Thursday, 4 April 2013

Review: Dead Space 3 (Origin PC)

Dead Space 3 hasn't had the best reception from long time fans in my experience.  Many players worried that new features such as Co-op, universal ammo and resource collecting would ruin the survival horror experience and also pull Dead Space away from it's claustrophobic fear inducing roots.

While some of these fears aren't far off the mark the game does still cater for a singleplayer horror experience like previous games while offering up the ability to play it with a friend strictly as an option and not a necessity.  Universal ammo does make inventory management easier, but it's mainly to coincide with the new weapon crafting system rather than be a 'dumbing down' of the gameplay.

Clarke and Carver strike a pose
The story of DS3 takes place a couple of years after the events of Titan station and it's near miss convergence event.  Isaac is now living in a tiny apartment on some backwater colony alone now since his relationship with fellow survivor Ellie ended between games.  He is trying to hide from his past and avoid anymore involvement with the insane Unitology cult and the machinations of the Earth Government, both wanting to get their hands on Isaac for different reasons.

Sadly for Isaac he just can't escape his fate as he is found first by the Earth gov forces who need him to help them stop the Necromorph threat once and for all on the forgotten world of Tau Volantis.  Isaac reluctantly agrees when he learns that Ellie is part of the team going there and so our adventure begins.

Dead Space 3 is more action oriented like it's predecessor Dead Space 2.  Character movement of both enemies and the player is faster and thus gives the game a more frenetic pace.  Several new systems have been introduced to the core gameplay mechanics.  As mentioned earlier the ammunition system which previously relied on Isaac carrying specific ammo for each weapon he was using has been ditched in favour of a new universal ammo system.  This is because of another new feature in the weapon crafting department.

Isaac can now pick up parts to create entirely new weapons on the fly.  Every weapon is crafted from three basic parts, frames, upper and lower tools.  The tools essentially dictate what type of weapon it will be.  Picking a military engine for example will have the weapon act like a pulse rifle.  A Tesla core will generate electrical attacks, while a diffusion cone will create a shotgun effect.  Lower tools are basically these weapon types, but they take the place of secondary fire types.  Grenade launchers, rocket launchers, flamers, sniper rifles, melee attachments and more are available.  The system is incredibly in depth and allows you to create a weapon for any situation you may encounter.  Although you can only carry 2 weapons at any one time, you effectively have 4 attack types with secondary weapons included.

Universal ammo works best here because having to stock literally hundreds of ammo variants in your workbench would be insane and would require constant micromanagement of every shot fired.  I personally didn't find this to detract from the experience, but others may find the more simplified inventory management breaking them out of the immersion.

Resource management is a new feature that may or may not be to your liking.  In the early chapters of play you will find a resource bot that will be capable of finding items for you in areas that have a distinct repeating sound.  The sound means that this is the best spot to drop your resource bot off while you go and shoot undead.  The bot will eventually return with a mixture of resources that range from scrap metal to tungsten to somatic gel and more.  Enemies drop these resources in abundance throughout play and they allow you to create items such as medkits, ammo, upgrade circuits for weapons and most importantly upgrade you RIG.

New necromorphs are still pretty disturbing
Gone are the days of finding circuit nodes to plug into your weapons and rigs.  All rigs in Dead space 3 have the same inventory space and no special quirks to them.  So it doesn't really matter what RIG you play with this time around, so long as you upgrade it.  I did find this to be a real setback for me because unlocking new rigs merely became a fashion choice rather than a tactical one.  Also the removal of the node system was a step backwards for me personally, as it made me focus more on how I wanted to play the game and made me scour every nook and cranny for those rare little discs.

Combat is faster now like Dead Space 2 with enemies closing the distance a lot quicker making combat feel more action than survival.  It also felt to me like tactical dismemberment had been dropped in favour of just pumping rounds into targets.  During co-op play enemies were notoriously difficult to slice up and the combat became more about spraying rounds into the body and watching parts of them inexplicably fly off like we had just shot them with a plasma cutter.  Although this doesn't detract from the combat it certainly feels now more than ever that picking your shots is a thing of the past.

Cooperative play is something that I really enjoyed here as a second player can join the fray as special forces operative John Carver a man with mental issues of his own for the Necromorph signal to manipulate.  It is only when playing with Carver that you experience any of the previous games dementia sequences.  The game changes slightly when Carver is around for certain quick time events, but his presence is felt most during the co-op only missions.  I don't agree with the developers cutting singleplayer gamers out in this way, but the missions are good and give you the chance to collect a fair number of resources and upgrades.  I am not entirely sure if the game scales the difficulty for 2 players or not as a majority of the encounters are fairly easy.

Dead Space 3 also feels like 2 games in one with the earlier space walking sections being the best parts as you fly between derelict flotilla ships to discover the grisly end of each ships crew.  It's these sections that you get that original dead space feeling.  The events on Tau Volantis are more like Titan stations corridor romps with plenty of vent shafts for enemies to spawn from.  It feels less epic in scale but does offer some unique scares for players new to the series.

Much has been made of the new human enemies in the form of Unitologists.  These enemies are only encountered a few times in game and it never takes long for the necromorphs to take centre stage again.  I think many players over exaggerate these encounters with Danik's group of personal crazies as the majority of time you will be facing space zombies in large numbers.  In fact Dead space 3 has virtually every necromorph enemy return at some point or another, barring the giant creatures in a sort of hideous nostalgia parade.

Graphically Dead Space 3 is pretty nice in that horror game sort of way.  The more horrific and grisly the monster the more impressive the visuals are.  They all animate well enough with most enemies being reminiscent of the Thing.  the environments can sometimes be cut and pasted a few too many times, although this makes sense since military installations and ships of the same type will all look the same internally, for a game it can come off as cheap.  Still the usual decor is creepy yet sci-fi and the atmosphere is maintained throughout the game.  Characters look to have had some improvement visually with Clarke and Carver being very expressive and detailed during the moments they don't have a helmet on.  The RIGs and weapons all look great and animate well.

Always nice to have a helping hand when a monster attacks
Dead space has always been about atmosphere and it doesn't fail here either when it comes to it's sound design.  Every ship and location on Tau Volantis has a feeling of dread and tense silence that permeates every corridor and room.  When the action gets going the necromorph threat still has it's unique set of sounds, although they no longer have the same impact as previous games for long time veterans.  Clarke and co. have plenty of dialogue all delivered with enough weight that it doesn't come off as cheap or hammy.

Overall Dead Space 3 is a worthwhile trip to take.  It has the same great singleplayer survival horror gameplay fans enjoyed but now has more options for gamers who prefer to have a buddy watch their back.  The new features are certainly polarising but they don't alter the game dramatically from it's core structure.  The combat has certainly bumped it to a more action oriented feel and thus loses some of that tension, but it isn't a reason to avoid this if you have played DS1 and DS2.

SCORE: 8.3/10


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