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Review: Dead Space 3, free falling through terror, together

(As we played the game in co-op, we felt that it was only fair to do likewise with the review. Unfortunately while writing this article we often got our bits and pieces tangled,so forgive us if you can’t tell who is saying what!)

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It will be terror filled they said, you will need a partner they said. (Co-oping with Lola is a terror filled experience in itself. The 50 times she drove our Warthog of a cliff in Halo is a testament to that.)

So in fearful anticipation for my review of Dead Space 3, I called on a friend to take down the terror together. I mean all dat hype! I was getting ready to have nightmares and suffer from temporary dementia during my review time in the game.

I did not.

Instead, I had a ball of a time shooting the crap out of mean mother**ing looking aliens. The environment in Dead Space 3 is brilliant, the physics spectacular, and then there are…the space flights in shiny suits.

My partner for this mission was Chris “Turkish” Smithard. As a typical Alpha male specimen, he insisted on playing as the main lead, Isaac Clarke, and I played as the sidekick, John Carver. Here follows our tale of blood, gore and “I look better in a space suit than you”. In hindsight the characters we played fit our personalities perfectly. Isaac is a bit of an emotional unwilling hero, whilst Carver is your typical get the job done hardass.

Since Turkish is known for his tendency to get terribly excited when under attack, hence misfiring and because I am a girl and everyone knows girls can’t aim, we started on normal difficulty. The aliens were laughably stupid, the tension non-existent and the game just downright boring. So we amped things up to hard core mode and got our amputation adventure underway.

The story: What story?

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Isaac getting emo after Ellie dumps him

Having played the previous two titles in the series I didn’t exactly have high hopes for the story, and Dead Space 3 completely met our expectation in this regard. To put it bluntly, the story feels like a footnote that serves little more than to keep the action sequences loosely connected.

The game begins with a prologue occurring 200 years in the past, with two somewhat arbitrary soldiers being sent to the Hoth-like planet Tau Volantis in search of a mysterious device called the Codex. One of the two soldiers eventually manages to retrieve the codex and returns it to his commanding officer, General Mahad. At this point Mahad inexplicably guns down the soldier before taking his own life.

Jump forward 200 years to two months after the events of the Sprawl Incident (Dead Space 2). The scene begins with Isaac listening to a message left by his DS2 love interest Ellie Langford – stating that she had moved on from their initial horror filled fling. Isaac is suddenly confronted by Carver and his superior Captain Robert Norton, who, coincidentally, is Ellie’s new romantic connection (what are the odds right). Norton tells Isaac that Ellie needs his help for a mission she is on, involving – you guessed it – the Markers and the Codex. This sets into motion a series of events that sees Isaac fleeing from a group of radical Unitologists known as the Inner Circle, travelling half way across the galaxy to yet another wrecked space ship in search of Ellie, and ultimately back to the Marker home world Tau Volantis.

As I alluded to earlier, the story is a bit of a disappointment and at times it is extremely contrived. To compound matters, Isaac is often sent on errands (in the guise of super-important missions) that seem to have no purpose other than to extend the games total play time. This made the game feel overlong as these errands quickly became extremely repetitive, often requiring Isaac and Carver to go from point A to B and retrieve some item.

Apart from the main story, players are given the option, to pursue a number of side quests. These missions felt like a waste of time as they offered little reward in terms of story progression/context or loot. In fact, they often left you short of ammo and health packs.Finally, we have the love triangle between Ellie, Isaac, and Norton. This is easily the biggest sore point of the game. It’s as if some EA executive told the dev team, “We need more emotion, we need a love triangle, the game needs romance to sell.” It’s so out of place, forced, and totally fails to evoke any emotional response. Instead, it became such an annoyance that we often found ourselves wishing that a Necromorph would spontaneously appear during the cut-scenes featuring Norton and Ellie and kill the two of them.

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Isaac finds this a bit snore inducing, finds a coach, goes to sleep.

But honestly, this isn’t meant to be a story driven game, it’s all about brutality and co-op killing! Dead Space 3 certainly excels in this regard.

Gameplay: Co-operative dismemberment

Dead Space 3 takes a markedly divergent course from its two predecessors, making the shift from survival horror to a brilliantly executed action based third person shooter. As mentioned earlier, this game is all about killing, and it does it so well and so stylishly that one can easily overlook its other flaws. Gone is the scare fest, ammo deprived, tunnel crawler and in its place we are presented with a game that equips you with an arsenal of ridiculously creative and fun weapons (more on the weapons later) and then throws hoard upon hoard of Necromorphs in your line of sight. There are few things more satisfying than taking the legs off a pack of Slashers or Twichers with your line gun and following that up with a few devastating survey charge shots (read grenade launcher).

The addition of co-op was a spark of genius from the development team and is definitely one of the game’s biggest selling points. Playing Dead Space 3 in co-op mode is the best way to play. The only reason that someone would want to play it in single-player mode is for an increase is the fright factor, but since the game is a bit weak in that department, that argument falls flat. But as I said, Dead Space 3 isn't meant to be a survival horror game, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Although to be fair, the devs have managed to retain an element of tension. We often found ourselves anxiously grasping our mice as we made our way through a dimply lit corridor in anticipation of being flocked by yet another Necromorph horde.

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Co-op goodness, but Carver sure is an ugly mofo

Playing with a partner adds tremendous value to the experience. I lost count of the number of times I found myself laughing my head off at Lola either blowing me or herself up, doing a full on face-plant against oncoming debris in one of the many flight sequences, or as she yelled during the few scary moments. (I am sure you screamed in your heart okay). On a more serious note, players are forced to work together to progress through the game. You can’t simply stand in one place and finish off your enemies. Combat situations quickly turned from just being the usual run of the mill shoot ‘em up into an intricately coordinated surgery.

This is especially true of the boss fights. Beating these mega aliens requires the use of a puzzle type mechanic. As we often do in real life, Turkish and I swop roles when we game. He is more female-like and I am more, well, aggressive and trigger happy. I can’t multitask, so Turkish had to do the thinking, solve, and implement the take-down-plan while I ran around shooting at everything that moved (and even things that were dead [and even things that were crates]). If you don’t coordinate the boss fights with your partner, then be assured, the alien shall have you.

For the usual horde, we found that balancing the correct weapons between our combined arsenals was essential. We’d make turns in slowing a creature down with stasis; I’d slice off our enemies’ legs to slow them down to a belly crawl, and Lola would finish them off with a gore splattered volley to the head from her beloved shottie.

From a technical perspective, the gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. The controls scheme is extremely responsive (no more mouse smoothing thank goodness!) and well thought out, with the camera never obscuring the action. But there are a few glitches scattered throughout the game: one often gets stuck while running across certain terrain, co-operative sequences such as puzzles and set-piece events are often difficult to activate (how hard can it be to walk up to a console and press ‘E’), and Lola often found herself stuck in aim mode – having to completely exit the game to resolve the issue.

Engineering trials: failures and successes

Failcakes for puzzles

Apart from the forced emotion in the story, one of the biggest let-downs is the excruciating, boring, and repetitive puzzles. Isaac is meant to be an engineer, please treat him as such dammit. The puzzles present no challenge whatsoever and feel like an afterthought. Co-op puzzles are something we rarely get to experience in a first-person shooter (FPS) - this could have been an element that set Dead Space 3 apart. Do better next time Visceral.

The workbench, weapons, and suit kiosk

The workbench and suit kiosk system received a major upgrade, with the former being a master stroke, and the latter being, well, nothing really. Let’s start with the workbench. The weapons upgrade system was essentially scrapped and replaced with an excellent crafting mechanic. The workbench allows players to mix and match many of the crazy weapons components from the previous two games (plus a few new additions) into some extremely devastating combinations.

The weapons have a variety of upgrades and attachments; you can craft these as you pick up the components as you progress through the game either by making use of the pre-set blueprints or you can experiment to your heart’s desire. For example, the rip saw can be combined with a flamethrower, or you can make a line gun that fires tesla rounds. One of the best additions to the weapons collection is easily the shotgun (I mean what’s a zombie shooter without a shotgun right?). As you can imagine being a bit disadvantaged in the aim department, Lola (being a girl and a cyclopes) was rather impartial to this gun.

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Lola typically crafted weapons that reminded her of her rave days

The new crafting system along with the hoard style of gameplay really adds a lot of needed variety -it’s just plain fun putting together several forms of weapons combinations and finding out how they perform against the different forms of Necromorph you are likely to encounter.

On to the suit kiosk: Suites (or rigs) can be swopped for different models, but this is for aesthetic purposes only – a change of wardrobe at best. The kiosk also allows you to upgrade things such as your suits armor, hit-points, and air supply (the upgrades are retained if you change your suite). The air-supply upgrades are a total waste as the airless environments are so few and far between that one never actually realizes the benefit. Secondly, we didn’t really feel we had to upgrade any of the other aspects as we never really struggled to progress with our vanilla rigs. Sure, we upgraded our hit-points and armour ever so slightly, but in hindsight those resources were perhaps better spent on weapons crafting!

(I actually upgraded my suit’s health and armour extensively, so that might explain why Turkish had better weapons than me. It also might be the reason why he kept dying :P)

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My rig was obviously better, its gold ffs, but it itches like hell!

Faptastic Audio-Visuals

One of the highlights of Dead Space 3 is the absolutely exquisitely created environment that the story plays out in, and sharing that with a fellow gamer lover made the experience richer.

One moment you are crawling through dark, bloodied hallways that tell the tale of battles lost and lives brutally snatched away in soundless screams for help. The next you are taken across the wide open expanses of the Tau Volantis ice-flows. Either way death echoes around every corner. Mutilated equipment scattered around in futile protest against an alien presence seeping uninvited through its broken electronic limbs. Gore, horror and unspeakable terror are splattered everywhere, evidence of the superiority of an invader over an inferior species…humanity lost.

Once again, the developers really did a fantastic job with introducing a new concept like outdoor environments. The constant snow ensures that the outdoor environments manage to retain that claustrophobic feel, limiting ones vision to a few paces ahead of the character.

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Some of the fantastic environments you will encounter

The different sets in Dead Space 3 tell the story better than the cut scenes and scattered audio logs. As you enter each new area, the story unfolds by just looking around at the environment. Whether you are flying around in space between scattered shipwrecks, or finding cover in a broken down laboratory or running along the edge of a snow covered peak, the Dead Space story seeps through every particle. I can recommend playing the game just to get lost in the landscape of Dead Space 3.

Closing thoughts

Should you buy Dead Space 3?

A resounding YES from the both of us! Whilst not necessarily as terrifying or as polished as the first two installments, the inclusion of co-op and the new crafting system more than make up for this. It might not be as terror filled as its predecessors, but Dead Space 3 is a damn fun game in its own right.

Playing the game in co-op genuinely adds an extra dimension to the experience, and as we said, it’s so well executed that this is perhaps the only way to experience Dead Space 3. Furthermore, it seems like Visceral have added a bit of a value for money element into the mix, with the campaign taking us just over 20 hours to complete (and we only did about half of the side missions). The devs have also followed a growing trend by including a New Game + feature which allows you to restart the game on a harder difficulty setting (once you’ve completed the campaign), whilst still retaining your gear and upgrades.

Dead Space 3 is a fantastic experience, even more so if shared with a friend. We strongly recommend you pick up this game and buddy up with a friend to experience all dismembering goodness that the game has to offer!

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