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Dead Space 3 review: EA's horror series abandons its roots - and suffers for it

Less tension, less scares, more guns

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In a blow to all single-player fans, the combat has clearly been balanced with co-op in mind (Visceral even confirmed as much in interviews). During our first play-through we were unable to access the online portion to see how the game fares with a second player in the snow shoes of Isaac's new buddy John Carver, so keep reading after this review for our separate take on online play - and how the three co-op-only Optional Missions and Insanity effects stack up.

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Stasis and telekinesis remain great powers to play with but they're poorly utilised. Stasis is needed just to slow down the sprinting gaggles of Necromorphs to give you a fighting chance, while you'll always have too much ammo and not enough time to worry about TK-ing bits of scenery and mashed-up alien at your attackers. (Not that there's any sign of the handy poles and circular saw blades that made the original game's TK ability a powerful weapon to harness.) We're even deprived of much of the ritualistic post-battle slumgullion stomping: in most areas all but a few of the corpses will vanish in front of your eyes, leaving little in the way of carcasses to play with.

MARKER AND EXECUTE

Running out of supplies is a non-issue too unless you're playing on some of the tougher New Game+ settings. As you explore Tau Volantis, you can set down scavenger bots in resource-rich environments. Ten minutes later these bots will return to the BENCH machines to deposit their wares, and all this extra scrap metal and somatic gel can be used to build more health packs and more universal ammunition than the entirety of EarthGov could ever get through, let alone a lone engineer taking on a planet full of monsters.

And when humans show up, things take a turn for the even-worse. Fighting Unitologists may make sense from a story perspective, but - as feared - the change in dynamic feels like a betrayal of the series' roots. Crouch-jogging behind bits of low cover is Gears of War-envy at its most unbearable and there's barely any feedback as bullets sap away at your health. Mercifully, the humans appear few and far between.

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So far, so disappointing, but unlike many of its fellow horror-betraying peers, Dead Space 3 isn't a bad game. If Dead Space was Alien and Dead Space 2 was Aliens, this is Alien Resurrection: not in the same league, but solid, enjoyable, and packed with plenty of popcorn moments.

The second of the game's ten Optional Missions is arguably the game's atmospheric high point...

Take the second of the game's ten Optional Missions. The Optional Missions are all small self-contained asides from the story that offer twenty-to-forty minutes of previously sealed areas to explore with the promise of much-needed equipment and information in the buildings' darkest recesses.

In the second one, you're exploring the den of a crazed country music fan who pipes songs through his ship's speaker systems, rigs vent covers with remote mines to set up ambushes, and leaves bloody messages over the walls especially for you. Very Fort Frolic, if you ask us, in what's arguably the game's atmospheric high-point. The final level is truly an epic sight to behold too - and one that, in the greatest of ironies, manages to avoid the overwhelming enemy-rush madness that plagued Dead Space 2's conclusions.

The trouble is, Dead Space 3 has a habit of undoing its good work.

After the first two Optional Missions, the game begins to rely on environments reused wholesale from the main questline, while three of the OM's are hidden behind doors marked 'co-op', forever locked to those wanting to keep Dead Space 3 a solo affair. No wonder they're labelled as optional - it's to avoid accusations of cut-and-paste level design through the central storyline.

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The same's true with the Feeder, a freaky new emaciated enemy type that you can just about sneak past if you're very careful and extremely quiet. One foot wrong, though, and you'll be besieged by a squealing pack of starved humanoids. These enemies are brilliant additions until you realise that the health and ammunition you'll kiss goodbye to if you fight through their onslaught are but a tiny fraction of the pick-ups you'll recoup after the battle - given that each and every Feeder will drop one item.

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