The first hour or so of Dead Space 3 is a terribly messy, uneven and largely unpleasant affair. I’m in a really bad cover shooter firing at humans! No! I’m sliding down a snowy mountain whilst bits of a spaceship explode around me! No! I’m watching puppet-like talking heads waxing on about another bloody Marker to anyone that’ll listen! Disjointed doesn’t cover it.
And none of it feels like Dead Space, and crucially, none of it is really clear. Never before in a game has it been less obvious when I’m supposed to be doing something and when the game is running yet another cut-scene and I’m supposed to just watch, with only a sudden splash of blood and a restart any sign of a clue that I was meant to be moving the analog sticks. Sorry!
It’s an apocalyptic introduction that appears to be trying to mimic a blockbuster movie.
In some respects – the visual spectacle and the sheer amount of things flying around – it achieves that goal, but it’s on a simple, rudimentary level that is free from scares, tension and suspense. The script is poor, but it’s the action itself that doesn’t really connect, and popping out from behind handily discarded bulletproof barriers isn’t my idea of what Dead Space should be.
Thankfully, this disjointed start doesn’t last much longer than it should, and a couple of levels later Isaac’s back doing what he does best: creeping around an old abandoned vessel in the dark.[videoyoutube]It’s at this point that the Necromorphs are introduced properly (they’re there earlier, but without much circumstance) and with the lights down low, plasma cutter loaded and ready and constant, distant radio chatter from your counterparts, things slide into place.
Is this back to the series’ roots? No, not quite. Visceral have opted for turning every dial they could find to eleven, and by the third (main) game those creatures no longer shock or frighten the way they once did, especially after an already countless amount of Hey! Here’s Another! every time you walk past a duct or flick a switch.
The damned things are everywhere, and they’re still only a threat in number.
And, as before, there’s a certain rhythm in taking them down. Aim. Stasis. Aim. Dismember. It’s muscle memory, it’s familiar ground, and it still works just the same. The mechanics haven’t changed, then, they’re just ramped up considerably to ensure that there’s no stopping this train once it gets started. You’re never far from another major event, and – well – that’s the point.
You see, Dead Space and Dead Space 2 played the grimy, clanking heavy metal card twice over (and in the case of the latter, even repeating literal old ground) and these creatures wouldn’t fill another similar game. The player knows what to do and what to expect, so a change in tact was perhaps necessary. The problem is that the action is relentless, and the moments between – those spent skulking around in the pitch dark – feel like means to an end, just a conduit to yet another attempt at apeing something you’d normally see starring Nathan Drake, Soap MacTavish or John-117.
Then there’s the jolting, confusing love triangle that must only have formed whilst the game was installing. Dead Space 2 survivor Ellie and Isaac appear to have been dating, but that’s never checked until another male enters the scene with rather unpredictable effect. It’s the basis for a plot line, but it doesn’t feel fleshed out at all – at least as far as I’ve played.
Much has been made of the game’s crafting system and the fact that – for the first time – players can repeatedly purchase resources with real money. It’s possible to make your way through the game using just the elements that you’ve found on your travels, that much is true, but you’ll miss out on a weaponry collection that’s extensive (and expensive).
The BENCH system in Dead Space 3 is like a massively extended upgrade from the last one. It’s now capable of letting the player build their own weapons from scratch (as well as upgrading existing ones) and it’s as comprehensive as it is bewildering. The UI isn’t terribly intuitive, but the options are vast and you can, without much compromise, make anything you want.[drop]The issue is those resources. By the time I’d reached the end of the 4th mission I had 75 semiconductors and 400 units of scrap metal.
That didn’t buy me a great deal – in fact the cheapest ready made weapon (from blueprints) was a shotgun, and that would have cost me 300 semiconductors and 700 scrap metal.
The cheapest resource pack (80 Microsoft points, or 69p) includes 60 tungsten, 200 semiconductors, 500 scrap metal, 100 somatic gel and 50 transducers.
You can do the maths yourself. So, yes, it’s possible to get through Dead Space 3 without spending an additional penny, but progress towards the upper echelons of weaponry is much hastened if you do. The choice, as they say, is yours.
From the first few hours with the game it feels like Dead Space 3 has turned out to be something that I’m guessing series fans weren’t quite expecting. Casting aside the tense drama in place of continued action set pieces and a much busier shooting quota might well cater for a slightly different crowd but those wanting more lurking horror might find the new tone off-putting.
It’s still a capable game, though, and it’s visually very pretty. It’s actually on par with other games of the ilk from what I’ve seen so far and Visceral can take away the fact that they’ve produced yet another great looking game with genre leading sound design (seriously, get some 5.1 headphones for this) and stretched it over a skeleton that’s new to the series.
Isaac doesn’t quite fit, though – he’s still that plodding, lumbering engineer that only quickens his pace when the plot determines he must. He’s less nimble on his feet (despite a couple of new tricks) than I’d like and his aim is tricky when you’re trying to take down rather more human adversaries. But he’s still a strong, likeable character – sure, he talks now, but that’s par for the course.
I’m interested to see where the game goes, though, and that’s a positive thing. I actually don’t mind the blockbuster approach with certain games – and whilst it doesn’t always fit here (jarringly so, at times) the developer has hit a few sweet spots that do give that impression of ‘awesome’ in the true sense of the word, but it won’t be for everyone. Dead Space 3 – the difficult third game in a series – will likely leave very mixed impressions.
Our review will follow soon. Dead Space 3 is out today.