Dead Space 3 takes a new direction

The third outing of EA¿s intergalactic thriller trades horror for action, but anyone hoping to be as terrified as they were during the first two might be disappointed

Dead Space 3.
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Dead Space 3
Electronic Arts
PS3, Xbox 360, PC

In space, so they say, nobody can hear you scream. That is probably great news for anyone on the International Space Station who might have been playing Dead Space 1 or 2 – both of which offered the sort of terrifyingly creepy claustrophobia that had gamers wishing they had kept the lights on.

But while the first two games in Electronic Arts’ sinister Alien-esque series were all about inching forward on corridors of decaying spaceships, looking out for shadows as multi-limbed creatures emerged from ventilation shafts, the third outing takes a wholly different direction, following in the footsteps of Resident Evil 6, by trading out-and-out scares for action.

Once again, you take up the reins of Isaac Clarke, the beleaguered ship systems engineer repeatedly tasked with saving the human race (although he’s now sporting a rather fancy Mass Effect channelling suit, so he looks up to the job). And again, his time is spent largely trying to mow down the Necromorphs – reanimated and mutated human corpses infected with an alien virus (think Edward Scissorhands but less loveable). This time, however, it’s less about “oh God what’s around the corner”, and more charging forward guns blazing.

There are still moments likely to make gamers jump in their seats, largely thanks to the atmospheric sound effects showcasing every creak and scream, and the genuinely monstrous nature of the baddies who will crawl towards you even when you’ve shot their legs off. But it’s really a different experience, with fewer hair-raising opportunities. And this is only amplified in the new co-op option, which shatters the idea of isolation, in that you’ve got a buddy fighting alongside you. It’s all solid fun and, indeed, some of the co-op missions are the game’s best and you learn more about the characters as you go, but that uniquely sinister feeling that sent shivers down spines the first time is all but gone.

There are some genuinely cool advancements, though. The weapons-crafting system has been dramatically enhanced with a whole heap of mix-and-match options involving a gun’s frame, core, tip and attachments that can be assembled on workbenches from bits of debris found lying about. It is a bit confusing (and anyone buying the limited-edition version gets the best gun anyway), but is a nice extra.

Now into his third title, Isaac Clarke seems no longer the unwitting sci-fi hero of before. New body armour aside, he moves quicker and has a dodge roll among his moves, and the (baffling) plot has him actually selected as the man to save humanity rather than just falling into it, as you do. In the first 20 minutes, he’s waging street warfare and charging along the top of a train while taking out baddies, quite different from finding he’s among the last survivors on a spaceship.

Despite the switch to action, the game is still as slick as ever, the graphics superb and overall playability up there with the best. There’s no denying Dead Space 3 is a hugely enjoyable shooter with a raft of clever features, set pieces and missions. But gamers looking to be genuinely terrified in ways made so special in the first two should probably look elsewhere. Or at least not worry about playing in the dark.