The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
As long as mankind has existed, our base instincts have included survival and tool creation. Visceral Games’ latest entry in its acclaimed horror franchise expertly taps into these core desires. Players still creep through dim corridors while blasting limbs off alien zombies, but the scope of survival has expanded. What you bring to battle is completely up to you thanks to the deep weapon-crafting system. Protagonist Issac Clarke can also suit up with a buddy this time in two-player co-op. These features culminate into one of the most rewarding video games I’ve ever played.
Most of Dead Space 3’s preview coverage has highlighted hero Isaac Clarke’s harrowing quest on the inhospitable ice planet, Tau Volantis. I was surprised and pleased to play several exciting acts that take place before his trip to the Hoth-like snowball. One section made me feel like an astronaut more than any other game has, and I loved it. Floating around the debris of destroyed space ships is surreal yet calming. This zero-gravity, focused part of the game is more open than previous Dead Space entries, allowing you to shuttle between sites and accept optional missions. Tau Volantis has a similar structure, sans the zero gravity. Straying off the critical path and accepting side quests regularly rewards players with goodies like ammo, health, and precious resources.
Unlike the first two games, players gather resources like tungsten and scrap metal instead of money. These materials are used to make extra ammo, upgrade your suit, craft weapons, and more. Scavenging much-needed resources is just as satisfying as finding that critical health pack when things get rough. Even better, you acquire little robots that troll areas for goodies and automatically return to your workbench, so every trip to a bench is like Christmas. Sorting through all your items to see what new weapons you can craft or tweak is a worthwhile endeavor that gives you a greater sense of ownership over your equipment.
Previous Dead Space games had players purchase new weapons, but Dead Space 3 gives you one gun to start with and sets you loose with the best weapon-crafting system I’ve ever encountered. Weapon components like gun frames, plasma cores, and ammo modifiers can combine into countless configurations. I thought I had optimized my resources by cobbling together a decent line cutter that I used for half the game. Then I spent 15 minutes reconstructing my main firearm from the ground up, and boy was I wrong. Your upgrade circuits and components are salvaged when you dismantle weapons, encouraging experimentation. I started mopping up necromorphs with my devastating custom plasma cutter/flamethrower hybrid, complete with stasis-enhanced rounds.
Watch our Test Chamber video preview of Dead Space 3 above
Dead Space 3 is still creepy, but this entry is more action-packed than previous games. That’s a good thing. Isaac’s intuitive new dodge roll makes avoiding the larger nercromorph attacks more manageable. His enhanced mobility is extra helpful during gigantic, tense boss battles that force players to think strategically about their stasis and telekinetic powers. Battles may be frequent and frenzied, but the game does a great job of building suspense. Battling necromorphs along Tau Volantis’ frozen surface while your body temperature plummets is thrilling. The game also boasts one of the most intense, Lost-style crash sequences in gaming. The only notable speed bump occurs in the final act of the game, which has tedious backtracking and difficult battles that feel forced. Otherwise, the pacing is masterful.
Every event in the game, including the aforementioned crash sequence, is playable with a friend via online-only co-op. One player is Isaac, the other is Carver, a no-BS military man. The game tosses more enemies at players in co-op mode, but having an extra gun makes the deadly mission more fun and decidedly easier (we recommend playing co-op on hard). A handful of missions require you to play cooperatively, and are gated off in single-player. These missions reward co-op partners with worthwhile bonus story details and loot, but solo players aren’t being denied anything critical. Players controlling Carver see unique, twisted hallucinations that players controlling Isaac will not. The bizarre, asymmetrical experience makes co-op feel true to the series and helps flesh out Carver’s background. Also, players gather independent loot but can still share items (including weapon blueprints), which streamlines the whole experience. The main hitch in co-op lies in the cutscenes, which awkwardly pan away from Carver to focus on Isaac. In one such moment Carver miraculously teleports from Isaac’s side to the ship they were both trying to board.
Visceral laid the foundation for a terrific horror series with the first Dead Space. The clean, HUD-less presentation, dismemberment-focused gunplay, and expertly crafted derelicts have made each successive entry feel ahead of its time. Dead Space 3 evolves the winning formula into a title not only befitting of the fantastic series, but also one of the best games of this generation.
Email the author Tim Turi, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.