Dead Space 3 review
If the thought of being alone in the black depths of space gives you the chills, spare a thought for Isaac Clarke – he’s up there with a horde of alien Necromorphs that want to use his intestines as confetti. As the protagonist of Dead Space 3, he’s the only person able to prevent a cult uprising back on Earth and stop the alien Markers – the source of all his extra-terrestrial problems – from turning humanity into monsters.
That’s a tough job for a lowly space engineer with just a plasma cutter and a jet-propelled space suit, but at least this time there are friends along for the ride too. Of course, he's been here before in the unexpectedly-good Dead Space and also excellent Dead Space 2.
What starts as a rescue mission quickly dissolves into a manic escape attempt, with plenty of the series’ signature scares, brutal violence and claustrophobic orbiting death-traps to explore.
Dead Space has always been dark, but the third game turns it up a notch
You’re only occasionally given a breather in the form of free-floating spacewalk segments, which make for beautiful transitions between the dark and interior locations. Cutting out all game audio as you enter the vacuum of space, the views are incredible as you navigate in any direction using the thrusters built into your suit. It’s a welcome break from the horror that awaits you inside.
You’ll also spend a significant amount of time on terra firma – you might expect the opposite given its name, but a good two thirds of Dead Space 3 takes place on the planet Tau Volantis, a frozen wasteland which was abandoned 200 years ago after a Necromorph outbreak. It’s here that the bulk of the action takes place, with explosive set-pieces skirting the line between exciting adventure and on-rails monotony. Thankfully it manages to stay as the former, especially once you get the opportunity to go off exploring on your own.
Feeling a little cramped? Go for a space walk
Surprisingly, there are entire levels that can be ignored in favour of ploughing on with the story – these reward you with new items that would otherwise be missed in a direct run to the finish. In order to appeal to fans of action games as well as horror junkies, (appropriately-named) developer Visceral has completely revamped the weapon upgrade system, rewarding exploration with new items that can extend your arsenal the way you choose.
Rather than find entire weapons, you’re now able to craft items from scrap metal scavenged throughout the game, combining parts to design your own guns. In essence this works well - there are only two weapon slots now, but because you can give each weapon two firing modes, they can be incredibly flexible when it comes to dealing out red hot laser death. Ammunition is far easier to find, so you rarely feel like you’re about to run dry when facing off against a horde of enemies, but the sheer number of raw materials needed to upgrade certain weapons can be a major grind.
Sometimes you've just got to get your hands dirty
Slightly more dubious is the ability to buy any weapon or item as a micro-transaction – if you lack the parts to build a particular weapon, you can buy it using real-world cash. We didn’t use the system at all during our playthrough, although there were points when certain upgrades were only just out of our reach and we can see how some players would be tempted to pay their way to a bigger arsenal. For the most part, simple exploration and looting fallen enemies will earn you enough raw materials to experiment at least once every time you reach a weapon upgrade bench, so you can spend the next section of gameplay deciding whether a new gun is working out.
Although the game engine hasn’t really evolved from the previous entry, Dead Space 3 still looks fantastic on the PC thanks to the gorgeously atmospheric lighting engine. You spend a lot of time in almost total darkness, with only the green glow of your suit’s visor and your weapons’ torch beam illuminating your surroundings, but the snowy outdoor sequences are equally impressive – even if they do detract from the horror of the original.
A plasma cutter is the only way to negotiate with Necromorphs
Dead Space 2 introduced competitive multiplayer to the series, but the developers have ditched it in favour of cooperative gameplay. Although not very original, taking major design cues from the Left 4 Dead games, we think a refined multiplayer mode would have worked well with the new weapon customisation system, so it’s a bit of a shame to see it left out here. Even so, the co-op mode does attempt some clever storytelling with different perspectives once you get going – which can take a while, as the somewhat clunky system forces you to wait for a partner that’s not already in their own single player campaign. It’s much less scary taking down monsters with a friend, although the game occasionally forces one of you to solve a puzzle while the partner has to cover them – it’s really only here that you feel vulnerable to a full-on Necromorph assault.
Even if you choose to stick to the single player game, there’s a generous amount of gameplay to be found – avoid the optional missions and it will still take around 16 hours to complete on normal difficulty. Completionists can expect at least 20 hours to see everything.
Isaac has certainly come a long way in three games
With extended action sequences, new areas to explore and a fast-paced storyline, Dead Space 3 feels like a very different game to its predecessors. Series fans will want to play it to see how Isaac’s story concludes and the cooperative gameplay manages to avoid diluting the main game. The weapon changes work for the most part, although it’s difficult to commend a system that encourages micro-transactions in a single player, fully-priced game. That said, there’s plenty of content included to make you feel you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s not perfect, but it’s the most accessible Dead Space yet.