The way people talk about Dead Space 3, I thought I was in for a second Resident Evil 6. I was worried my friend had dragged me into another 20-plus hours of mundane hell that would leave me completely numb and miserable, barely able to keep my hands on the controller as we unloaded seven clips into a single enemy. And here I am itching to play more. Dead Space 3’s got it all – a pseudo gravity gun that now lets you lob explosive barrels at your co-op partner, workbenches where you can design overpowered shotguns that will send Necromorphs and all their limbs flying, and zero-G space sections full of homing mines to shoot. Or you can let them hit your buddy and then feign ignorance. “My bad, mate. Didn’t spot that one.”
As I probably should have guessed, the internet blew it out of proportion. It earned a respectable 78 on Metacritic, but that didn’t stop it from developing its reputation as the one bad egg in an otherwise great survival horror trilogy. It was dragged through the mud for being different and, as we all know, new is scary, but 3 isn’t even all that new. I’d mostly heard, which was even echoed in some reviews, that it ditched horror for action, yet it feels a lot like the first two games, only now with a co-op partner.
Expectedly, having a bud tag along to crack wise with makes the atmosphere a little lighter, but that doesn’t diminish the body horror and hopelessness of finding scattered audio logs of frantic crewmates in their last moments. The dingy corridors are still lit by backup lights, leaving you in the dark as your suit does the heavy lifting when brightening up your surroundings, and around every corner, there’s still some monstrosity waiting to get the jump on you. There are the odd action moments, like much of the prologue and first chapter, but these are simply segments to get us back into the horror. It’s like Resident Evil 4 with the feel of 5’s co-op.
A lot of it is built with co-op in mind, which is impressive. So many multiplayer games feel like single-player experiences with a friend awkwardly chucked in. Even Resident Evil 6 had that problem with the Ada campaign – if you were player two, you’d phase out of existence during the cutscenes, while a lot of the set pieces felt too narrow and awkward to fit both of you in, meaning one of you would spend half the time teleporting to catch up. But here, you have a name, appear in cutscenes, and there are puzzles designed with two people in mind. That goes double for a lot of the more action-heavy standoffs.
In one case, I had to solve a jigsaw puzzle with cargo instead of little cardboard pieces. I sat there, trying to shove the two bits together for a good five waves – I couldn’t figure it out. My friend got overwhelmed by the Necromorphs and succumbed to his dwindling ammo supply.
Then we swapped. He got through the puzzle incredibly fast which, admittedly, made me feel like an idiot. Maybe I am. But while he faffed on with something that took a bit more brain power, I whipped out my shotgun and redecorated the room with limbs, guts, blood, and the remains of these mutated crewmates. The idea of a horde-style stand-off seems more action-heavy, eh? It didn’t feel that way. The pressure to keep my pal alive while fighting off this growing attack as my ammo counter fizzled to zero was terrifying, just in a different way from the jump scares and ambience of previous games.
It’s still a scary game, though maybe not to the extent of giving me nightmares like the first one did when I was a kid. Just now you get to enjoy that with someone else, like going to the cinema and holding hands with your best friend through every jump scare. A lot of the hate, the reputation that has seemingly put it on par with Dino Crisis 3 as the game we don’t talk about, and the stigma around its ditching action, are all unearned ideas pushed by a vocal minority on the internet. Shocker.
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