Thursday
Feb142013

QCF: Dead Space 3

ost stories rarely put in the effort of coming full-circle from their beginnings. Dead Space 3 again visits its reluctant protagonist, Isaac Clarke, the man responsible for the destructions of the alien artifacts known as the Markers, and sends him to the genesis of the Marker plague to end the Necromorph menace once and for all. Visceral Games's once humble interstellar horror show has now evolved into something more than just a survival-thriller, and is instead going the action-thriller route since its second outing. Living up to that “grocery list” of elements that brings the prototypical “Dead Space” experience is no easy task when you’re trying to significantly innovate the series.

Dead Space 3 attempts to combine these styles in its effort coming full-circle, but the key word here is "attempt." The reality is that if one word could describe what Dead Space 3 really is in when the dust clears, that word would be "splintered."

Since the Sprawl, Isaac Clarke hid away from civilization and steadily recuperated. However, he's eternally broken from his experiences and it costed him his second chance at love. The interpose of two soldiers suddenly appear before Isaac and share the dissolution of EarthGov at the hands of the Church of Unitology, and that he is the only hope to save Ellie, according to her SOS signal. Clarke can’t catch a break, and he can't hide from this mission.

Dead Space 3 wastes no time setting the story in motion. The story beats, as recycled as they may seem, even within the first opening sequence sullies some of the surprise when the plot is advanced but never to the extent at which the presentation or narrative suffer from it. To the contrary, the pacing and writing manages to strike all the right tones when delivering the heart-pumping impacts of horror that haunt Isaac and his crew. Where Isaac has gone from the silent protagonist who played the played the role of the cipher for the benefit of the player, he has now evolved into his own, and with resolve that he has stemmed from the personal losses and experiences. The difference in his characterization is the most satisfying it has ever been since Clarke has come out of his shell when attacked on the Sprawl. Instead of just being some guy, he’s now someone who paid his dues and stands as a beacon of hope against the Necromorphs.

The explorative nature behind the set pieces of Dead Space 3 is the sole incentive to the large scale of looting, where ordinarily it would be the other way around. The strength behind the presentation and setting drives you to explore every room and corridor. From the floating wreckage of the Roanoke to the cold climates of Tau Volantis, Dead Space 3 unintentionally created a seamless world to navigate around just through the sheer majesty of its scope. Scurrying through it always feels rewarding, whether you'll find a couple of boxes to stomp on or not.

The gameplay takes its support from the quality that the story brings it in stride because here, the combat is finally beginning to show its age in the third entry. The Necromorphs were some of the most terrifying abominations ever witnessed from their conceptions to the execution of their combat prowess when encountered. However, after two games, little has been done to capitalize any new tactics to take them down. Instead, we’re treated to more of the same. The conventions of Necromorphs bursting through vents or playing dead are no longer novel, but are tired and reflexive instead. The three new types of Necromorph do increase some of the tension, but never to any varying degree that would alleviate the sensation of déjà vu. The new types of the infamous corpse-y aliens that will terrorize you consist of humanoid Necromporhs that blitz you with blunt object in-tow to incapacitate you with, and Necromorphs that now spit an acid-like substance that slowly eats away at your health while slowing your movement down to a crawl. Then there’s the indestructible one that regenerates -- he’s for evading in all the reverent chase scenes within the game. Oh and the human soldiers from the Church of Unitology that everyone was in such an uproar about? These enemies are so easy and infrequent they almost don’t even bear mentioning. The most creative form of Necromorph you’ll encounter will be a fleshy yet emaciated goon that always attacks in packs with fierce speed. They’re easy to take down, but like traditional sense of the undead, their numbers can bring you down. Other than that, these are your older brother’s Necromorphs that just happen to be covered in snow.

Just to elaborate, the combat in Dead Space 3 is some of the finest combat Dead Space could offer, and is the most refined between varying environmental hazards and even a more improved enemy AI. However, the familiarity of combat will set in regardless of all of these new factors, and hasn’t aged the best. Now where the combat is far from bad, just familiar. The weapon and item crafting does add a new dynamic to it, but the practice itself becomes mostly arbitrary in practice.

Where the appeal of combating against Necromorphs wares and the tension vanishes, crafting dozens of different weapons from the materials excavated just transforms the experience of survival against the alien plague into hunting season. You'll have an arsenal of different weapons that differ little, other than varied strength for shooting performance. Again, the concept is novel, but the incentive to experiment and create new weapons hardly exists because of the little danger the necromorphs pose to begin with. The entertaining anxiety of knowing you only have a small cache of ammunition remaining before finding additional supplies is completely removed. Instead we have predictable enemies and materials to make new supplies in such a plentiful outlet that would make loot heavy games like Borderlands 2 blush. Overall, this concept would have been amazing, had the opposition given you any incentive to really experiment beyond what already works. There’s honestly no drive to fix what isn’t broken when the job hardly changes. Where the crafting is a bit of a mixed bag in execution, the co-op play is another beast entirely, but it isn’t without its faults.

Visceral had its work cut out for it when they chose to apply co-op to a game famed for its systematic foundation of intense isolation and the nearly solitary sequencing of survival against a frightful plague. Cooperative play depends on the combined efforts of the team that participates as they fight and work in unison to benefit each other in symbiosis. In play, Dead Space 3 is one of the most organic examples of the mechanic in motion but more of those splinters that I mentioned earlier start to show when it comes to the presentation. Player 2 will take ahold of Sergeant John Carver, someone who’s never been exposed to the maddening effects of the Marker; the character himself is a bit of a welcomed changed to the dynamic. Carver is a soldier with a louder bark than his bite but he tries to compensate for his gradually growing fear and psychosis through sheer contrast to Isaac, a nerve-wracked, lowly engineer; the dialogue exchanged between the two Is a testament to this and it works. Deliberating items and covering each other is the most varied the combat has even been; with weapon enhancements that will benefit your partner for medical support or ammo reload. What makes the co-op in Dead Space 3 so effective is that symbiotic play isn’t something that demands a tight knit cohesion between two players, to the contrary, it’s easy to resonate with the rhythm of cooperative play with just about anyone you can play with and it’s great. The story, in terms of cut scenes, don’t account for Carver being present at all, which can make certain scenarios incredibly awkward but to overlook that, the same frightful, psychotic after effects and hallucinations that the previous entries applied are now present against Carver.

It’s the way these moments are carried out and the manner of how you assist Carver as Isaac with the context of your experience with the Marker is executed that excels the experience beyond any premeditated expectations of presentation standards for Dead Space. Coupled along with exclusive missions and additional content that’s only accessible through Co-op (in a weird twist of events), Co-op is the definitive way to play Dead Space 3, and that’s what hurts it in a sense. The realistic ability to find someone to play with who’s in an area that doesn’t exceed their own playthrough, or someone who’s available period isn’t always the case. By switching between the lackluster single-player and bolstered cooperative play, it leaves the entire experience feeling splintered from beginning to end.

Despite some of the shortcomings, Dead Space 3 is a fine way to end the trilogy that reintroduced fright and horror to our thumbs and has always delivered. Just be sure to bring a friend this time around -- it’s a must.

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