Dead Space 3, like the two games that preceded it, is like digital grilled cheese, a safe and satisfying comfort food that advances itself in evolutionary, not revolutionary steps. Dead Space set itself up as a Resident Evil 4-styled shooter with deep influences from space horror movies like Alien and The Thing with the gruesome and satisfying dismemberment mechanic. Dead Space 2 upped the ante by transplanting players to the spacebound colony known as The Sprawl as well as a decent competitive multiplayer aspect.
Dead Space 3 easily marks the biggest step away from the original game in scope, tone, and environments. The internet has been rife with buzz—both positive and negative—about the frozen planet of Tau Volantis that represents the majority of Dead Space 3’s environments and the change that it would bring to the series, which has been almost completely based in dank, industrial corridors shrouded in shadows. However, this change is not nearly as drastic as it seems, but more of a palette shift: the whiteout blizzard conditions do an excellent job of shrouding enemies, much in the same way that darkness did in the past, and drifts on the ground become snowy surrogates for the Necromorph-filled air ducts of the USG Ishimura.
The other major concern comes from the tightly integrated cooperative gameplay, which teams series mainstay Isaac Clarke with the tough-as-nails EarthGov soldier John Carver. Their relationship starts off as strained, but the two become brothers-in-arms over the course of the game, which proves to be a satisfying and stable foil for Isaac’s Marker-fueled dementia. Cooperative play gives the game a more action-oriented bent, but it’s never a necessity (except for a couple of optional side missions), so solo players can still enjoy the game fully. Setting up coop matches is painless as well, with the option to pull in friends with a quick invite, or you can team up with strangers with a simple and powerful quick match system. It’s a welcome addition for some of the game’s hairier sections, but Visceral wisely chose not to force it unnecessarily on those who prefer a strong solo experience.
The other major addition comes from the weapons crafting system, which allows you to tweak weapons to your liking through resource collection, which has the additional benefit of streamlining the upgrade system for the game’s RIG system. No longer do you have to hunt for nodes in lockers and closets, but instead plan out your upgrade path based on the various bits and pieces you collect from fallen Necromorphs and various boxes and containers scattered around Tau Volantis and the other areas of the game. It’s the most appreciated enhancement of the game series thus far, and allows for a greater sense of control over your upgrade path. There’s even the addition of Scavenger Bots, industrialized Roombas that you can dispatch to the various corners of the world to scavenge (natch) for the precious resources that you want. The weapons crafting is very well-executed, allowing you to either enhance existing designs or build new guns completely from scratch. Some of these add-ons are questionable at best (the electricity-blasting Tesla Core strapped to my Plasma Cutter was the firearm equivalent of tits on a bull), but when you build a new gun that fits your play style, it’s a satisfying experience.
Finally, there’s the matter of story. The ever-widening scope of the Dead Space series has reached critical mass, with the game taking place on multiple ships, multiple planets, and focusing on the origins of the malevolent Markers. Without giving away any major plot points, you deal with loss, intentional extinction, the militarization of the Church of Unitology, and the possibility of finally bringing the Necromorphs to their rotting knees. There’s a lot of backstory at play, told through the series’ usual text and audio logs, and it’s all deeply satisfying, if a little predictable at times. The new environments also allow for some fantastic new enemies, including the emaciated Feeders (that mob you in a rather unsettling fashion), the zombie-like Waster which explodes, Las Plagas-style, into a swarm of writhing tentacles, and the tweaked-out Twitcher, which speeds around the environment in a jittery fashion, much like me with all of the Red Bulls I drank to marathon the game.
Dead Space 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel established by Dead Space, it just adds chrome, spinners, and sweet rims to a solid foundation that satisfies each and every time it’s released. The much-balked tonal shift is minimal at best (think Alien to Aliens and you’re on the right track) and doesn’t detract from a game that, at always, is intense, brutal, and perfectly executed. Hate Dead Space? This won’t change your opinion one iota. Love the franchise? You’ll have a helluva time stepping back into the Necromorph-stomping boots of Isaac Clarke—or John Carver.