The Dead Space franchise has been one of the most successful games in the horror genre, which is why it was surprising that the series deviated from its proven methodology to appeal to a wider fan base.
The first-person-shooter market has been saturated with title after title that offer little more than a shooting gallery at your county fair. The developers set the bad guys up and you knock them down. No prizes of course, but also not a lot of substance. Dead Space 3 from EA and Visceral Games is much better than most shooters and it shines when it sticks to seriously scaring gamers.
As with the first two releases, DS3 pits space soldiers and scientists against a viral outbreak that turns dead people into mutated monstrosities who resemble a cross between zombies and insects. These Necromorphs want to kill and infect their prey as a means of signing new members to the Necromorph fight club. Once they kill you, you’re soon to join their team.
As the story goes, Isaac Clarke, the game’s protagonist and survivor of the first iteration, is sent to a frozen tundra of a planet known as Tau Volantis to find the source of the Necromorph outbreak. He’s also looking for “markers,” relics for a new religion called Unitology that has sprung up surrounding the mutant monsters. Throughout the game these fanatics try to end the reign of humanity and usher in the time of the ‘Morphs.’
The game has a different feel from its predecessors. The suspenseful elements that make a good horror game are there in smaller quantities. Morphs hide around corners, under stairs, or in air ducts waiting to launch themselves at your jugular. There’s no shortage of these tense moments, but they’re not as abundant as in the first two games in the series.
More often than not players will find themselves fighting an onslaught of Morphs that are difficult to bring down. You can shoot them in the head, but they’ll keep coming. Shoot their limbs off one-by-one and their headless corpse will crawl across the floor seeking to cut you in half with their huge regenerated lobster claws. The near impossibility of a one-shot kill is what makes elements of DS3 almost scarier than the rest of the game.
Because Clarke is a space engineer, players have the opportunity to collect parts to custom build WMDs – Weapons of Morph Destruction. You can outfit your plasma splitter with a grenade launcher or flame-thrower and take down morphs in large numbers. Until these parts are found, however, you will have to rely heavily on the boot. Believe it or not, one of the best ways (and most satisfying) to kill a morph is to stomp it into oblivion.
Although the gameplay and combat are great, the game shines with its graphics and musical score. The world of Tau Volantis is superbly rendered with levels that never feel repetitive. The blizzard-like conditions and icy terrain are nearly perfect visually. The models are rendered with a great deal of realism. Characters move with a fluid convincing movement that nearly makes one forget they aren’t real. The various voice-overs were full of emotion and inflection, and it showed on the faces of the characters.
DS3 also features a drop-in, drop-out, mulitplayer co-op system whereby a friend can join the action for a while and then leave you to fend for yourself. This flexibility allows the game to be played from beginning to end with the knowledge that you don’t have to shut it off or start over when a buddy stops by and wants to pop a couple of Morphs.
Dead Space is scary. It’s always been scary. The feeling of being outnumbered and over-tasked permeates the entire game. The added shooter elements only serve to enhance the creepy vibe and the feeling of urgency. Ice that cake with audio and visuals that fall just short of amazing and you’ve got yourself a game that will appeal to a wide group of gamers.
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