Issac Clarke Returns...With A Buddy!
Written by Super User
Published Saturday, 09 February 2013 19:00
After a disappointing Resident Evil 6 and a surprisingly great ZombiU, I was just as confused about the future of horror games as you might be. On one side of the spectrum, you see franchises becoming more action oriented and losing the essence of what made their games so special in the first place. On the other hand, certain developers seem to be trying to revive the survival horror genre and hearken back to its roots. Considering how the Dead Space franchise was always firmly rooted in action mechanics, where does Visceral Games stand on the issue with their flagship series? The answer lies in this new chapter of the saga.
Dead Space 3 picks up right after the events of Dead Space 2. This time, we find our friend Isaac Clarke slowly creeping his way up to the very source of the Necromorph attack as he fights his way through the toughest horde he’s faced yet. After escaping the Titan Sprawl in the second game, Isaac and Ellie find themselves on Tau Volantis, a frozen planet which is infested by Necromorphs. Confused? Have no fear- if you haven’t played the other games in the series, this one offers to bring you up to speed with a short introduction video.
"While the buzz surrounding the game brought fear to a lot of the series’ veteran players over the past few months, I’m happy to report that the final product is a near-perfect balance of classic Dead Space and action-oriented gameplay."
First of all, let me get one thing out of the way. I’ve been a huge fan of the series over the years, as it almost single-handedly carried the torch of the entire horror genre throughout this console cycle. Upon hearing about some of the changes that EA wanted to implement to the series with this title - namely co-op and more action-oriented sequences - I was just as worried as I’m sure many of you were. Upon booting up DS3 for the first time, I found very little incentive to quell my fears. The game initially presented itself as an Uncharted-like thrill ride with little to no tension and a fairly small amount of possible interaction. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a bad clone of other familiar games, but the breath of fresh air that the first game was for me in 2008 seemed to have dissipated. Going from set-piece to set-piece, there’s no denying that I was having a lot of fun roaming through these surprisingly brightly lit environments, but I simply didn’t feel like I was playing anything particularly original or breathtaking. I even encountered a few human enemies who - gasp - actually shot back at me! What was this game I was playing? It was fun, no doubt, but wasn’t it supposed to be Dead Space 3? A tense, horror-themed experience meant to make your skin crawl and provide a much different type of thrills? Worried, I played some more. Soon after, the moment came.
Here I was, face to face with a proper, nasty looking beast in a suddenly much darker indoor area. My instincts developed from playing other Dead Space games quickly came back to me as I shot my predator in the leg, dismembering it. But that leg grew back. No matter how many times I shot it, it would always come back. I had no choice… I had to run. I quickly got lost in a maze of dimly lit, tight corridors. My stress level was rising. I then remembered I had access to my very useful stasis unit which let me slow down anything I aimed it at. I pointed it at my enemy and cut off its legs while it was recovering from its dose of time-altering poison. I found my way through the maze only to come face to face with a locked door. I had to use my kinesis ability to unlock it, but that was a slow process, and my enemy was about to come back from its frozen state. I used the last bit of stasis I still had to slow him down further, taking the time to carefully dismember each of his limbs before rushing back to the door, this time unlocking it right on time.
From that sequence until much later in the game, I encountered a variety of similarly stressful situations. Some were more set-piece driven, while others were relying on tension, exploration, and puzzle-solving. It became clear to me that the essence of Dead Space was left mostly intact; they had simply added more variety to the mix. The puzzles could have used a little bit of work, as they were largely uninspired and easy to solve, but the developers have crafted the best zero-g segments of the entire series, while refinements made to the gunplay make the controls feel as tight and responsive as they ever were. The combat is just as satisfying as you’d expect it to be, with more aggressive enemies and a greater array of weapons, the iconic strategic dismemberment mechanics really shine in Dead Space 3. On the other hand, fighting human enemies feels unnecessary and dull (thanks in part to a broken cover system), but it doesn’t occur more than a few times throughout the whole game.
The single player campaign makes no compromises. It delivers everything you’ve come to expect from a Dead Space game while including several improvements. The expected action-heavy sequences provide a nice change of pace in-between the tense, more demanding sections, while the expert pacing makes them feel well integrated into the overall experience. To top it all off, the game offers a ton of content. While the replayability factor is hurt by the linearity of Visceral’s effort, your initial run through the campaign’s 19 chapters can last as long as 18 hours, which is above and beyond anything the previous games in the series have ever offered, and well above the industry average for this type of game. To add to it, there’s even a variety of side missions this time around, and they’re all very interesting as they even allow you to unlock some new parts for the weapon crafting system.
This little addition is a major one in DS3. The old weapon upgrading system from the first two games has been replaced with a much deeper, much more engaging crafting system that lets you build and upgrade your own weapons from scratch. Throughout the game and, as mentioned, during side missions, you’ll find several “parts” which let you create weapons as well as items and suit upgrades for Isaac.
The much talked about co-op mode which was added in this installment is a much better multiplayer component than the competitive feature that was found in Dead Space 2. Not only does it add an interesting twist to the single player campaign, but it can change the dynamics and the way you approach each encounter when you have a friend along for the ride. For those of you who wish to have a more personal experience, you can rest assured as the added feature is non-intrusive and has no impact on the single player portion of the game. No, you won’t have an A.I. partner following you the whole way through. Isaac can remain mostly unaccompanied throughout the campaign, leaving the sense of dread and isolation intact.
On the other side of things, there’s obviously some negative aspects brought forward by some of the changes they’ve made. For one, the game is way too easy, and once the difficulty finally ramps up, the game ends. The new auto-save system certainly can make things less frustrating than they were in the past, but you’re simply not going to be as scared for your life this time around. The second thing is that while the first half of the game remains almost entirely true to the classic Dead Space experience, the second half takes things in a somewhat different direction. Apart from the slightly larger amount of action sequences, the game also takes you through a lot of open-ended areas that are mostly brightly lit and a radical departure from the usual corridors a Dead Space game offers. Despite the initial shock, I quickly realized that I didn’t mind it too much. Sure, many people may feel like it denatures the style of the game, but given the fact that the campaign is almost twice as long as that of previous entries, it simply felt right to switch things around a bit after a long and satisfying first half.
Personally, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it denatures the experience. To me, it felt like it expanded upon it. I always described Dead Space as an action-adventure game set in a horror setting. While the first half remains true to the theme established in the first two games, the second half introduces a new theme that still remains a part of the horror spectrum. It’s more open ended, you’re swarmed with enemies instead of being encouraged to focus on 1-on-1 encounters, and the level design is much different, but at that point in the game it feels like a welcome change of pace rather than a burden. Still, though, there’s no denying that some of the additions they’ve made make the game feel a little bit less special than its predecessors. I’ll be the first to say that we don’t need every game to be the same, but it would be unfair to say Dead Space 3 has nothing special to offer in the end.
On the technical side of things, the good people at Visceral have delivered what could be their most ambitious and well-realized game yet. While the graphical quality seems largely unchanged from the second installment, it’s obvious that a lot of work was put into bringing the game world to life. Animations are smoother and more credible, voice acting is better than ever, environments are more varied and the art design matches the level design as some of the best the series has known. They’ve really outdone themselves with this one. All of it runs at an impeccable framerate on consoles and never seems to dive down to lower levels. The sound work is also pitch-perfect, as usual. I strongly urge anyone who can play with headphones on to do so as it truly makes the frightful moments stand out even more.
While the buzz surrounding the game brought fear to a lot of the series’ veteran players over the past few months, I’m happy to report that the final product is a near-perfect balance of classic Dead Space and action-oriented gameplay. Sure, the puzzle sections could use some work, and fighting human enemies seems unnecessary, but these are relatively small complaints in comparison to the merits of the overall package. Dead Space 3 remains true to the series’ legacy while making just enough changes to freshen up the experience without alienating long-time fans. In the end, what we get is a fantastic treat to start off this promising year in gaming.
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