Dead Space 3 (Xbox360)

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Dead Space 3 is a terrifying journey that you will embark on as Engineer Isaac Clarke, who once again gets drawn into piecing together the mysteries of the Marker and will now need to face the horrors of the frozen planet of Tau Volantis to discover the truth and stop the plague of Necromorphs.

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Visceral Games has created an incredible horror story, one in which so many different elements have been wonderfully crafted and carefully combined that you will find yourself immersed in the chilling adventure from the very beginning. It’s a powerful fabrication, a finely weaved design that incorporates superb sound and lighting effects, excellently detailed environments, grotesquely disfigured Necromorphs, and solid gameplay mechanics which come together to convey the lonely isolation of space and desperate brutality of an icy alien planet.

The silence and relative peacefulness of floating in space is starkly contrasted against the bloody halls of an abandoned space station. The environments are at times large enough to convey the feeling of hopelessness, the fate of being just one small piece of humanity in the whole universe who must fight against this deadly plague, yet other times small enough to invoke desperation as you battle hideously deformed creatures and struggle to continue your mission.

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As you tread the paths through corridors, navigating your way using lifts and ladders, you’ll revel in the anxiety-stricken atmosphere that will build in the game…lights will flicker on and off, partially disguised grunts will echo around the corners, and shadows will flit into existence and then just as suddenly disappear again.

Even if you pay attention to these visual and audio cues, the gruesome Necromorphs will surprise you more than once. It could happen when you’re fighting a pair in front and one hems you in from behind, it could shock you as they come hurtling out of the dusty smoke of a just opened door, it could catch you off your guard as you amble past a ventilation shaft for the second time only to find them re-emerging from the darkness within, or quickly take your breath away as they shamble towards you out of an icy snowstorm. It’s then that you will exhale and know that Dead Space 3 has mastered its art, that it has perfected the science of immersing a player into a tale and invoking terror with magnificently executed set pieces.

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The game is filled with variety, not only with the enemies you will face but also with the different missions, gameplay, and environments. The Necromorphs will demand that you adjust your fighting strategy to overcome their unique attacks, whether they are quick-moving, hunt in packs, spit poisonous acid, climb on walls, or even regenerate. When you’ve shot off its legs and it continues a deadly assault on you, or loses its head but transforms into something even more lethal, you’ll need to reload, put aside any reservations you previously had on stomping its remains, and above everything keep calm. You’ll also be facing soldiers for the first time in the series and will have to adapt to fight them too, headshots actually work on these guys!

It’s during these frenetic battles that if you take a moment to pause you’ll notice the orchestral music has built to a crescendo, and it’s here that you’ll be able to witness all of the elements combining to deliver an action-packed horror experience. You’ll also realise that the Necromorph attack waits for no man, and that pausing will more than likely get you killed. Good news, you can now enjoy the gruesomely creative death sequences that Isaac must suffer through as a result of your failure.

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The missions themselves also offer variety, you’ll go from collecting objects and flying in space, to navigating your way around the different areas of the hostile world, restoring power in buildings, clearing areas of infestation, rappelling up dangerous cliffs, searching for clues, and slowly moving towards unravelling the mysteries that the planet holds. As you progress you’ll also need to solve puzzles and hack into systems with short mini-games, you can also upgrade your rig, change your suit, and craft weapons, all of which adds more depth to the gameplay.

The Weapons Bench is a wonderfully creative area that you can use to upgrade your weapons, for example you can increase reload speed, damage, firing range and clip size, as well as add upgrade circuits. As you move through the environments you will discover items, you’ll collect these from dead enemies and from within crates scattered throughout the levels. You’ll be able to craft items such as ammo, health and more with these resources, but more importantly you’ll also be able to craft your own weapons with these items from blueprints you discover in the game. The Scavenger Bot which you can deploy to collect resources for you makes this whole process even more satisfying…and he’s all kind of awesome too.

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Stasis forms a vital part of Dead Space 3. It’s handy to stop an onslaught of enemies, and also required for some of the puzzles. Kinesis goes hand-in-hand, being useful for anything from opening doors, to charging items, from grabbing enemies’ limbs and sending them flying back to impale them, to gathering crates from out of reach places or simply because it’s easier than walking all the way over there.

While the story may at first seem a little thin, it’ll soon wrap its different threads around you and keep you entranced until the final scenes. The characters at first also seem a tad one dimensional, but as you spend more time with them on this journey you’ll become more engrossed in their tale and before long find yourself invested in their fate. Isaac’s emotions were at first veiled behind his suit, almost forming a barrier to me glimpsing his true character. But as the story progressed and we were allowed to see more of the man behind the mask I began to feel more connected to him, as if I could identify with his plight more and as a result felt more sympathetic towards him.

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The option to share this journey with a friend in the co-operative mode is an added bonus. While I must admit that it made the experience less terrifying knowing that I wasn’t walking the abandoned corridors alone or taking the long trip in a creepy lift by myself, it definitely created a different gameplay experience and added to the replayability factor too…I can’t say that I was unpleased with having Sergeant John Carver to continue firing on approaching Necromorphs while I reloaded my weapon either. This co-op mode, combined with a lengthy campaign plus optional missions and hidden collectibles, make Dead Space 3 a worthwhile purchase.

The Kinect integration in Dead Space 3 came as a surprise to me. It worked fluidly and I found it helpful to issue voice commands for certain actions like ‘Find Objective’ rather than pressing the action key on my controller. It’s certainly very effective and was able to identify my commands easily, it was so well implemented that I hope to see it used this seamlessly in more games in the future.

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Dead Space 3 was an incredible journey, a journey that took me from floating in the vast openness and beauty of space to walking the treacherous snowy paths on a frozen planet. I faced terrifying enemies, hacked into laboratories, changed into different suits, crafted new weapons, solved puzzles and rappelled down icy cliffs. It was often a breath-taking, heart-stopping rollercoaster ride of action, intrigue and emotional turmoil, but all the while it was tightly rolled within feelings of shock, horror, and nonstop terror. And it’s a ride that I would happily experience all over again.