Dead Space 3 carries the series’ standard admirably, thanks to deep weapon crafting and a wealth of exploratory possibilities.

The Good

  • Excellent weapon crafting system adds flexibility to combat
  • Outstanding sense of atmosphere
  • Great amount of environmental variety
  • Co-op makes for a fun alternate approach to the campaign.

The Bad

  • Convoluted story
  • Some gameplay sequences fall flat.

Dead Space 3 doesn’t want to take sides in the debate over what constitutes a true survival horror game. It would rather leave the choice up to you. This is a game rife with options and flexibility, building on the strengths of the franchise with clever new ideas that let you tailor the experience to your liking. It hits a few sour notes in its story and struggles at times when it steps away from the core combat, but Dead Space 3 is a thrilling and worthwhile sequel.

Things are about to get hot (because of all the fire).

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Dead Space 3′s story follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessors. That is to say, it’s nearly incomprehensible. Isaac Clarke, now caught in a confusing love triangle, has been sent off to the frozen ice planet of Tau Volantis, believed to be the marker homeworld. You remember every last scattered detail having to do with markers and their sundry effects on humanity, right? If not, you’re out of luck: aside from a brief “previously on Dead Space” video buried in an extras menu, the game makes precious little effort to explain anything of remote importance. It’s an issue compounded by a dearth of interesting characters, and this ultimately makes it difficult to feel attached to anything that occurs in the haphazard, quickly moving narrative.

But no matter: while Isaac’s latest journey may not unfurl with the deftest of storytelling, it fully succeeds in ushering you from one incredible locale to the next. Whether floating in the starry abyss amid the vast wreckage of destroyed spacecraft or attempting to stay alive in a suffocating blizzard, Dead Space 3 keeps you on your toes with one expertly crafted environment after the other.

The game’s opening chapters tend to favor loud and boisterous set pieces, but once you start digging deeper into the frozen hellscape that is Tau Volantis, a feeling of subdued terror gradually builds. Where atmospherics are concerned, developer Visceral is once again at the top of its game. Interior spaces are a terrifying stage show of light and shadows, and even some of the planetside vistas are capable of making a glowing sunset look deeply unsettling. Just as creepy is the game’s sound design, which marries subtle audio effects with a restrained score to further build the tension.

Whether you're stuck in a dark hallway or floating in space, Dead Space 3 looks fantastic.

Whether you’re stuck in a dark hallway or floating in space, Dead Space 3 looks fantastic.

Yet Dead Space 3 doesn’t simply mimic what the series has already done well. With its introduction of a robust weapon crafting system, it takes a significant step forward in terms of depth and flexibility. Every classic weapon, from the plasma cutter to the ripper, has been broken down to its basic components, spare parts you can cobble together at a workbench to create the most surgical or bombastic weapon you can conceive. Scavenging for parts often feels like collecting loot in Diablo: a virtually endless stream of rewards you’re constantly picking up from lockers and fallen enemies.

You start with a basic frame and then slot in tools that determine the primary and alternate fire–say, a plasma cutter coupled with a flamethrower, or a telemetry spike augmented with an underslung grenade launcher. You then add attachments that can further modify the weapon fire–goodbye vanilla grenades, hello acid grenades–and finally, plug in upgrade circuits to modify basic stats such as rate of fire and reload time. The only thing more staggering than the number of modular parts is the number of theoretical combinations. All of this weapon crafting takes a little while to fully comprehend, but this new feature adds a deeply satisfying amount of depth and strategy to the game’s core combat.

This is primarily due to the fact that your creations are never set in stone. You’re always combining new parts to meet the demands of the game’s increasingly terrifying onslaught of necromorphs, a mutated collection of zombified somethings operating in collusion to ensure you never get too comfortable behind your current weapon of choice.

Even sunsets are creepy in Dead Space 3.

Even sunsets are creepy in Dead Space 3.

As in previous titles, Dead Space 3′s combat is a methodical take on the third-person shooter that encourages aiming at the limbs of necromorphs as the most effective means of taking them down. But that roster of enemies is a wildly varied bunch, and their mutations require different approaches to combat. The basic plasma cutter works well early on against slashers and wasters, humanoid enemies who simply charge at you upon sight. But you need to modify your approach as the game mixes in different types of foes, like the chaotic swarms of feeders, those weak but agile necromorphs who attack you in massive numbers. For these, slotting in a powerful melee attachment like the hydraulic engine works well by smashing them down in wide, sweeping arcs of devastation. But later, you encounter immensely powerful foes like the snow beast, a four-legged necromorph roughly the size of a truck. This is when being able to slap a secondary grenade launcher onto your primary weapon suddenly comes in very handy.

Dead Space 3 carries the series’ standard admirably, thanks to deep weapon crafting and a wealth of exploratory possibilities.

By Shaun McInnis