Dead Space 3

Event Horizon

Visceral Games' creepy space shooter has been inching ever-closer to action game territory. Can Dead Space 3 help return to its the survival horror origins, or is it all pew pew all the time?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 8, 2013
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It's not unfair to say the survival horror genre is in something of a lull right now. Although it arguably hit its zenith in 2005 with Resident Evil 4's careful mix of tight gunplay and spooky environments (to say nothing of a seriously meaty story), there were signs that as we moved into the next generation of hardware, the genre hadn't been completely forgotten. Games like Siren: Blood Curse, although a remake of the first PS2 game in the series, showed an adherence to the scares and tension of the survival horror games of yore. It was EA's own Visceral Studios, though, that would produce one of the generation's best examples of the genre with 2008's Dead Space, a futuristic thriller that really seemed to grasp those core ideas and spin them in a new way.

Chief among them was the idea of "strategic dismemberment." Sure, protagonist Isaac Clarke could unload on the undead abominations that attacked him, but he wasn't some meathead, he was an engineer that made the most of his situation and often had to carefully manage heath and ammo reserves. It was a genuinely creepy experience, and one that smartly fed enough of a storyline to keep players interested without it being terribly mythos-heavy. For that, EA expanded the franchise out into anime direct-to-video movies, books and side stories on other platforms.

We cover this already in our exhaustive preview of the first few hours of the game, so at the risk of revealing just how lazy I really am, I'll point you in that direction for the basics. The gist is that Visceral hasn't really tried to rock the space ship here too much. They introduced a new crafting system that lets Isaac and co-op partner John Carver break down weapons to mix and match their properties. Otherwise, though, this is still the Necromorph-stomping, limb-cutting, setpiece boss battle-filled series you've come to know.

Except, in a few ways, it's not.

The first few hours of the game we played were indeed very true to the core Dead Space feel, albeit with a seemingly over-abundant amount of ammo, health and stasis packs to juggle. In fact, the next few hours above the planet Tau Volantis, seemingly the source of the Markers' signal and the Necromorph threat, felt absolutely pitch-perfect. Embarking on the first optional side and co-op missions left me with a slightly uncomfortable amount of resources, and the lengthy process of trying to find a shuttle to get down to the planet's surface after running into a mine field that decimated the supposed rescue ship was filled with no shortage of slowly-ratcheting tension and suspense.

It's when things head down to the planet that I started to get a little worried. Ammo and especially health stores started to become more plentiful again, and enemy encounters became more and more routine -- to the point where it was pretty obvious where they'd spring up. Many of the weapons lack a means to rotate (though you can strap a rotator cuff to the cutting ones for some help), which in the end necessitated a bit of relaxation on the whole strategic dismemberment angle; most weapons will soften up an enemy if applied to center mass, allowing more broad ones to just blow off limbs by force rather than precision, properly-aligned shots.

Worse, many of the tasks set forth by the surviving landing party were starting to feel more and more like fetch quests; running between a familiar set of locales become the norm, and that creeping sense of foreboding and terror started to subside. In an effort to keep things as tense as possible, I was even trying to avoid playing with a co-op partner. I wanted to know exactly how a normal difficulty playthrough would treat me in terms of supplies and challenge. The short version? Supplies were plentiful, and by the end I started getting annoyed rather than scared by the inevitable enemies that would burst out at every turn. Yes, there were moments of real fright (walking into a room and seeing not one, but three Regenerators banging on their cages definitely did the trick, especially when they -- of course -- broke out to hound me all the way back to safety), but by and large this was a pretty color-by-numbers action experience.
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