BEIJING, March 1, 2013 - With the recent release of this year’s mildly anticipated Dead Space 3, many should be reminded of the once popular and innovative genre of survival horror. Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, once pedestals of the genre, have to some degree crumbled and more so evolved into more fiscally sound action titles. The release of the original Dead Space was refreshing, unique, innovation and it remains perhaps the best survival horror game of all time; the sequel Dead Space 2, not so much, but it was still a great game. So how does the third installment stack up? First I must digress.
This generation of consoles has seen the conception of several prominent new franchises, Gears of War in the third person shooter genre, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted for action – adventure and RPGs like Heavy Rain and the juggernaut that is Mass Effect. Even an older franchise like Call of Duty was reborn and improved upon first person shooters albeit among naysayers that cry “sellout” or “copycat” Call of Duty has elevated the prowess and fiscal relevance of the gaming industry; the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has out grossed every film in history, except two: Titanic and Avatar, “Damn you, James Cameron.”
Though amid the ever growing precision and maturity among first person shooters, action titles and RPGs, survival horror seems to be in a recession; there are not only less of these game but less quality in the few games that are actually released. For this reason Dead Space shoulders the enormous and near impossible feat of helping the genre to ‘survive’.
In the first game and its sequel the story has always been on par with a straight-to-DVD sci-fi plot. An ancient alien artifact is found on Earth, causes chaos and unable to destroy it we hide it from ourselves on a far away planet. Our descendants find it hundreds of years later and make the same old mistakes. Yet one thing those games did well was to keep the narrative woven into the game play which is something most fans of the series appreciated. No Metal Gear-esque cut scenes to shift from game-mode into a film-mode, just seamless game play. The latest version of Dead Space, while keeping true to this formula, has the worst story by far.
Dead Space 3 is less connected to the first two games, the story seems to be more of the same and the writers do little to explain the political rise of the antagonist sect in the story or give the supporting characters much depth. As a protagonist Isaac Clarke has always been soft spoken, which is why gamers love him, like Halo’s Master Chief, he is embodied by the player and your character is his. Thus Dead Space has always been a game made strong by its supporting cast but the other characters are so two dimensional that they make Isaac appear ‘Imax 3D’. Apart from directions to the next task or the occasional dialogue to create tension that comes off very forced these characters are more or less not there.
Dead Space’s presentation has always been top notch. The first game was years ahead of its time, pushing the limits of the Xbox in its second year in release and is still one of the sexiest games on the system. The second game upped the ante slightly, though with the first games graphics already at a peak there wasn’t much further to climb. The third installment though drops the ball… picks it up on occasion then drops it again.
Certain backdrops and set pieces are jaw dropping, glistening with detail and at moments a squint away from photo-realism. Unfortunately this attention to detail comes at the forfeit of ignoring others. Pixilation, slowing frame rates and on a few occasions, fortunately just a few, characters walk through each other. The game was pushed faster than its predecessors and it shows. The seesaw of refined vista, beautiful gore against half-assed environments ejects the player from the world of the game.
Game play is where Dead Space usually shines and this game does a commendable job though again it comes up short when compared to its predecessors. Though the basic mechanics remain, the game suffers because of the lightning quick enemies. Unlike previous games where the necromorphs crept eerily and mostly slowly towards Isaac, they’ve learned to sprint in the third game and this is definitely not a good thing. Cutting limbs, shooting amputated body parts, staples of the first two games are now out the window, there’s no time; it’s just shoot – shoot – shoot. Dead Space 3 appears to drifting towards the action genre in this sense, going the way of titles like Resident Evil.
Set pieces on the other hand are handled amazingly. From racing against an avalanche or escaping an exploding space vessel, Dead Space 3 upholds the name of the EA franchise for best set pieces since Uncharted 3. There are moments that are so fantastic graphically and game play wise that one seems to literally play though a movie’s action sequence. These moments offer glimpses of the potential greatness of the game and disappoint even more when it falls short of those heights.
New to Dead Space in this installment is the ‘create your own weapon’ option. The functionality of this option takes some getting used to but when you do it becomes space-age-weapon pornography of the most grotesque type… (that’s a good thing). Two weapons in one, from shot guns to plasma cutters, the number of weapon combinations is seemingly endless and almost a fun mini game in itself. These upgrades offer more innovative ways to kill making one wonder if there will be also be a weapons ban in the 24th century.
Also new to Dead Space is the co-op mode. Does having a partner in crime take away from the horror of the game? Not at all. Co-op is a great addition and offers much needed depth to the struggling story. Isaac’s counterpart John Carver is a more fleshed out character than Isaac and worthy ally against the onslaught of necromorphs. Carver’s game play style is different, from the way he moves to the weapons he uses, making his character unique. The combination of his ying and Isaac’s yang deepens the game and enhances on the overall entertainment and reply value.
By and large very little seems new in Dead Space 3. The enemies are mostly the same. The environments feel very familiar. It is the same game as the “original” Dead Space but just not as polished. And yet it is a descent game, far better than last year’s Resident Evil 6. It is the best survival horror game since Dead Space 2 and for all of its shortcomings it is still an enjoyable, easy on the eyes (most of the time) and still, perhaps most importantly, scary as hell.
Dead Space 3: 8.0 / 10
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