Dead Space 3 PS3 review & gameplay video – Scares on ice as series Necro-morphs from its roots
The Dead Space series is like Paranormal Activity. And not just because it contains, y’know, paranormal activity. Or Saw, if you prefer your horror movies full of flayed ribcages rather than the raw terror of a cupboard that won’t stay shut. The point is that these things initially make an unexpected splash because they do something different, either revitalising a genre or presenting it a new light.
Dead Space 3 PS3 review & gameplay video
The initial installments are basic, nuts-and-bolts affairs, and therein lies the charm – frill-free, gritty and genuinely scary. Success makes sequels inevitable, swells budgets and raises expectations. And then, somewhere along the line – whether at Paranormal Activity 2 or Saw 19 – the core of the series gets lost.
Dead Space 2 walked something of a tightrope: it wasn’t the same pure survival horror experience as the original, but the level of polish and presentation meant that it worked on its own terms. It was a sci-fi action movie in which you were the star, but in gameplay terms it was by and large true to its predecessor, even if it didn’t have the same terrifying, lo-fi feel.
The third instalment sadly can’t say the same: it has far more in common with 2 – grand scale, big-budget feel – but significantly more problems from both gameplay and presentation perspectives. It’s far from a bad game, and given the dearth of top-quality horror experiences on PS3 is still an appealing prospect, but it’s also undeniably a step in the wrong direction for the genre’s standard-bearer.
To understand these problems we have to travel back to what made the original Dead Space so different and alluring when it was released in 2008. One of the key mechanics was the strategic dismemberment: where most games want you to shoot the head, Dead Space wanted you to chop limbs off your Necromorph assailants in order to take them down. A single, well-placed blast of your Plasma Cutter would lop off a leg, or remove a spiky arm-type thingamajig. It meant you could slow enemies down, or hamper their ability to attack you if they did make it to within striking range.
Dismemberment is still how you’re battling the undead alien monstrosities this time around… but it doesn’t work properly any more. This is partly because enemies, even those you encounter early on, are too heavily armoured to have their limbs removed with one clean shot. This might be a concession to the new weapon crafting system (which we’ll come to), but if so it’s a misstep. It doesn’t feel like an attempt to up the difficulty (also an issue), it simply hamstrings one of the series’ defining features.
This is compounded by the manner in which enemies are thrown at you. Previously the range of Necromorph types and the numbers you encountered in a given space meant that battles were somewhat tactical. You could use Stasis to slow down the Slashers while you dealt with the Exploders, then whip the legs off the former before trying to target the Leapers scuttling around the floor. They all had their own attack patterns and behaviours, which meant a different approach depending on the makeup of the group facing you.
Not so this time. While scenarios appear the same on the surface – you enter a darkened room, a variety of monstrosities burst through the walls and air vents, you scream and panic until they all die – the tactical element is lost because now all enemies do the same thing: bumrush you. Admittedly some move faster than others, but within moments of an outbreak pretty much every Necro going will have you backed into a corner as their mutilated limbs hack at your handsome, beardy face. It just means a rush of hastily flung Stasis, panicked backpedalling and, sadly, that the joy of combat has largely departed the series.
Narratively the game is a close continuation of Dead Space 2, taking place a number of months after the end of the previous game. Engineer-turned-amateur amputater Isaac Clarke is living on a lunar colony, alone and (predictably) unhinged, his relationship with Ellie having fallen apart. Seems that everyone you know being torn to shreds by undead monsters and losing an eye as you escape an infested space station can put a strain on a relationship. But Isaac’s wallowing has gone on long enough, for when Captain Norton breaks into his not-so-swinging bachelor pad it’s off into space again to rescue Ellie and follow up on her latest bit of ‘kill the Necromorphs, save the world’ research.