Dead on arrival?
Isaac Clarke is a broken man - and who can blame him after his previous encounters with mutant space zombies, only to wind up tortured by Earth's government for his efforts? Set against the rise of a religious movement worshipping the mysterious Markers at the heart of the epidemic, Dead Space 3 forces a reluctant Clarke into a dash for the ice planet Tau Volantis. Rumour tells of a previous necromorph incursion being halted there centuries earlier but predictably, things do not go according to plan.
The same could be said for the game as a whole though. Visceral Games' third outing in its sci-horror franchise tries to make some bold changes but few pan out. Weapon crafting gets a considerable boost from the last game, while time-freezing Stasis and object-shunting Kinesis abilities have a slightly expanded role in puzzle solving. However, the biggest and most controversial addition is online co-op.
The elements that made Dead Space work in the past still work. When playing solo, the game is as capable as ever of instilling a primordial fear of switching the light off, even on the paradoxically well-lit Tau Volantis. It's relentless, constantly keeping you on edge, and all interspersed with hugely impressive action set pieces. The monstrous necromorphs are still grotesque, and slicing off their limbs remains strangely satisfying. The co-op, however, proves antithetical to the core experience. As soon as another person is fighting at your side, any fear evaporates. Dead Space isn't the first horror game with a misplaced desire to squeeze multiplayer into what should be isolated, terror-fraught experiences but we hope it will be one of the last. More annoyingly, certain paths, bonuses and even sub-plots are restricted to co-op access, meaning you'll be forced to participate if you want to see everything the game has to offer.
It would be unfair to decry Dead Space 3 entirely though. It's an exceedingly well constructed game - lighting, shadows, and use of colour are all fantastic, and the sound design is superb. It's well-written, well-performed by its voice cast and replete with clever nods to other sci-fi outings. It's sadly edged too far towards its action elements to live up to its terrifying potential though.