The tale of Isaac Clarke comes to an end…or does it?
The original Dead Space took the traditional themes of survival/horror and turned them upside down…in zero g! Super-cool engineer Isaac Clarke volunteered for a repair mission aboard the planet -cracker class ship USG Ishimura to discover the fate of his then-girlfriend Nicole only to be met with a mysterious and utterly terrifying outbreak of space-zombie-ness! That first outing delved deep into the ideas of loss and regret and ultimately wound up being a sleeper hit. With the sequel, Visceral went bigger with everything by changing locations to a city-sized space station called The Sprawl. Isaac thought his nightmare was over, but carrying Nicole with him while descending into—let’s just call it what it was—space madness proved to be even crazier than his original escapades. And now with the release of Dead Space 3, everything is bigger, our hero is as tortured as ever and we’re going to learn where everything began at long last!
Isaac is finally getting some answers in Visceral Games’ Dead Space 3, the epic saga of space monsters, crumbling relationships and Scientolog—oops—Unitology. After twice contending with the horrific necromorph plague and the mysterious markers that give birth to them, everybody’s favorite engineer and a ragtag gang of soldiers, scientists and his super-plucky ex have traced the source of the scourge to the frozen planet of Tau Volantis. Something awful happened here 200 years ago, and it’s up to our hero to put a stop to the nightmare once and for all. As Isaac blasts his way through the abandoned EarthGov scientific/military complex contending with the nightmarish necromorphs and Danik, an insane religious zealot hell-bent on mankind’s next evolutionary step, he will slowly uncover the answers we’ve all had since we first set foot aboard the Ishimura some years ago. Can this crew give Earth another tomorrow, or will those mysterious markers and space zombies finally become whole and destroy the universe?
Dead Space has always been impressive graphically speaking. Whether it’s in the smallest details built into Issac’s suit or the stunning and beautiful vacuum of space, Visceral has overlooked nothing visually. OK, we aren’t talking leaps and bounds in terms of quality, but this is most definitely a beautiful game and certainly the best-looking in the series. HUD presentation is still minimal (thanks to seamless integration with the character and gun models themselves), and this makes it so much easier to focus on the action (thanks for that, Visceral!). Pacing is executed masterfully whether you choose to play with a friend or not, and the overall sound design is damn near perfect. You’ll just about jump out of your skin at the shrieks and growls of your enemies, particularly in the case of those jerks with the exploding infection, uh, cyst…things. The symphonic score accentuates every bit of action or emotion while remaining unobtrusive, particularly in early missions that find Isaac blasting through space with his cool rocket-powered super boots.
It was highly publicized that Visceral Games was taking the series in new directions. Namely, the tight corridor/survival horror elements (which had already been toned down in the excellent Dead Space 2) would be married with crazy action set-pieces and a new optional emphasis on co-op. And though this upset more than a few fans, we can lay to rest any concerns gamers may have had about the core experience. Dead Space 3 is every bit as creepy and well-paced as previous installments, and the amped-up aspects only serve to add variety to the overall experience; you’ll still have your eyes glued to the air-vents as faraway sounds of clanking metal or guttural monster-like breathing signal what may well be an incoming necromorph attack. Early missions that take place in what can best be described as a spaceship graveyard hearken back to the first game wonderfully, and most optional side quests play out like the Dead Space of yore. Really, these are overblown ways to obtain resources for weapon and item crafting, but the claustrophobic hallways return alongside waves of challenging enemies. It is in these missions where Visceral recaptures that gnawing feeling of just a little too much time passing between encounters. And though these side quests will have you feeling terribly nervous, you’ll be glad to reach the bounty that waits at the end of each one.
New enemies join the cast of nefarious baddies we’ve all come to love/hate. Not only is there a new, skeleton-esque monstrosity to worry about (they hunt in packs!), but the necromorphs that move with lightning-fast speed and in unpredictable patterns will have you resetting checkpoints more than a few times.
The newly implemented gun crafting option is fantastic. Discovering and utilizing various weapon components and upgrades is challenging at first, but before long it becomes a downright treat to experiment with the possibilities. Say, for example, you’re a fully-automatic weapon fan, but need an auxiliary means of dismembering your foes…easy! You can combine an assault rifle with the circular saw-bearing ripper and fire both at once! Crafting even allows you to add passive elemental damage a la Borderlands in the form of acid or electricity. Upgrades provide the means for extended clips, faster reload times, greater damage or faster rate of fire, and the later levels mission offer up some very powerful additions. Oh, and your developer pals at Visceral have even included staff favorite blueprints at every upgrade bench for those gamers who would rather get down to blasting instead of building.
New mechanics pop up in exciting ways and include super-fun sections that find Isaac rappelling down sheer cliff faces and super-deep dig sites or using overpowered amp-pads to bring the TK and kineses abilities into straight super-power territory. Granted, these amp-pads err on the too little, too late side, but it’s still a delight to yank the razor-sharp limbs from an incoming necromorph without worrying about shooting them off first, and tearing down the side of a cliff never gets old.
We’ll tell you right now that John Carver is a pretty one-dimensional character. Certainly his story is more fleshed out when playing the entirety of the campaign with a friend, but solo play results in strange moments that seem as if they’re supposed to be emotional but just make him sound like an emo whiner. The voice actor’s performance rarely surpasses functional, and his big speech toward the end is pretty dumb. That said, the overall co-op experience is used in a way that hasn’t been so convenient since Gears of War. While playing with a friend provides extra information, it is 100% optional, and that’s a good thing. The co-op missions do tend to be scarier than the solo campaign, but this is mostly negated when you’ve got a friend on the other end of your headset.
Despite some awfully contrived story elements, a paint-by-numbers villain and NPCs who do little if anything to drive things forward, Dead Space 3 is a killer game and a new benchmark for the series. This is an ambitious title to say the least, but bigger can sometimes result in a lack of focus. There are parts of this game that feel scattered and ideas that seem to be in their early stages. Yes, there are missteps and certainly not everyone is going to be pleased, but if you can look beyond a few minor issues and pay attention to how fun it is to dismember space monsters in slow motion, you’ll be rewarded with another solid installment in what has grown to become one of the more interesting properties in gaming. We have come to a conclusion of sorts, but we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Isaac Clarke popped up next generation with a whole new set of problems and his trusty plasma cutter.
SCORE: 8 of 10