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Dead Space 3

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Visceral Games
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I admire Dead Space 3. I'm not head over heels for it like I am for its predecessors, but I appreciate it for what it tries to do. Note that the operative word is "tries;" Dead Space 3 is a Dead Space experience through and through, but it does a number of things differently this time around. Some are excellent. Others, not so much. Still, it's Dead Space, and if you're a fan of the series, you should still pick this one up.

The Dead Space series is one that started off at the top of the hill in terms of visual quality, and it's pretty much stayed where it's at for both of its sequels. Technically, Dead Space 3 is just as impressive as Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Artistically and creatively, it isn't. The USG Ishimura and Titan Station were prime examples of how to create an immersive setting in a horror-themed game. The Ishimura's modular design and the urban chaos of the Sprawl were consistent and fascinating. Dead Space 3 handicaps itself by giving us two primary settings: a series of derelict spaceships and the icy world of Tau Volantis. Unfortunately, neither of these places have much in the way of personality.

Dead Space 3's sound design is excellent almost across the board. If someone's doing violence in this world, you'll hear it before you see it. Necromorphs can sound like movie monsters, agonized human beings, or dinosaurs, depending on the type. That being said, the sound of gore splattering all over the walls and floor is unmistakable, regardless of who or what it belongs to. The silence of space is also emphasized -- much like in the previous games. The act of firing your weapons is made all the more violent by the harsh, nasty sound effects that accompany each pulling of the trigger. Voice acting is hit-or-miss; Isaac is still a pretty boring hero, Ellie is just an English chick, and her new boy toy Captain Norton is incapable of saying or doing anything positive. The villain, Jacob Danik, is a strange one -- kind of a hippy dippy Jim Jones or David Koresh.


Gameplay:

Dead Space 2's ending featured a smiling Isaac Clarke. And really, the poor guy needed a reason to smile. In the events that preceded it, he fought off a violent and mindbreaking form of dementia, faced down his personal demons, and struggled to escape the double threat of necromorphs and EarthGov soldiers. Oh, and he was forced to slowly guide a six-inch needle through the center of his eye and into his corrupted brain. So it was truly a relief to see him escape the Sprawl with a new potential love interest in tow. Well, we don't get to see Isaac at his best, as Dead Space 3 opens up some three years later -- and Isaac is closer to rock bottom than we've ever seen. The sad sack is hiding in a rundown apartment on the moon, and he's probably hitting the bottle hard. However, an EarthGov battalion consisting of Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver show up and enlist his help in locating the now-missing Ellie Langford and her team. Things don't go as planned -- a radically violent Unitologist group led by the psychopathic Jacob Danik seem to believe that Isaac's existence is preventing Convergence from occurring. It turns out, Ellie's team seems to have located the source of the outbreak-causing markers: the harsh ice world Tau Volantis. In terms of storytelling, Dead Space 3 is easily the weakest installment in the series. The characters aren't as memorable, the plot isn't as easy to follow, and you'll see certain twists coming a mile away. It admittedly tarnishes the series, but thankfully doesn't ruin it.

Dead Space 3 plays almost exactly like its predecessors, but there are some changes in the basic gameplay. For starters, there's much more freedom in this game. Dead Space and Dead Space 2 were heavily guided experiences. Dead Space 3 lets Isaac off the leash; whether he's in space or on Tau Volantis, he can wander off the beaten path and take on a number of optional missions, each of which promises its own rewards.

Another major change is the inclusion of cooperative play. Most everything is better with a friend, and it's fun to slaughter necromorphs and Unitologists at someone else's side. The only problem here is the character. John Carver might be my least favorite character in the entire Dead Space saga, and I've seen the direct-to-video animated films. His actions, backstory, and attitude all point to one immutable fact: he is a bad father, a bad husband, and an all-around bad person. The one good thing that comes of this is the different experience he offers the player. There are moments in Dead Space 3 that can only be experienced as Carver, and others that can only be experienced by Clarke. The gameplay makes the case for the cooperative play well enough, but these little additions are the icing on the cake.


Difficulty:

On its default setting, Dead Space 3 is far too easy. If you run around each room mashing on the (A) button, the chances are high that you'll pick up at least three health kits and even more ammunition clips. This absolutely kills the sense of dread on Normal difficulty. Luckily, the more difficult settings require a more resourceful mindset. Especially Pure Survival mode, where you must construct the supplies you need with the ingredients you find. Hard Core mode returns as well, but with a twist. You can save an infinite number of times, but once you're dead, your saves are gone.

Game Mechanics:

It wouldn't be Dead Space without Strategic Dismemberment. Dead Space 3 doesn't really offer any improvements on the combat, but it's probably a difficult thing to do, since the combat has been so consistently satisfying since the inception of the franchise. The snapping of limbs and spraying of an unspeakably disgusting assortment of bodily fluids is classic Dead Space, and several of the enemies have found new ways to keep you on edge. Of course, if they're boss monsters, just keep aiming for the yellow spots.

Dead Space 3's biggest surprise lies in its robust and well-designed weapon crafting system. In previous games, Isaac simply rooted around for Power Nodes, which could be soldered onto his RIG and weapons to improve their functionality. Dead Space 3 throws that out the window and introduces something much more freeform. As you wander the ship graveyards and snowy landscapes, you'll find raw materials and special parts. These materials and parts can be used to build weapons and upgrade your RIG. Building a weapon is as simple as selecting a number of parts to use as frames and tool tips. Once you're done with that, you can use upgrade circuits to modify statistical bonuses and penalties. The possibilities are enough to keep you playing for a long time; the developers have added some cleverly-named blueprints of their own for you to follow if you don't feel like being creative.

Dead Space 3 is a good game that doesn't quite live up to its own brand. Its vision isn't as cohesive and its storytelling is below the mark. That being said, it's still a ton of fun to play, whether you're on your own or with a friend.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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