When the original “Dead Space” debuted in 2008, it won a huge audience by taking the survival horror game and transposing it into outer space. After all, if zombies are scary, then zombies in space must be really scary, right?
‘Dead Space 3’
Right! The extraterrestrial horror show is back in “Dead Space 3” (PC, PS3, X360; $59.99; rated M), a game that doesn’t mess too much with its own successful formula.
The baddies – mutated undead psychopaths called Necromorphs – are among the most freaky and disturbing monsters in all of gaming. They skitter and screech and pop out of nowhere. And you know that nightmare scenario where the monsters are chasing you but you’re running in slow motion? “Dead Space” approximates that with scary zero-G environments in which you can’t run at all.
The story: Isaac Clarke, hero of the first two games, returns to action when he’s conscripted by agents of EarthGov, the last bastion of federal authority in the year 2514. (Libertarians should enjoy this set-up – big government doesn’t fare well in the future.)
Clark, along with fellow soldier John Carver, is dispatched to the icy planet of Tau Volantis and the ruins of an abandoned colony. Tau Volantis is believed to be the home world of the Markers, the giant alien artifacts that spawn the space zombies. The planet, and the hundreds of wrecked spaceships drifting in its orbit, are infested with Necromorphs.
Creepy places, frantic fighting
That’s really all you need to know. “Dead Space” uses third-person over-the-shoulder POV, and as a game experience it’s almost exclusively about creepy environments and frantic combat. The game’s trademark Resource Integration Gear (RIG) spacesuit returns, which provides inventory and quest information by way of holograms projected in the game world itself.
This time around, the designers have added in an extensive weapons crafting system. As Clark fights his way to and through Tau Volantis, he can patch together new weapons from salvaged parts. Mining tools like the plasma cutter can be modified with secondary weapons – a grenade launcher, say, or a flamethrower. As the game progresses, you quickly learn (the hard way) that certain weapons are more effective against particular Necromorph variants.
The fighting in “Dead Space” is harrowing and occasionally frustrating. Just shooting the baddies isn’t sufficient. Most firefights require pinpoint accuracy, which removes a particular appendage that hobbles the creature or causes it to morph into a secondary mutation. With no auto-lock option, combat often devolves into panicked bullet-spraying.
Ironically, it’s the quiet respites between fights that provide the most satisfying moments. Environments are richly detailed, whether you’re creeping through the ruins of an abandoned mining ship or scaling ice cliffs. You’ll spend some time in orbit as well.
Drop-in cooperative mode
“Dead Space 3” also introduces a new drop-in cooperative mode, with two players teaming up as Clark and Carver. The game is designed to support co-op throughout the main storyline, and in fact some side quests and areas are exclusive to multiplayer. Limited puzzle-solving sequences are scattered throughout, but mostly “Dead Space” sticks to its strengths of survival horror scenarios and third-person combat.
Needless to say, “Dead Space 3” isn’t for kids. It’s extremely gory and those Necromorphs are real nightmare material. But if you’re in the market for an immersive and very scary game experience, “Dead Space 3” is as good as it gets.
Also New This Week: Stealth shooting with “Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2” (PC, PS3, X360); sci-fi real-time strategy with “Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm” (PC, Mac) and Greek mythology epic prequel “God of War: Ascension.”