Dead Space 3 fills horror vacuum

Ed Geronia Jr.

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FIGHT TO THE FINISH. A typical day in the life of space engineer Isaac Clarke. All screen grabs from Dead Space 3

Available formats: XB360, PS3, PC

Reviewed on: XB360

Rating: M

MANILA, Philippines – Back in 2008, most 3rd-person shooters were either of the sci-fi (Gears of War 2) and survival horror (Resident Evil 4) variety. Dead Space mashed up the sub-genres and the result was a shockingly good 3rd-person sci-fi survival horror shooter.

Like a virulent strain, it spawned a mega franchise that extended to mobile games, animated movies, comics, and novels. Dead Space 3 is the latest PC and console-bound installment.

After an intro that explains the important plot points of the two previous games, Dead Space 3 begins with a prologue set 200 years before the game’s 2514 setting. The player gets to briefly control a soldier slogging his way through an unforgiving arctic environment. He survives the onslaught of terrifying zombie-like creatures, then completes his mission by bringing an important object to his commanding officer.

The level ends with the officer blasting a hole through the soldier’s head and then offing himself after deleting the contents of a data storage device known as the Codex. It’s probably just a typical day on the frozen planet of Tau Volantis.

THE MOONWALKER. Spacewalks get more interesting especially with a laser blaster in hand

After the grim prologue, the games moves on to more familiar territory. We meet Isaac Clarke, the hero of the first two Dead Space games, and get to be him again. 

Gaunt and visibly aged, Isaac is now a suspicious recluse living on a distant lunar colony. After suffering through unimaginable horror, he’s had enough and wants to be left alone. However, strange events and extremely persuasive characters force him out of his self-imposed hiatus and literally back on the streets with a weapon in hand.

Even with a name inspired by two sci-fi grand masters, Isaac Clarke sure knows a thing or two about armed combat. This time around, the opposing force that he first encounters is purely of the human variety. They open fire and lob grenades at the grizzled space engineer.

Those who have played the previous Dead Space games will notice that gameplay has received a few tweaks. Isaac has learned new moves such as duck and cover and an evasive roll. He’s now more slightly agile than a walking tank from the previous games. Still, it’s a struggle for him to outrun faster enemies.

TOYS FOR THE BOYS. Weapon-crafting might already be an entire game on its own

Visually, Dead Space 3 remains a standout among sci-fi themed games and even movies. The design of the ships, interiors, equipment, and weapons all have the realistic accumulated grime of abuse and wear and tear. The world of Dead Space is rarely clad in immaculate Apple-like surfaces often found in other sci-fi universes. 

Anyone with a keen eye for UI (user interface) design will appreciate how everything is well thought out from the holographic display that emanates from Isaac’s industrial-grade space suit/battle armor called the RIG (Resource Integration Gear) to other interactive display elements such as a workbench for upgrading weapons.

One of the visual trademarks of the Dead Space UI is the seeming lack of all sorts of counters, indicators, maps, and meters during actual gameplay. There is no obtrusive HUD (heads-up display) or on-screen health meters. Instead, Isaac’s vital sign is visually integrated at the back of his suit.

Credit goes to Filipino lead UI designer Dino Ignacio for the diegetic interface design which is really tough to pull off. UI elements from the Dead Space series have made such an impression that it seems to have inspired the UIs in the recent sci-fi movie Prometheus

DARKNESS AT YOUR BACK. Between a dead space and a blind spot lies unsuspecting terror

As a shooter, what makes Dead Space 3 extremely satisfying is its robust weapon creation system. Upgraded from the previous two games, the new weapon workbench lets players create weapons from several modular parts. With the right parts, you can create a wide-angle laser cutter with a shotgun attachment (a personal favorite) or a javelin launcher with flame-thrower.

Apart from the basic primary and secondary firing modes, the weapons have upgrade slots that enhance the weapon’s damage, reload speed, and clip size. Complementing his weapons are his two abilities: kinesis and stasis. With the former, he can push and pull objects Jedi-style and even use them as weapons. The latter (which can be used only a few times before requiring a recharge) is used to slow down things like hazardous machinery and very often, attacking enemies. 

Necromorphs, the aggressive reanimated corpses of former humans with grotesque appendages, are the true test for Isaac’s scavenged weaponry. Like in the previous games, it is difficult to kill them with a single shot. Often, they will require multiple hits with the initial salvos just shearing off their limbs. Some are bipedal, others move on fours, and most of them are very agile even after they’ve been dismembered.

In addition to the human and dog-sized Necromorphs, there are colossal bug-like creatures that require not just lethal force, but also strategic maneuvers. While Isaac is not occupied with monster-slaying, he has to overcome environmental obstacles by completing simple mini-games or puzzles.

Watch Dead Space 3’s trailer here (your age will be confirmed):

Dead Space 3 has two major environments. The first one is on several derelict ships. Players who fought to the last ammo clip aboard the USG Ishimura, a large-scale planet mining ship from the first game will find the confined environs all too familiar. New to the series, Isaac has several companions in tow.

As Isaac makes his way from the interiors of abandoned spaceships, there are times when he’s thrown out of the airlock into the void of zero gravity space. During these sequences, Isaac can be maneuvered in three dimensional space. In the game’s last act, Isaac and his crew land on the arctic planet in the game’s prologue. While on this hostile planet, Isaac’s main task is to put a stop to the menace that gave rise to the Necromorphs.

One could argue that compared to the previous games, Dead Space 3 treads on familiar ground with incremental improvements. The same thing can be said for other games such as the latest installment of Gears of War, Halo, and Mass Effect. Dead Space 3 continues its domination of 3rd person shooters with its superb graphics, finely-tuned mechanics, nerve-wracking sound design,and innovative gameplay.

Extending it further is an enhanced co-op multiplayer and a richly-detailed game world. It contains more of what made the previous games stand out and what everyone should expect in a well-engineered 3rd person shooter. –

(Ed Geronia is the chief information officer of Sari Software Solutions. He is the former editor in chief of PC Gamer magazine and Games Master Philippines magazine, and former associate editor of T3 Philippines magazine.)

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