Note: Main review by Matthew Pellett (MP); co-op verdict by Chris Scullion (CS).
As Dead Space 3 finally arrives, we're left to ponder: what is it about this generation and the capitulation of gaming's greatest horror series?
With the exception of Shattered Memories, Silent Hill's been subjected to rotten remakes and ineffective sequels. Resident Evil's transformed from the survival horror daddy to a flailing granddaddy wondering how it grew so old, so quickly. Alone in the Dark? For that we reserve the right to use squelching noises - and not the good kind.
When Dead Space burst out of the vents and onto the scene in 2008 it promised scares and innovation by the slop bucket-load. A terrifying beacon from which the rest could draw fresh inspiration. Six years later and it, too, is set to join the depressing list of great horror franchises that have lost their way in the dark.
It's no longer a horror series, for starters. The opening hour of Dead Space contained more scares than the entire eighteen-hour running time of Dead Space 3. Yes, Necromorphs burst through air ducts and out of snow drifts on a regular basis in this third game, but they do so with little craft or and even less surprise. With the emphasis placed on set pieces and all-out action moments, there's little time set aside for slow-burning tension and stage-managed scares. In the third 'Space, at least, no one will hear you scream.
The big new weapon and item customisation system plays a hand in this unwelcome evolution. The idea for custom weapons was born out of Visceral's dismay at seeing gamers shun the majority of higher-powered weapons in favour of Isaac's iconic Plasma Cutter, the classic weapon around which much of Dead Space's unique combat and puzzles were designed.
Rather than hefting around separate weapons, you can now weld them together...
Well, you can now carry two bespoke weapons of your design, each with two different tools for different firing modes. Rather than hefting around separate grenade launchers and shotguns you can make a tool that has both welded together for instance - maybe with auto-ammo-pick-up modules and fire-imbued munitions bolted on for good measure. In and of itself it's not a bad system, but the two major knock-on effects are detrimental to Dead Space 3's atmosphere.
First up is Visceral's notion that, for the gamer, juggling different types of ammunition for all these potential gun parts is too much to handle. The developers' work around is the introduction of a unified ammo system. No longer will you have to panic about running low on Ripper blades or emptying your final canister of flamethrower fuel.
You'll never have to make the tough decisions about which ammo types to collect and which ones to discard to make room; decisions, remember, that we've sweated over in past horror games. Now, each and every weapon, no matter the projectile type, draws ammunition from the same generic Ammo Clip pool.
The second consequence of the weapon building is even worse. Because you're now able to tool Isaac and co-op partner Carver up with crazy combinations and deadly gun mods, the usual mix and numbers of Necromorphs would have been far too easy to deal with.
So, to ensure you never settle into a comfort zone, Dead Space 3 bombards you with giant hordes of enemies, all at once, each one boasting Lucozade blood and running shoes judging by how fast they rush you. The enjoyment of hanging back and strategically dismembering Necromorphs is replaced by a frantic grab for the loudest, punchiest weapons. And, right from the off, most enemies are sporting some kind of armour, meaning multiple hits are needed to sever even a solitary limb.