Chris Cooper reviews Dead Space 3...
As I sit down to write this I am filled with conflict. To say it's driving me mad could be a push, but maybe I'm starting to feel like Isaac Clarke as I figure things out.
The first Dead Space was amazing. It not only filled the hole left in my gaming life when Resident Evil stopped being Survival Horror, but the strategic dismemberment was fresh, and I spent most of it shitting my pants with no ammo. Spot on.
Dead Space 2 on the other hand, was jarring. EA clearly smelt a franchise, and wanted to open it up to a wider audience. Cue bigger set pieces and more action. It was still a great game, but I was gutted that I was losing my survival horror again.
So now we have the third entry in the franchise. What I find so confusing about the whole affair is that I do still really enjoy playing these games, even though they seem to enjoy f*cking around with my expectations.
As I was expecting the game to dive further down the path set out by part 2, I didn't feel particular put out. I did end up spending most of the game quite happy as I skulked along corridors, shot the legs out from under more and more nasty necromorphs, and found out what 'make us whole' means.
The game is just beautiful, and stands on the shoulders of its prequels to become one of the shining examples of graphical detail this generation. Isaac's HUD still remains as strong a design point as ever, though the eyes of all the characters can look a bit dead at times. The new setting of ice planet Tau Volantis makes for a good change in scenery, and those worried about a lack of tight corridors have nothing to worry about.
The gameplay is pretty much the same, with several big additions. The first is co-op. I played the game in single player, so can't go far into it. All I will say is there is nothing to wrench you out of the mood of a game like a door saying 'co-op only'. Boo.
The second change is you now build your weapons at the bench as opposed to buying them. Now this was at first confusing but I grew to really like it; and I soon ended up with a weapon that perfectly suited my play style.
Finally, we now have human enemies. Though they aren't stupid, taking cover and sometimes trying to rush me; they weren't much of a challenge, being innately more fragile than the necromorphs.
So it's got the looks and it's got the moves. So why am I so confused?
Well, once I realised I could purchase copious amounts of ammo at benches, it all became quite a bit easier, and very much like a shooting gallery. I got stuck a few times, but it only required a bit of perseverance. Not really a challenge. So I'd suggest popping it on hard.
Isaac seems far more switched on and less unhinged, which is a shame. Something has been lost in his transformation from troubled engineer muddling his way through to all action hero. I'm no game designer, so I can't say how this would have been avoided. Though the voice acting throughout the game is great, I can't shake a feeling that perhaps Isaac should have stayed silent, as in the fist game (who knows if that could have worked out though).
These problems can be worked around. The final (and biggest) problem cannot.
The story was padded out. It took me roughly 12 hours to complete the 19 chapters on normal difficulty. It could easily have been shortened by about 6 chapters and you'd have had a tighter story. Following along the same lines, the ending is rubbish! I was expecting a big pay off after three games. I was left disappointed.
At this point I'll touch briefly on the DLC, Awakened. For 800 Microsoft Points, it's an utter rip off. Recycled areas and not even an hours worth of play are just not worth it. Even worse, it is clichéd to hell, with an ending that not only sets up more games, but makes that 12 hours spent on the campaign seem a bloody waste. Frustrating.
If Dead Space 3 is a sign of how things are going, then I have concerns. Like Resident Evil before, it became popular through a mix of clever design, interesting story and edge of your seat survival horror. If anything Dead Space did it better in places. But history is repeating itself, and this franchise is also attempting to branch out and cover more demographics, which is to its detriment.
Dead Space 3 is far from a bad game, and I genuinely enjoyed playing it. It is a graphical showcase, and I don't complete games in a week if I don't enjoy playing them. But the franchise is forgetting what made it awesome in the first place.