldiers are determined to usher in the necromorph threat and see Clarke as it greatest obstacle. That should be enough Dead Space lore for now, and it certainly isn’t the most important part of the game, or indeed required for your enjoyment.
This is due in no small part to the fact that the opening is action heavy, slick and assured but lacking in tension, just straight up thrills. This is no bad thing, because as soon as Isaac finds himself in space the atmosphere notches up. The first eight hours are an absolute triumph, and meld together the best aspects of the previous two titles in one. There are jump scares, genuine tension and impressive vistas to engorge your eyes on.
The game looks and sounds beautiful. Environments are more varied than ever before, ranging from a Blade Runner style city in the opening, to derelict ships floating above the atmosphere of Tau Volantis, to down on the frozen planet itself, where most of the games preview shots and video seem to have come from. Lighting effects in particular are often breath-taking, causing one to simply stop, put the controller down and absorb the scenery on display.
It is true that the game suffers from some repetition in environments, especially in the interiors of the building down on the planet, and more noticeably so in the various side missions that you pick up, where you often find yourself elevated down to the same underground complex as the previous one. It’s no Dragon Age 2-ification of the game by any means, but it does noticeably stand out.
The usual Dead Space combat is still as meaty and satisfying as ever, with a weight and heaviness only Gears of War can compete with. Isaac himself has a real gravity to his movement that you are constantly aware of, constantly adjusting to and constantly…feeling. It just, in a tactile sense, all feels so right. Enemies are dangerous and weapons have a real heft and are differentiated so well.
Further to the feel of the weapons is the fact that one of the big changes, and one that has caused controversy in the wake of the revelations about micro-transactions, is actually one of its best additions. Weapon crafting feels like it belonged in the series since the beginning, and whilst it can take a while to get your head round what does what, it also feels second nature. In fact despite a tutorial at one of the first benches, it isn’t until you start messing around yourself and creating all types of combinations that you realise Visceral are actively encouraging experimentation. There is even a crafting and testing option in the menu. Basically, each weapon consists of a frame – light, heavy or a powered up variation of the two – with the option to add an upper and lower tool, effectively placing one on top of the other. Then you can add tips that modify the firing style or speed, attachments that add effects, and circuit boards that buff damage, reload speed and the like. Fancy a flamethrower that fires electric javelins? Then find the parts and make it. I cannot stress how much fun this part of the game is, and how much I missed it when I tried to go back and play the second game. In fact it should be in more games generally. The only criticism I can level at it is that it can be tempting to settle on a favourite gun (hello force gun with acid coated carbine!), but it just allows players to play how they want if you want to risk new weapons and play styles, then there is New Game Plus.
Dead Space 3 has excellent replay value. It has the usual New Game Plus, where you get to keep all your weapons and upgrades for another play through, but also a Classic mode, where there is no crafting and you can only use weapons from the previous games; Survivalist mode, where ammo, health and weapon parts are not dropped by enemies and must be created by scavenged materials; and Hardcore mode, where if you die, you must start from the beginning, and you can’t cheat and reload your last save.
It isn’t all great, but what game is? Some encounters can be frustrating, with some loss of tension from the previous games, especially the first, as lengthy waves of necromorphs are telegraphed by vents and stack boxes and clearly arena based environments. One recurring boss fight is also unwelcome. The game is also a little too long, and could have done with being five or so hours shorter, losing a little pace and momentum in the halfway point through your journey on the planet. Get through this padded out mid-to-late section though, and the end run is laced with urgency and finality, despite the inclusion of a weak and ineffectual boss.
Supremely solid and polished, Dead Space 3 is a worthy end to Isaac Clarke’s story and one of the best series of this console generation. Ignore the misgivings over micro transactions and the increased action-heavy direction the series has taken, this is a thrilling experience. Oh, and there is co-op too, but you don’t want to play this with company, do you?
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: PC / Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 Release Date: 05/02/13
Disclosure: Craig Hallam rented a physical copy of Dead Space 3 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.