saac Clarke is an innocuous scruffy looking man, driven half-way to insanity by having alien blueprints imprinted on his brain, one of the few humans who can understand the Marker technology. For those new to the series, the Markers are alien devices which infect humanoids, turning them into Necromorphs – undead tentacle exploding shrieking tortured creatures, with nothing left of their humanity and an uncanny desire to lurk in ventilation ducts.
This man, accompanied by the grizzled John Carver if you’re playing in co-op, must fight his way across space, defeating Necromorphs, aliens and just plain old bad people, seemingly driven more for his desire for his old flame Ellie from the previous title than any genuine desire to save the human race.
How are we saving the world? We’re crafting guns, we’re stabbing, slashing, punching, we’re throwing things at people – using our Jedi-like kinesis powers to throw axes, limbs, debris (okay, the debris doesn’t do much), we’re slowing things down, decapitating them, chopping their legs off and stomping on their faces as they crawl desperately towards us….and then a few moments later we’re jet-packing our way through space – wheeeeee – sucking up oxygen and being stalked by floating mines. This is Dead Space 3, the new action-horror developed by Visceral Studio’s and available through EA Games on Origin.
erhaps the lowest common denominator of any immersive horror is the “jump factor”. The dead space series has always relied a lot on this – of making you scared to go around a corner or enter a door, even if there is absolutely nothing there. With the right atmosphere, a horror game can turn me into a gibbering mess as I walk down a completely empty long corridor. It can make me nervous of walking past every door, vent, and window, of making my gun go off when a shadow passes behind me because I was so concerned. A good horror game builds up the background to make us scare ourselves. Dead Space 3 is not a horror game. It’s not even an action-horror game. It’s an Action-FPS through and through and people should be aware of this when buying the title.
am a pussy, a wuss, a veritable bag of nerves. I watch horror movies from under the blankets whilst nervously asking “Is it safe to come out yet?” and I am extremely squeamish about blood and gore. I jump at my own shadow when I walk outside at night. Despite that, I do watch horror movies, I love rather explicit horror stories, I listen to some very creepy music and I have a love-hate relationship with being scared. Adrenaline good, heart attack bad, there’s a fine line somewhere that I walk in between.
Isaac: “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?”
Carver: “It’s gas that eats your face!”
Dead Space 3 never came close to giving me a heart attack and doesn’t really give me much of an adrenaline rush either. Having a second player is both a blessing and a curse. It is hard to keep up the atmosphere when my co-op partner is mocking the storyline, giggling at how jumpy I am for no reason and then yelling at me for not getting on the lift quick enough. Being able to cover two exits or stand back to back eliminates a good chunk of the ability of the game to surprise you – having something pounce on you behind is very popular in this series and two pairs of eyes are definitely better than one for avoiding this. Yet having someone there to share it with increases the fun level so much that it is of far more benefit to me than keeping that isolated feeling so I am a definite fan of the new co-op system.
The music and sound effects are pretty creepy though – especially some of the screams. The visuals are very well done, as well as the AI of the aliens. I don’t want to spoil anything so forgive me for being vague, but in one room, your attention is immediately drawn over to something that graphically grips you – it is designed to make you walk over to it and look at it… yet in the background of the room, in the shadows, half a dozen aliens are picking through debris and eating some half-frozen corpse parts. They were there all the time. They don’t just aggro and eat your face, even when your light shines on them – there’s that moment, that rabbit-in-the-headlights feeling where it takes a second for your eyes to process what you’re seeing and only then do you realise what’s happening and all of a sudden it’s frantic action, gunshots and explosions as you fight for your life. I find myself frantically stomping down on corpses faces even though I don’t need to, with a madness-tinged carthasis and a sigh of relief.
hat sort of gameplay direction is clever in a level of simplicity that goes almost undetected, just a simple placement of scenery that appeals to the human pysche just long enough for something to surprise you. Enough to make my heart beat faster and a strangled gasp to emerge and then in a few seconds – it’s all over. It’s only later when you think about it, that you think to yourself “That scene, that was really well done.” Someone put a lot of thought into those two seconds of gameplay. The problem with the scare factor is that those moments are literally just a few seconds in an entire campaign, corpses very rarely come back to life, vents are clearly viewable and most “jump-scares” are highly predictable.
My two biggest “scare moments” were when I was standing next to a pinball machine in an abandoned shuttle that suddenly came to life, and when I had carefully examined a corpse on the floor, determined that it was dead, relaxed and my co-op partner shot it with his shotgun, making it spin across the room and come flying at my face. I do not want corpses thrown at me, thank you very much. I was not amused. Strangely, he was.
The combat itself is supplemented by the new weapon crafting and upgrading system that adds a frisson of excitement to finding a new blueprint or part, but also an element of grind as you realise you need to send out 65 billion scavenger bots to get the parts. You can also simply buy them as an in-game purchase using real money, which leaves a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth but ultimately just saves you time and in a single player game, I can’t bring myself to rant about it. Still, there is an added layer of strategy as you have to build your guns and decide which parts to add but the fact that there is a work bench around every single corner of the game – even at the end, detracts a little from the immersion.
s I am apparently incapable of correctly aiming or dodging (making this sort of game a challenge), I want to add support items to my guns – healing my partner whenever I use my medipack and crafting plenty of spare kits. My co-op partner on the other hand who is a twitch-based-God (hope he doesn’t read this) builds the most bad-ass gun ever, fills it with extra damage even though he has to take a smaller clip and slower reloading speed, because he knows if he aims and shoots – he’s going to hit his mark.
You’re going to have to modify your rig and prioritise what to build. Do you want to upgrade your armor or use that Tungsten to make a Torque bar (a key to access locked rooms)? Every has a cost, there are limited resources and you’re going to need to analyse your playstyle, your skills and your co-op partner (if playing together) and make some decisions. That’s an excellent layer of depth missing from a great deal of shooters.
So it has action, it has atmosphere, it has a few scares, it has co-operative partnership that encourages you to work together or pay the price, but does it have emotion?
Unfortunately the 20-hour campaign story is fairly bland and not compelling. Half love adventure half alien save-the-world story, it is hard to sometimes see the logic and quite frankly some of the more serious scenes come off as somewhat farcical, more likely to elicit mockery and giggles than an emotional response. Cliché’s abound and the dialogue is bland. The mediocre story is followed up with some repetitive “puzzle” tasks that are either pointlessly simple or confusing, unintuitive and illogical. Whilst the game starts out with a few different, good looking locations and flying through space offers promise… the great bulk of the game is completed on a bland, frozen ice planet, moving from installation to installation of very similar looking locations until the very end. As the end draws near, I ultimately find myself not really caring whether Isaac gets the girl and saves the world. I wouldn’t shed any tears over him, but I do have a lot of fun playing along regardless.
I enjoyed playing Dead Space 3 and would recommend it, especially if you enjoy co-operative gameplay – but despite all the fun I had with it, it lacks both the emotion-driven story and the horror of the previous titles. The game has some solid mechanics and new ideas, but could have been a lot more had they improved the dialogue, upped fear-factor and given us some better scenery.