The third installment in any series brings with it a unique set of challenges, developers have already told two major story-lines, introduced a dozen new characters and have thrown every surprise they could think of at the player. Creating another title that will still please the fan-base but also adds new elements is one of the trickiest jobs a writer or developer could have.
Dead Space 3 brought a lot of new gameplay mechanics to the table, the combat in the game is easily the best that Visceral Games has produced so far. On top of that, there is a new upgrade mechanic, a larger story-line and a co-op feature that has never been done before in the series. Survival-horror I think is the hardest genre to review. The game, in its most basic form, aims to punish the player as often as possible in order to create a true ‘survivor’ theme. The difficulty that games face when purposefully limiting players to resources is that if you have any unbalance or awkward design, that theme turns from ‘survival’ to ‘frustrating’ very quickly. Horror, is a personal response. I can’t tell you what you will be afraid of in the game, or what instances you will find the most unsettling, if any. From a writing perspective I can talk about tone, plot development and character design and I can tell you that I think Dead Space 3 did a great job at setting the stage once again for Issac.
As with previous installments, players will assume the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer that has witnessed the terrors that the mysterious Markers can bring first hand. Almost instantly players are tasked with rescuing long-time girlfriend ‘Ellie’, though this time Isaac is no longer alone. The idea of co-op in a survivor-horor game did not sit well with fans when it was first announced. Though after playing the game, I would say that it was done very well and I can see why it was added to the gameplay (more on that later).
Since it would be close to impossible for Dead Space 3 to equal the same initial shock that the first game instilled in the customer-base, Dead Space 3 seemed to improved level design, sound quality and suspenseful moments. Fans have gone up against the Necromorphs two times now, and have most likely come out on top. What Visceral Games could accomplish, and did accomplish in Dead Space 3, is improving the gameplay and creating a more diverse title for the player.
Dead Space 2, in my opinion, focused to much on ‘startling moments’. Those instances in the game that are designed to make you jump out of your seat. Although these moments have their place in a game of this nature, I have always thought that suspense should trump the shock. In Dead Space 3 the ambient suspense that is created just by walking around or searching through a close-quartered set of rooms, was dramatically improved from Dead Space 2. Most of this was done with a reworked graphics engine, which created the most visually stimulating levels and allowed the smallest details to catch my eye and kept me on high alert. With long corridors, claustrophobic rooms and purely stunning moments of deep-space, it was easy to get lost in the game’s atmosphere (no pun intended). Improving that experience was the game’s sound design.
[quote_right]Dead Space 3 used sound in some pretty amazing ways and if I could make you wear headphones while playing this game, I would do everything in my power to make that happen. [/quote_right]Anyone that is a fan of horror-films knows that sound is one of the best tools a director can use to scare an audience. In any horror-film or game, patrons can hear things that normally no human would be able to hear in the same situation. You can hear someone walking through leaves from outside a window, jostling keys through locked doors, or the snarl of a ferocious beast just beyond the darkness all with absolute clarity. Dead Space 3 used sound in some pretty amazing ways and if I could make you wear headphones while playing this game, I would do everything in my power to make that happen. From voice acting to ambient sound, from Necromorph movement to Isacs breath as you enter a dark room; all of it was done with an obvious attention to detail. It was done better than any of the previous installments.
With all of this focus on setting, I want to mention how gameplay was stepped up as well. Dead Space 2 had some…’clunky’ controls, for lack of a better word. Shooting, running even movement in general I felt was never Dead Space’s standout accomplishment. All of that has changed with Dead Space 3. Shooting down Necromorphs, avoiding fatal attacks and just basic movement while playing the game, has improved overall. It’s a good thing too because everything that is trying to kill you has gotten tougher.
To aid you in surviving, Visceral Games has created a new upgrade mechanic that focuses on obtaining raw materials to improve your guns. Crafting is new to Dead Space and for the first attempt in the game, Visceral did a very good job on the mechanics. From gun-frames to adding fire or electricity to projectiles, the combinations that are allowed in the game are extremely varied. Any player should easily find his or her favorite weapon by carefully searching the levels for new materials. Crafting added a benefit to exploration, now players who search each darken room can be rewarded with better weapons and since Visceral knows that players will be exploring, they can add more suspenseful moments to the dark shadows of each level. This ‘forced exploration’ and by that I mean encouraging you to search about for crafting items, fits in extremely well with the survival mechanic and adds a new suspense to each level.
[quote_left]You won’t miss anything absolutely crucial by not playing co-op but die-hard fans of the series shouldn’t miss out on the enhanced story that is offered through the option.
[/quote_left]Co-op is completely optional in the game. I preferred not to play any co-op my first attempt through the story and I imagine that is how most people would want to play it. There are quite a few benefits to playing solo your first time through. Obviously playing alone can add a level of dread while playing the game but you also can appreciate how much extra work went into the co-op portion of the title your second time through. Co-op adds puzzle’s and it can aid you in playing on a higher degree of difficulty but most of all co-op adds an impressive amount of story to the game. Special cut-scenes, dialog and other moments of information is only available when you play co-op. You won’t miss anything absolutely crucial by not playing co-op but die-hard fans of the series shouldn’t miss out on the enhanced story that is offered through the option.
Dead Space 3’s biggest obstacle was being the third game in a well known series. The complicated story of the last two games had to come together in this installment and that means forcing a lot of threads through the same needle. Developers only have so much time to wrap up all of the mysteries, all of the shocking moments and all of the plot twists that the first two games eluded to and that created a sense of “artificial convenience” for the plot’s ending. Moments of the game seemed a little forced as well but never got to a point that it affected the gameplay. These moments include a repeated boss-battles and suspiciously perfect revelations in the story. Everything just came together a little too quickly at the end, the kind of “wrap-up” scenario that is created when a game tries to answer all of the questions and finish all of the plot-points in a final game.
In the end Dead Space 3 improved gameplay across the board in this installment. The game was hindered from the start by being responsible for wrapping up a series but despite this small setback the added co-op, the new crafting system and the more suspenseful gameplay added new benefits for fans to enjoy. The game had a very balanced ‘give and take’ relationship built into it. It seemed that Visceral knew that the third game wouldn’t be able to scare audiences like the first game did, so it ramped up what it could in graphics, gameplay, sound and story.