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Dead Space 3: Change can be terrifying

Action-packed and suspenseful, Dead Space 3 impresses, even if it's a lot of the same.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read
Watch this: Dead Space 3

When Dead Space hit the scene back in 2008 it introduced an entire generation of gamers to the horrific possibilities of gory, flesh-eating pseudo-human enemies set against the gravity-bending backdrop of deep outer space. Gamers took control of Isaac Clarke, an engineer who found himself caught up in the discovery of an ancient relic that holds the key to infinite power. This Marker, as it's called, is also worshiped by a powerful religion called Unitology.

To call it terrifying was an understatement -- Dead Space solidified itself as one of, if not the most genuinely scary game of its time. Its mysterious tone was reinforced by a main character who didn't even speak a word during the entire game. Combined with spooky zero-gravity scenes and desperate struggles for oxygen, Dead Space paved the way for a trilogy -- at the least.

Visceral Games/EA

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A little more than two years later, the team at Visceral Games released a worthy sequel that upped the ante and descended deeper into madness. As a main protagonist, Clarke opened up a bit with lines of dialogue, but the game also resembled its predecessor often with similar dark and foggy corridors and routine shocker moments.

Things have gone completely down the rabbit hole in Dead Space 3, where normality isn't even a consideration. With two tales of horror already in his back pocket, there's not much that can happen that would surprise Isaac Clarke. Dead Space 3 opens up in somewhat familiar territory, with our hero literally having to shoot his way out of his own space colony apartment.

Newcomers to Dead Space should consider a play-through of the first two games, but are conversely well served by a "last time on Dead Space" cinematic. Why these aren't included in more sequels is definitely a head-scratcher.

Visceral Games/EA

Contrary to the first two games, Dead Space 3 feels much more like a blockbuster film, abandoning most of the mystery associated with the main character. That feeling of isolation and the unknown doesn't invade the player as much as before, especially thanks to the focus on a specifically tailored co-op campaign. Going at it solo echoes classic Dead Space gameplay, and I think loyal diehards may appreciate it more so than playing with a friend. The co-op experience is nothing to scoff at, though, as it adds exclusive scenarios and packs a few more hours of play time.

I played Dead Space 3 mostly by myself (and with the lights off) to really absorb the moody atmosphere for all its worth. There are a number of jump-out-of-your seat moments of sheer terror, even if a few of them come off a bit like cheap haunted house thrills. Interestingly enough, though, horror doesn't seem to be at the top of the list of priorities in the game. Dead Space vets will no doubt recognize a collection of necromorph mainstays in addition to familiar checkpoints, suit kiosks, and weapon benches. What's new in Dead Space 3 is the elimination of save points (there's only autosaving checkpoints) and a weapon modding and creation mechanic that can be accessed via weapon benches scattered across the world.

Arguably the most notable addition to the game, weapon creation, is a multilayered and tiered system that relies on the gathering of elements and tools found in lockers and supply boxes. Its lack of intuitiveness is sure to intimidate players at first as it's not exactly laid out in the most logical of presentations. But once that initial roadblock is bested, the system opens up the possibility for a seemingly endless number of combinations. So much so that it's bound to overwhelm a few gamers, and maybe even turn a few of them off.

Visceral Games/EA

Regardless, there's still a way to complete the game without having to micromanage each level of weapon creation and upgrading. Schematics for weapons are preloaded into the game that only require the collection of resources. It's a bit annoying that players must equip weapons before upgrading them, but it only requires a few extra movements. Much to my chagrin, players can also pay (see: real-life money) for more resources for upgrades without doing the dirty work. Yes, Dead Space 3 lets you pay to cheat.

Also new to Dead Space 3 are side missions that Isaac is presented with throughout the course of the game. These "fork in the road" moments can be addressed right away or they can be accessed through a replay using the chapter select menu (also a first for the series).

Whereas weapon creation is a different direction for the game, loyalists will notice that ammo management doesn't seem to be as important as it was in games past. If anything, inventory management will become a much bigger issue than finding more rounds to fire.

Visceral Games/EA

Any fan of Dead Space will really enjoy the third game in the series, but things are definitely starting to get aesthetically repetitive. Sure, this latest game does take the player to new environments with colors other than black and gray, but gamers are sure to figure out kinesis puzzles with increasing ease. There's no lack of elevators, unnecessary doors, and switches, either, but I'll take a few seconds in a lift over a loading screen any day of the week.

Dead Space 3's production values are top-notch and should be experienced not just by fans of the series but also by any gamer who yearns for nail-biting chaos and satisfying action. The sound, design, and overall scale of the title created by the team at Visceral Games is certainly the company's best effort yet, even if it occasionally detracts from some of the unique charm that the original Dead Space possessed.

CNET verdict: Highly recommended

Dead Space 3 is gritty, suspenseful, and undeniably fun to play. Within the solid production values there are a few redundant cliches. That said, there's also a fair amount of welcome new material in the game, even though the weapon creation system can be tough to wrap your head around at first.