Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Dead Space 3

Yes. I waited until I beat the game to write this.

Yes. I just got it yesterday.

As someone who was hooked on the first one enough to replay it 10+ times. (It was also the first game I ever got 100% on trophies.) The series has only improved from there and Dead Space 3 is probably the best yet.

If you're not familiar with the game series. It's an action/survival horror game which can be easiest explained as zombies in space. Except it is so much more than that. While the synopsis boils down to that at the very base, the storyline is amazingly original, giving rise to unique enemies that are more than just targets. It starts with an object called the Marker, which induces murderous and suicidal insanity in all the people around it, then once they're dead, it re-animates the dead bodies, twisting them into different forms to suit its needs like a perverted ecosystem.

In Dead Space 3, a lot of what made the first two so great is still all there. The unique settings and enemy AI still allows them to sneak up on you at inopportune times and from unexpected directions. The main character of Isaac Clark returns, along with his trusty plasma cutter. The basic enemies are the same, though with a different look due to the environment and the storyline. The controls remain the same as well, though they felt a little smoother then before.

This is an absolutely beautiful game. Sounds weird saying that about survival horror, but it's true. The game play visuals are incredible, even down to watching the fake fur collar on Isaac's suit move in the wind. The cinematics are even better and the attention to detail on the backdrops, particularly in space are just breathtaking.

Seriously, that's the kind of view people buy houses for.

The story in Dead Space 3 partially takes place a little while after Dead Space 2 and partially centuries before, when the first Marker is found. The variety of locales this title takes you to is completely different from the first two games, which were set on a single spaceship and then a space station respectively. Dead Space 3 starts in Isaac's home, where he has become the number #1 enemy of a religious cult that worships the Markers. From there it moves to a variety of space ships and even open space before landing on a snow and ice covered planet. The enemies switch back and forth between the monsters called Necromorphs and regular humans, and, if you're patient, you can even get some enemy on enemy action going where they will actually take each other out. As opposed to some games where you'll have different enemies that should hate each other always teaming up to take you down, sometimes even shooting through each other and causing no damage.

The settings are just the start. This game was made for survival horror fans BY survival horror fans, and that's one of the things that makes it so great. They know the cues we listen for and pay attention to and use those to get to you. One scene in Dead Space 3 has you climbing down a ladder which goes by a vent. As you go past it (being helpless while you're on the ladder), the music swells and speeds up before the vent breaks and...nothing happens. Nothing. At all. Awesome. 

Dead Space 3 also does a few other different things than it's predecessors besides the variety of backdrops. While Dead Space 2 actually had a multi-player mode for online play, this edition actually allows for co-op play in story mode. The other new feature that's a big deal is the weapon customization. Now personally, I always accepted the wisdom of video games. I went with the assumption that all monsters, no matter what they were, had gold on them at all times to hand over to whichever hero defeated them. I accepted it, but I was never really happy with it. Dead Space 3 works off a bits and pieces system, by which you collect random parts, circuits, wires, doodads, whathaveyou, and you use them to splice and upgrade your weapons and armor and to create new weapons. Not only does this fit the game better, as Isaac is supposed to be an engineer, but it just feels better as a whole. The other new change I want to mention is the universal ammo pack. I love this for the fact that you don't have to worry about being low on ammo and getting stuck finding ammo for weapons you don't have. It still works for different weapons though because each weapon uses a different amount of shots per clip. 

All that said, I won't say it was perfect, not at all. I played through on casual and more of the time it felt like I was playing on Easy. The engineering puzzles were all very simple and easy to get through, providing little more than a speedbump to the gameplay. As well, I only ran out of ammo on two occasions on my play-through and both times I failed to notice there were specific actions needed to get past an area and just kept pumping energy blasts into every enemy I saw. 

Which leads me to my other complaint. In a lot of these games, companies are working harder and harder to try to immerse the player in the world. The main way they're trying to accomplish this is by minimizing the HUD (Heads Up Display) as much as possible. It's all well and good to keep things off the screen that distract the players from the game, but several deaths in my play-through were mostly due to the fact that I was trapped in a corner and couldn't even see my health bar. Several areas that required special actions to get through took me multiple tries because the indicator of what button I needed to push was so small it was all but unnoticeable. 

As well, I would have liked to have seen more variety in the enemies. There were quite a few, but since we were in locales the game hadn't been before, I would've liked to have seen some specialized for the areas they were in. 

All in all, a great game. No wonder it's already being called the best game of the year by some. I really hope they make more, but at the same time I wouldn't mind if they called it quits here. I would hate to see the Dead Space franchise devolve into making bad games simply because it's too hard to top themselves as Resident Evil seems to have done. 

As far as I'm concerned, in survival horror, Dead Space now trumps Resident Evil. Long may it rot. (Coincidently, given the subject matter, I'm not using that as a put-down.) 

~ Shaun

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