Dead Space 3 trades in traditional scares for visceral action

Is it justifiable for the third instalment in a reasonably popular series to partially abandon its roots in an attempt to reach out to new players? Well, yes, I suppose. But what if your marketing continues to target your existing fan base, and with said abandonment of roots, alienates existing fans that mockingly compare your game to on-rails shooters? Okay, that’s avoidable. And that’s exactly what Dead Space 3 achieves. It isn’t a bad game — not by any stretch of imagination. Its (partial) reinvention sees it take the shape of an interesting science fiction shooter, trading in spine tingling chills for visceral action. Dead Space’s fiction has always been interesting — the latest iteration sees the size and scope of its universe expanded substantially. This is always a good thing, even if you don't always agree with the methods.

The game starts off two hundred years before the series’ established timeline, in Tau Volantis, an ice planet, where two (or one if you're playing solo) SCAF military personnel are in pursuit of a “Codex” for a Dr. Serrano — a mysterious object which contains even more mysterious data. You’re not sure what it is exactly, but the fact that it probably has something to do with everyone’s favourite structure, the Marker, and that is incentive enough. Needless to say, stuff starts to go wrong, and then stuff starts to go really wrong. Before you know it, you’re back in the present, being reintroduced to protagonist Isaac Clarke, who is both hiding out in a lunar colony while feeling sorry for himself at the same time. This is when he is interrupted by two EarthGov officers, who break it to him that the Unitologists (worshippers of the Marker) are on the verge of overthrowing the establishment. What follows is a single or co-op adventure (with the second player taking control of Carver, one of the EarthGov soldiers) — drop-in/drop-out play is supported as well.

The approach to horror is a little different this time around. The traditional scares offered by games such as Resident Evil or even the first Dead Space for that matter, are nowhere to be found. There are no more lumbering advances by creatures twice your size coupled with ammo scarcity delivering the heebie-jeebies, it’s the general gruesome brutality that’s taking the reigns this time around. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t seem to have worked — enemy spawn points are predictable, while the enemies themselves don't take a lot of punishment. You don’t need to hold back on the trigger finger either, having been offered the freedom to unleash barrage after barrage of gunfire thanks to some generous drops and ability to craft ammo. Which brings us to the all-new workbench. Developers Visceral Games have added a tonne of features to the workbench — each weapon can be outfitted with a variety of attachments and upgrades, while new weapons can be crafted from scratch if you've got the blueprints. This adds an additional layer of depth that feels logical, given that Isaac is a space engineer.

The game controls very well. The clumsiness associated with traditional survival-horror games is nowhere to be found — the change feels right. Gunplay feels more like it would in a third-person shooter, while Isaac and Carver can roll sideways to avoid attacks. It really does feel that Isaac has finally come of age, with his newfound dexterity, well-stocked arsenal and complete lack of fear. In many ways, this is what you hoped he would turn into at the end of the first game.

Dead Space 3 is more disturbing than it is scary, and this new approach may not be for everyone. But the action is great — probably the best the series has seen so far. The game does look fantastic as well, with the zero-G space sections in particular providing an unparalleled sense of atmosphere. The game is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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