It’s hard not to think back to Isaac’s wide-eyed terror when, as a simple blue-collared systems engineer, he went to war within his own mind. As powerful, unearthed artifacts introduced doubt, paranoia and apparitions to accompany his already present fear toward those that dwelled within the Ishimura’s derelict hull.
Two sequels later, Isaac is hardly the same man. He’s no longer the innocent, unsuspecting son of Paul and Octavia Clarke. He’s the galaxy’s most reluctant hero. When it comes to tinkering, he’s a regular Tim the Toolman, but when it comes to surviving the seemingly insurmountable Necromorph threat, he doesn’t waver.
Mark Twain once famously said that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and this is true of Isaac.
Isaac’s evolution into a hardened slayer, staring down fear in the rearview mirror, was perhaps an inevitable one. But I feel it has been an unwelcome one to many people hoping Dead Space would always, in some way, warrant a pair of fresh grape smugglers. Sadly though, Isaac’s ascendance has prompted a change in theme for Dead Space, as it trades chills for thrills. The pant-shitting terror of the Ishimura is a long distant memory, but it isn’t all doom and gloom.
There’s a wild ride on offer for those unafraid of change.
Dead Space has always had a pretty broad canon, having expanded beyond the games into books and graphic novels. Having never read them, it was incredible to get a glimpse of the franchise’s yesteryear as, in a scene set two-hundred years before the Ishimura infestation, Tim Caufman—along with Sam Ackerman if in co-op—is sent by Doctor Earl Serrano to fetch a Codex, in the form of a canister. Within it lies the hopes of the under siege Tau Volantis colony.
Before it can be handed off to the man with the plan, Serrano, young Caufman is betrayed by his commanding officer, General Mahad. After purging the data from the Codex, Mahad salutes the flag and blows his own brains out.
Flash forward a couple of hundred years, and we see a now recluse Isaac Clarke. Fed up with fending off the Necromorph threat, building up and tearing down Markers and losing those he holds dear, he’s seemingly packed it in, sabotaging the last shred of happiness he had left, pushing Ellie Langford out of his life. When Norton and Carver try to abscond with Clarke due to his reputation as an artifact slayer, he refuses. Though, when they mention that contact had been lost with Langford, it quickly becomes a no brainer for Isaac.
From then on, Dead Space 3 fritters away a lot of time while saying very little, as the first two thirds of the game focus on reaching Tau Volantis as well as an awful love triangle subplot that exists solely to push the story along. It never sunk low enough to lose my attention, but it was thin ice. Fortunately, after the game reaches the franchise’s most stunning reveal, Isaac Clarke’s final act came full circle and managed to satisfy every hope I had for the trilogy.
And while there’s no shortage of breathtaking set pieces, I must ask: just where’s my sequence designed to one up the dreaded Eye Machine? Not even close, Visceral.
Ever since the days of the Ishimura outbreak, one mantra has caused the reanimated nasties to languish: aim for the limbs. The tried and true method of separating legs and misshapen claws from their savage husks is one that never fails when it comes to both painting the walls with Necromorph juices and painting a smile on my dial. Obviously aware of old saying “if it ain’t broke” and so on, Visceral have left well enough alone. However, they’ve been under the hood knocking up features to compliment the game’s well-rounded assets.
Isaac’s trusty old Plasma Cutter has served him well. I mean, it’s severed more limbs than I’d care to count. It must be that they breed them tougher on Tau Volantis, because the once-engineering tool doesn’t pack quite the same punch. It’s fortunate Clarke has the know-how, because scattered throughout the game are crafting benches where our hero can clank about, building wild weapons that are sure to take more than an eye out.
In concept, it’s a smart step forward to finally make use of Isaac’s unique gifts, but sadly due to exploits and some careless design, it can render the game laughably mild. Being able to circumvent the system to farm resources ad nauseam and going on to craft unfathomably overpowered killing tools can sap the fun out of it all.
While the multiplayer facet from the first sequel has been rightly shelved, I couldn’t help but feel that Visceral’s harebrained co-op scheme might yield similar results. Luckily it isn’t awful, but I still feel that it’s frivolous. Carver’s story would have been better served sprinkled throughout Isaac’s main quest, rather than tacked onto co-op only outings. While his infrequent appearances during my single-player run weren’t jarring, a lot of his contextless drivel would fall flat, as his plight didn’t interest me at all. However, a later visit to those optional co-op errands led me to the startling epiphany that Carver wasn’t as one-dimensional as I’d thought. Once I’d gained the full spectrum of his story, his presence in the endgame became suddenly more significant and meaningful. It’s a shame his importance in the canon is determined by whether you’re able to co-op, or not.
Up until this point, Dead Space games were usually localised mostly in one place, where escape was an unlikely pipe dream. The terrible Ishimura was home to the first encounter, whereas Isaac learned just how deep the rabbit hole went during his stay at The Sprawl. This game sees our hero jetting off all over the place, from a dank, Unitologist-ridden colony to the blizzard-swept plains of Tau Volantis and everywhere in between. Visceral have done a wonderful job here. Despite the game losing its horror edge, a slight anxiety is likely to be felt wandering through decrepit, seemingly barren hulls drifting through the void. That’s thanks, in large part, to the excellent shadowing and light textures at play. Through it all, Dead Space maintains some semblance of atmosphere.
Homers were hit in the sound department, too. Everything from the acting to the guttural squirts and splashes of blood and shit hitting the walls was top shelf. One cameo I especially loved was Scott DeFalco’s as the prologue’s lead, Caufman. Now that was a kid who had no idea just how badly the world was falling apart around him. Gunner Wright and Sonita Henry pick up right where they left off, and Simon Templeton plays cold, calculated and menacing to great effect as the Unitologist zealot, Jacob Danik.
Jacob Graves deserves many pats on the back, too. It’s clear that, as a composer, he’s so in touch with his source material. His impeccable timing is a thing to be admired, while his dirgeful score touches and enhances Isaac’s expedition.
There was a lot of concern regarding the direction Visceral were taking Dead Space with this presumable final chapter; much of it warranted. People were right, it is action heavy and fails to scare for the most part.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360