But on Tau Volantis, you can’t ignore the avalanche that crashes down around you, whilst you rappel down the side of a mountain. The opening of Dead Space 3 instills fear, but not in a ‘pant wetting’ kind of way, it’s more of a fear of the unknown - a fear that the creeping dread you know and love, has been replaced with bravado and showmanship.
You see, it starts with you assuming control of an unknown, dispensable grunt on the soil of Tau Volantis, and as soon as you see his face you realise where this is going. Shifting perspective at the beginning of a game, to watch them be disposed of, conjures images of a very popular first-person shooter, and immediately I started to worry.
Straight after the schizophrenic events of the opening, you take control of Isaac Clarke, who is gripped in the midst of a nightmare-fueled midlife crisis.
His apartment is in a state of disrepair and the surfaces look like a breeding ground for E. coli. And once you’ve had a glimpse into his breakdown, he’s soon ‘recruited’ against his will, by gruff military types. They tell Isaac that his ex-lover, Ellie Langford, has disappeared whilst looking into a way to stop the Necromorph menace.
Soon after, Unitologists appear, and start shooting everyone in the face in their search for Isaac, whom they dub ‘the Marker Killer’.
This is where the new, human enemy types come into play.
Isaac can now take cover against low walls, but it isn’t a traditional, sticky cover mechanic, it’s just a case of clicking the crouch button and peering over the cover with the aim button, whilst retaining complete control of movement. You can also roll, but unless you read the instruction manual (they still exist, don’t they?) the game won’t tell you this until much later.
Even with the addition of a crouch and roll command, the encounters against the gun-happy human enemies just don’t work well with the slow, sluggish movement of Isaac. You can tell that this was once a game where restricting dexterity was a boon, but now it works to its detriment.
The encounters sometimes feel frustrating, especially when a grenade lands next to you and you have no choice but to run into the fray, hoping that you can fight against the stiff aiming and dispatch your foes before they rip you in half.
Luckily, these combat scenarios are actually pretty rare, and you will spend the majority of the game happily dismembering Necromorphs and impaling them with their own limbs. Business as usual.
After the unpromising start, the pace soon picks up (slows down) when the action takes you back to where the franchise belongs — in space.
Although the ship’s interiors are strictly linear, you will also find yourself boosting around space outside of the ships, in a hub area, shifting between wrecked craft and performing repairs.
This is when the game really starts to hit its massive, iron-booted stride.
Not only does the action shine in this environment, but the visuals look stunning in these sections. I often found myself panning the camera, just to catch the perfect amount of lens flare in my panoramic space-scape.
It’s definitely the best looking Dead Space yet, and the attention to detail is bordering on obsessive for the most part, with the odd exception once you hit planetside and things get a bit clippy in the snow.
Isaac’s suit looks like it’s been tarred and feathered with Vaseline and glitter, the way it sparkles and shines in the light.
His visor acts as a dynamic light source in extremely dark conditions, adding to the atmosphere. This works in tandem with the torch mounted to your weapon, and the strobing lights of the dilapidated ships you explore.
The lighting also adds something to the combat — a sense of urgency.
When a Necromorph is only visible for a second and then appears behind you, you can’t help but fire a panicked spray in every direction. You can still pick your shots, and dismember your enemies tactfully, but in this iteration your armory is much more varied and it’s often not necessary, when you can just pump them full of lead.
I say lead, but you can fire pretty much anything: bullets, plasma, fire, spikes... the list goes on.
Throughout your journey you come across workbenches, where you can upgrade your arsenal like in previous games. But this time you can make completely new weapons from scratch.
You may only carry two weapons at a time, but each has two fire modes, turning each into a Cerberus.
The guns I took to the end of the game were my own creations. I had a plasma-firing assault rifle, that also dealt acid damage. It also had a mechanism attached to its underside that fired electric bolas of death that ricochet off walls and cleared out cramped corridors in seconds.
My second weapon was a fire-spitting shotgun that fires like a dragon sneezing, but also had a rocket launcher strapped to it, for when the dead just won’t stay dead.
All the weapons take a universal ammunition, which makes sense since you can create such a varied arsenal.
You can create ammo and various other consumables from the workbench too. You pick up the ingredients used in item creation from the corpses of your enemies or destructible boxes. These don’t take up space in your grid-like inventory, and you even get the assistance of a little scavenger bot that you can send on item gathering expeditions at various intervals.
The items that you procure from the corpses of your enemies only appear once you have dealt damage to them after death - usually by curb-stomping them into oblivion. This mechanic makes the game feel like a dungeon crawler hybrid, where instead of keeping an eye out for chests, you’re looking for lumps of meat that are yet to be stomped on.
The looting feels quite addictive, and certainly isn’t a negative for the franchise, but it could have been implemented with a touch more grace.
Collecting items and tinkering with your inventory is as addictive as ever, but there is the option (which I completely ignored and you should too) to cheat. You can buy in-game items with real money, in the form of microtransactions. This option received a lot of bile from the community, but after finishing the game I have to say: these aren’t intrusive at all, and they’re completely optional.
If you only ever spend the money you paid for the game you will still get plenty of bang for your buck.
On your first playthrough you’re looking at a good twelve hours of gameplay, and then once you’ve played it solo you’ll probably want to go straight back and see what you missed out on in co-op.
There is surprising amount of thought been put into these two separate entities, and although you can’t erase all of the scars present in a single-player playthrough of a co-op game, Visceral have done a sterling job.
When you’re playing on your own, Carver, your co-op buddy, takes a different role in cutscenes - often playing the part of protector for your AI companions before you’re inevitably separated... again.
In fact, the only time you will truly remember that it is a game designed with co-op in mind, is when you go to a workbench and see the two consoles, or when you’re at a rappelling section and there are two hook points.
When you do decide to bite the bullet and dip your toes into a bit of cooperative play, there are plenty of surprises awaiting. Not only are there some co-op specific side missions for you to complete, which flesh out much of the secondary character, Carver’s backstory, but the game also shows the players different things - toying with perspective.
Carver also hears the voices of his wife and child, echoes from his past haunting his fractured mind.
The sound design is still a highlight in this iteration, providing most of the unease you feel throughout. The Necromorph’s raspy gurgles and groans can be heard before they appear, causing you to feel constantly on guard. The Stalker enemy type, as seen in Dead Space 2, instill more panic than any other enemy, mainly due to their Banshee-like wail.
One of the game’s scariest moments comes from an unlikely source, a pinball machine, and again, it’s down to the brilliant sound design.
Although the game has some minor annoyances - what’s that Isaac? You’ve been split up from the group... again? Overall, the package is brilliant value for money.
Although it doesn’t hold the surprise of the first game, and the story is relatively weak, it’s hard not to fall in love with, regardless of its heavier leanings towards action.
For your money, you get what feels like three games in one. To start with, you have that slow crawl through space, reminiscent of the original title and then when you touch the planet’s surface, you get an all out action romp, that is largely enjoyable.
On top of this, you have the extensive co-op campaign that instead of feeling tacked on, feels like a welcome addition to the overall experience. Either suit-up alone, or have a friend hold your hand in the lonely void of space and the voices will soon haunt you too, telling you to turn on your console.