In space, no one can hear you scream, unless you’re playing online co-op. In Visceral Games’ Dead Space 3, our hero, Engineer Isaac Clarke (the videogame equivalent of Alien’s Ripley), is back to battle the Necromorph menace, and this time he’s brought backup. Dead Space 3 adds co-op to the action-horror series, allowing you to play through the campaign with another player and experience additional side missions and cutscenes not found in the more traditional solo mode. And while dismembering hideously mutated zombies and solving puzzles with a friend is undoubtedly fun, it also kills any sense of the tension or dread the franchise is known for.
Fortunately, the game can still be played solo and in that mode it remains similar to its predecessors. Isaac still explores claustrophobic, darkly-lit corridors, where things go bump in the night and then run at you and try to slice you to pieces. And the game’s fundamental gameplay—a trifecta of slowing things down with the stasis ability, shooting spiky limbs off with various weapons, and then throwing them back at enemies with kinesis—is as satisfying as ever. Isaac’s quest to stop the Unitologists (think Scientologists if they wanted to end mankind rather than just hassle Katie Holmes) eventually lands him on a hostile, Hoth-like ice planet called Tau Volantis, where he must navigate blinding snowstorms and battle mutating enemies reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Dead Space 3 plays up Isaac’s role as an engineer, allowing you to craft weapons and items from materials you find throughout the game. The system is downright overwhelming, but ultimately rewarding for those willing to put in the time to discover which combinations of components add up to lethal weapons. For the unimaginative, you can still collect blueprints that take all the guesswork out and create classic weapons from the series, but tweak them by adding circuits that add more damage, faster reload, or partner-aiding abilities. The ability to share weapon blueprints with friends is a creative addition that can lead to you discovering potent combinations you might not have found otherwise.
The game is beautifully directed and visually stunning, with gameplay seamlessly transitioning through cutscenes without missing a beat. Developer Visceral Games got its name for a reason, as they can stage spectacularly intense action sequences like no other. But as gorgeous and assured as the game is, it stays frustratingly close to the gameplay perfected in Dead Space 2. The Necromorphs you encounter are largely the same and can’t seem as frightening the third time around. The addition of human soldiers and a cover-fire system adds little to the overall experience. Co-op or not, the game simply isn’t as scary as the other entries, and the ability to craft ammo and healthpacks ratchets down the tension of dying significantly on all but the hardest difficulties.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the team has abandoned all horror aspects for a ballistic Resident Evil 6 clone, but nothing quite matches the unsettling experience of inserting a giant needle into your own retina in Dead Space 2. In that game, Isaac was battling madness, and the player felt similarly disturbed and disoriented. In Dead Space 3, Isaac has already been through so much that he’s no longer shocked or surprised by the horrors around him, and I couldn’t help but feel the same. B