While gaming trilogies have a welcome tendency to buck the old Hollywood adage (how many superior third movie installments can you name?), it’s still only natural to approach anything with a ‘3’ on the end with a certain degree of trepidation. So perhaps we should all be content with the news that Dead Space 3 is not terrible. In fact, on occasion, it’s pretty damn good – Isaac Clarke’s latest battle with the nightmarish necromorphs can still give you a decent fright, and the visuals are as good as anything you’ll see on current-gen platforms.
The only thing stopping Dead Space 3 from surpassing the two titles that preceded it is the rather alarming tendency of developers to desperately crave wider recognition for their work. Dead Space and its 2011 sequel were critically lauded – the latter was one of Rolling Stone’s games of the year – but they remained relatively niche. Survival horror that necessitates a change in underwear, by its very nature, doesn’t lend itself to a large percentage of the gaming audience. So in the development of Dead Space 3, there’s been a very obvious drive towards making the game attractive to more than just horror fans. And that’s a problem for me. The appeal of Isaac’s early adventures was the constant nerve-shredding as I inched my way down narrow corridors, never knowing when something might jump out at me, or fleeing from a relentless horde of monsters because I’d run out of ammunition. Dead Space 3, by comparison, leans heavily on spectacular set pieces, plentiful firefights and – the newest addition – drop-in co-op. A second player can take on the role of grizzled marine John Carver, and playing with a sidekick will subtly alter the story: Isaac will occasionally see things that Carver can’t, hinting that the dementia that plagued him in Dead Space 2 might not be a thing of the past. But it also diminishes the sense of abject isolation that has defined the series so far. Dead Space was so terrifying because you were alone, bereft of resources, and absolutely terrified of what might lurk around the next corner.
So while Dead Space 3 might seamlessly blend jaw-dropping action sequences, epic sci-fi locales and a story that is as good as anything on the big screen, there’s a sense that this is a more sanitized take on Isaac’s story. Cover-based shooting, plentiful ammunition (even on the harder difficulties) and a weapon upgrade system are all great – but they don’t belong in a game like this. Dead Space 3 is well put together, beautifully realized, and a lot of fun to play. But you’ll miss having the crap scared out of you.