“Dead Space 3” introduces new monsters, a crafting system for weapons and supplies and a co-op feature, but loses some of what made the franchise great – intense horror.
Isaac Clarke returns as the reluctant hero in a quest that starts out personal but quickly falls into chasing the Markers, those alien monoliths that are able to turn humans into necromorphs. Isaac is still tortured by the memories from the first two installments of the franchise and is called upon to use his knowledge to prevent the destruction of humanity.
If you never played the first two, never fear. A movie at the beginning helps tells the backstory and bring players up to speed. However, it would be better if you take the time to grab the others and give them a shot before diving into this one.
It is the year 2314. Earth is in turmoil and an alien presence is making its mark on the people. A religion worshiping the Markers as key to the next evolutionary step of humans takes over and tries to set the planet on a path of rebirth.
Issac is called in to find his ex-girlfriend and ends up dealing with the movement in brand new environments. Beginning missions happen in space and involve moving from ship to ship during the story. Having Issac move through space gives players the feeling of openness, choice and lonliness. When the action moves planetside, that feeling is intensified by the backwater ice planet where most of the action occurs.
Tau Volantis is literally a frozen wasteland trapped in time. Blowing snowdrifts, rocky cliffs and twisty paths hide enemies well and do give a sense of tension when you can’t see what’s coming. The locator, a piece of tech that keeps you on the story path, was helpful when branching caverns had me going in circles.
New enemies lurk on and in the ice ball. Some of the familiar necromorphs return, but new hideous creations are ready to pounce and rip Isaac apart. Much like their previous incarnations, you are never really quite sure if they’re dead until you stomp them into goo.
Do stomp them like you are dancing. While many aliens will drop loot after being shot, some are still hiding ammo or components within their shells and you can only find it by beating a dead corpse. Yes, there is a lot of loot to be found, but you’ll use it along the way to stay alive and also craft new weapons and supplies.
The crafting element is new, but doesn’t really feel enjoyable. The idea is to collect components as you go, build weapons from the ground up, then augment them with new, deadly components. Don’t want to design your own? Blueprints will help you get basic and advanced weaponry without mixing and matching components.
Once I obtained a gun I was happy with, crafting really became an afterthought. Although I did upgrade damage, rate of fire, clip size and reload ability, I never did any more tweaking to them. Components were used to max out my armor’s capabilities, and create health and ammo packs. For most of the game, I only visited the workbench to dump off items I didn’t want to carry anymore. Just didn’t feel the need or desire to build a weapon for building’s sake.
The action is intense and satisfying. Waves of enemies try to overrun your position and it always seems like there was one or two monsters lurking behind you. Dead necromorphs explode into a shower of limbs and ichor. Like the previous games, shooting off the limbs works much faster than blasting away at their bodies.
Big boss monsters are also on tap and one particular battle was gross and funny. I don’t know if it was meant to be that way, but I was laughing through parts of that mission.
Optional missions offer new challenges and new loot packs. They are nice diversions to the main story, yet feel like they are a part of the overall success. Text and audio logs found along the way also do a nice job of filling in the blanks in the story and help players understand what is happens and why.
Isaac gets some help this time in the form of a co-op player, John Carver. Carver is a drop-in/drop-out character that a second player can control, but is also around during the solo adventure. He has his own story, background and motivations, but those can only be truly explored by playing as Carver.
There are also co-op only areas that are locked off if you are doing the solo mission. These areas offer specific missions that must be done by two and get a little into the minds of each character. Players can support and revive each other without making it seem like everyone is only out for himself or herself.
One important thought – play with someone who plays like you. The experience will be much better if you find a second player has a similar style to your own. Otherwise, one player will be creeping along, examining everything while the other charges into another room. It isn’t as much fun, so pick your co-op buddy carefully.
“Dead Space 3” was selected on many lists as a “most anticipated horror game for 2013.” And while the franchise has been considered one of the finest horror games, this title doesn’t quite reach that pinnacle.
There are a couple of factors to consider. Players may be used to seeing necromorphs, so those horrific visions that filled our nightmares after a gaming session may actually be what we expect to see now. Our minds have been conditioned to twisted bodies and unearthly sounds so we don’t get the fright factor we used to.
Also, the franchise story is wrapping up, and I appreciated the development team doing a great job of tying up all the loose ends, the quest for those answers got in the way of just having horror for horror sake. Sure, there are some “jump out of the dark” moments that startle, but nothing scary like what I experienced in “Dead Space” and “Dead Space 2.”
Overall, “Dead Space 3” was a very good finale for the story of Isaac and the alien Markers. There are excellent moments that hook you emotionally and the combat is fun. While the horror factor is unintentionally dialed down due to familiarity, there is still a lot to love about this final (?) chapter.
“Dead Space 3” is available now in North America, February 7 in Australia and February 8 in Europe. It can be played on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, strong language. This review was done with a provided PS3 version of the Limited Edition “Dead Space 3.”
As the line between video games and comics continues to blur, developers are looking to refine their ideas to bring the best of both worlds to the fans.
“The Darkness II” (2K Games, Digital Extremes) is a first-person shooter, action horror game that puts you in the role of a demon possessed hitman. It is a sequel to “The Darkness” (2007) and based on the comic book series of the same name.
At Comic-Con 2011, Marc Silvestri, creator of “The Darkness” comics, points out that it makes sense for comic books to reach out to video games and vice versa. He said there is a shared DNA in the make-up of the fans of each and the ability to tell a better story through multiple media is appealing.
“It has got that great sense of putting yourself in the place of the (comic) hero translates perfectly to other media – games and movies. (Comic fans) were just waiting for the technology,” Silvestri said. “Each generation gets more and more prepared for the next step (in entertainment).”
One good thing about “The Darkness” franchise, he said, is that it is so story and character driven. The developers realized that all their cool gameplay and technology would not stand up to the demands of today’s fans without a really good story to envelope it.
“In ‘The Darkness II,’ you are never not in the shoes of the main character. It is critical to tell a great story to go with the action,” Silvestri points out. “We’ve got a great writer who wrote, not only the comics, but the video game, in Paul Jenkins. He’s also a guy who understands gaming stuff.”
Developers are also embracing the transformation from comic book to video game by giving writers the ability to direct the story while still maintaining some flexibility to allow for player decisions in game. It isn’t as simple as going from point A to point B. Today’s games need to let the player feel like they control the action – even though they may be heading in the direction the game intends.
“The Darkness II” does rely heavily on the comic book source material for its graphical look and feel. While the video game action will be intense and the subject matter is definitely for mature audiences, Silvestri thought it was a bold move for developer Digital Extremes to stick to the look of the comic book series.
“When you play ‘The Darkness II,’ you are literally playing in a graphic novel. It is kind of an eerie effect, but it works perfectly for what the subject matter is,” Silvestri said. “These guys hand painted every texture. It is literally living art. If Walt Disney were alive today and wanted to make a game visually, he’d make ‘The Darkness II’.”
Performers are also embracing the transformation into video games. Movie actors have long been voice actors for comics and games, and musical artists are delving into the gaming side.
Mike Patton, lead singer for Faith No More, will be returning to his role as The Darkness in the new sequel. Patton is excited about getting involved again as the demon.
“I’ve had a lot of practice (with a demonic voice) with various musical projects I’ve been involved with over the years, some of which can be extreme. I’ve always tried to use my voice as an instrument,” Patton said.
He said the biggest challenge was not to overdo it because his character does a lot of yelling and screaming and makes a lot of demonic and otherworldly sounds. He spent about 8 hours in a studio and had moments where he really could improvise.
Patton points out there are as many hard core music geeks as there are gaming geeks and he thinks there is a lot of crossover between the two.
“This ‘Darkness’ thing has really taken off. It is a really elegant and dynamic game. It’s a gas,” he said. “It is ultra-violent, but it is stylized and an exhilarating thrill ride.”
Patton really enjoyed working on the series and said he would love to continue doing the voice in the future. He might get that chance on a bigger screen.
Silvestri said there are plans to make ‘The Darkness’ into a feature film. He said the movie would have elements from the game and the comic book series, meshing all the entertainment genres together.
As I peer into the slightly darkened room with all its hidden corners and unknown sounds, I am sure there are big baddies lurking in there. But I smile a bit because that means more limb slicing, more decapitations and more fun to be had in “Dead Space 2.”
A follow up to the 2008 survival horror hit, “Dead Space 2” (Visceral Games, Electronic Arts) continues the gruesome adventures of engineer Isaac Clark and his battle against necromorphs, humans that have mutated into undead, alien monsters. This time, the monsters are tougher, smarter and more diverse as Isaac is placed on an installation on the moon Titan, called The Sprawl, which houses a terrifying secret.
The story picks up three years (in real-time and in game time) after the conclusions of “Dead Space.” If you didn’t play the first version, Visceral Games provides a movie that recounts the original adventure to provide proper background.
Isaac has been rescued and taken to a military medical facility where he has undergone experiments as others try to find out the secret of the alien Marker responsible for the necromorph virus. As he breaks free with some help, the adventure into mayhem and psychological terror truly begins.
The necromorphs are strikingly realistic and grotesque. They can only be killed when their limbs are cut away from their bodies. They also appear from every nook and cranny of the facility and from every direction.
There are new necromorphs that will swarm Isaac, try to outthink and outflank him, and some that will just attempt to overpower him. The mix forces players to recognize what they face, determine the optimum weapon to use, and work out a plan for success.
The detail by which the creatures were designed is realistic enough that you can still see portions of them that used to be human and figure out in your mind what their twisted parts and limbs have now become. They are as relentless as any zombie, but as deadly as any space alien could possibly be.
The constant tension sticks with you throughout and forces players to think about strategy, weapon strength and tactics before blundering into a new area. Steve Papoutsis, Executive Producer of the Dead Space franchise, said the designers wanted to ratchet up the thrills but also wanted to pace the story so players didn’t get fatigued from being on the edge all the time.
“(The pacing in ‘Dead Space 2’) is much more of a roller coaster,” he said. “People thought in the first game was great in its relentless tension throughout but we did hear from some people that it was overwhelming at times. So we decided we wanted you to go from the white-knuckle terror moments to these ‘oh, my god. I can’t believe I’m making this Halo-type jump’ moments.”
Isaac faces internal struggles within his own mind and external struggles as different factions seek control of the Marker. Papoutsis said the team tried to weaver both elements through the story and the game to give players a greater sense of immersion. He also said both sides would be key as the action winds down to an exciting conclusion.
The horror in the game is not just visceral (pun intended). Designers also ramped up the mind games they play with you by bringing back Isaac’s deceased girlfriend seen in the first game as well as hallucinations that look like they are attacking you.
“Terror is the act leading up to the horrific moment,” Papoutsis said. “There is something neat when you are expecting it and it doesn’t happen. Then it is like, uh oh, something really bad is going to happen.”
Isaac is armed with some familiar weapons to help him dismember his foes. The plasma cutter and the line gun return, but are retrieved in very interesting, and, sometimes, bloody ways. There are a few new and effective weapons, like the detonator that places laser mines as traps for sneaky necromorphs.
Weapons and abilities can be upgraded by using nodes found scattered throughout The Sprawl. Word of advice: always keep one node in your pocket. They are also used to open supply room doors that contain lots of ammo and health.
Kinetics and stasis powers also return and are used more aggressively in this adventure. Objects can be picked up and flung with devastating results while stasis powers hold opponents in place temporarily so Isaac can gain an advantage (or beat a hasty retreat). Both powers slowly regenerate as the game moves forward, a change from “Dead Space,” but a welcome and needed difference in combat.
Players stay immersed in the world thanks to no loading screens. In the previous adventure, trips on the tram or in an elevator usually meant loading time. In “Dead Space 2,” those areas are now just as active as the rest of the complex.
The game is split onto two discs on the Xbox 360 version so there will be a brief load after switching to disc 2. Of course, the game will reload to a save point if you should die. However, the action and flow of the story never takes a break throughout for any other loads.
The storyline is well written, has good pacing, and actually makes sense in the franchise. Events that take place keep the plot moving along and the story is still able to introduce new characters seamlessly.
“’Dead Space 2’ isn’t intended to be a feel good story,” Papoutsis explains. “It is supposed to be a very scary and kind of a believable future.”
While the single player action is very enjoyable, Papoutsis said the number one request from players of the first adventure was multiplayer action.
The multiplayer portion pits humans against necromorphs but gives players the chance to play as one of the undead mutants. The action is still tense, still scary, has a definitely feeling of horror survival to it and remains true to the overall “Dead Space” feel.
On the human side, you are playing as The Sprawl security force. On the necromorph side, players can choose from one of four playable necromorphs. Teams are composed of 4 players and need to work together to succeed across 5 maps.
“We wanted to give people the opportunity to create their own stories in the ‘Dead Space’ world,” Papoutsis said. “That’s what’s really interesting about multiplayer gaming and how it is becoming social behavior for us.”
“Dead Space 2” delivers a truly epic horror experience that raises the levels of psychological thrills in deep space to new levels. Whether it is facing off against new, horrifying necromorphs or dealing with the inner demons in Isaac’s mind, the adventure will keep players on the alert and yet still startle them out of their seats.
This review was based off game play for the Xbox 360 version. “Dead Space 2” is rated M for mature audiences 17 years of age and older. It is currently available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Atari is hoping that taking a 30 year old iconic title, mixing it with some up-to-date graphics and new enemies, but retaining the classic feel and playability will produce a game for parents and kids alike.
“Haunted House”, a game originally released in 1981 for the Atari 2600 console, makes its spooky return just in time for this Halloween season. The game returns players to the Graves Mansion as the grandchildren of the original character, Samuel Silverspring, and search for the lost pieces of a magical urn.
Game producer Roland Lester said reimagining “Haunted House” was part tribute and part balancing act.
“When the game was originally released in ’81, it was the original survival horror, thriller game,” Lester said. “We wanted to bring back the nostalgia and make a game that parents can play with the kids.”
The development team went to work, expanding on levels and monsters while still keeping the feel of the game true to the original. Retaining the glowing eyes that represent the player from the first game was a big priority.
“There was a lot of back and forth in the design process,” Lester explained. “How do we want to show the character? In the end, we decided to keep the iconic floating eyes because it gave us a good tie-in to the old game.”
While there was discussion about third-person viewpoint or even first-person (over the shoulder) view, designers went with a top down viewpoint, which also offered opportunities for interesting map puzzles. Players will find closed doors as the map teasingly shows a room beyond, but the door can only be opened by using colored lanterns.
There are new enemies as well as old ones in “Haunted House.” Ghosts, rats and bats inhabit the early levels and gamers will battle wraiths, skeletons, gargoyles and the ghost of Zachary Graves in the later, challenging levels.
“We provided various levels of difficulties so parents could play with their kids and not get anyone frustrated,” Lester said. “I remember the old ‘Haunted House,’ and by the time you got to the end, it was pretty challenging.”
Lester said the team also looked at the older game and tried to figure out what a player would have wanted to do, then figure out a way to do it in the new game.
In the original, the main character couldn’t fight against opponents. He was just forced to run away. So, designers came up with a way to fight back.
“We wanted to fight to ghosts, so we had to come up with tools to be able to do that,” Lester said. “Torches are the early weapons and most effective against the bats. More light weapons come in later.”
The game features 16 levels full of 3-D environments, hidden treasures, new puzzles and boss battles. Sound and lighting also play an integral part in gameplay and setting the mood.
The rooms of the haunted mansion remain mostly in the dark with only the floating eyes of the character to be seen. Players can find matches, candles, cellphones and other light emitting devices to light their way for a short period of time. Stronger sources of light also act as weapons against the forces of evil.
Sound is used to evoke an ominous atmosphere with creaking doors, squeaking floor panels and the occasional peal of laughter from out of nowhere.
“The storm outside gets louder as you progress through the game. The house has become twisted with evil and creaks everywhere,” Lester said. “You hear the sounds of a kid laughing through the wall, which ties into the back story of the game.”
The original game came with small comic books to explain what went horribly wrong at Graves Mansion. Lester said journal pages from Graves, his wife, and Grandpa Silverspring are scattered throughout the levels to reveal the back story from each person’s point of view.
“The journals reveal how Zachary Graves went insane after the death of his son. His wife describes how she watched him deteriorate,” he said. “It really tells the entire story about how this place went wrong.”
New players will get an arcade like game that is easy to play but challenging as they progress. Older players will find a game that feels nostalgic, but still exciting with new twists and turns.
If it achieves both goals, Lester said it would be mission accomplished for the design team.
“This title needed to hold true to its roots because it was the foundation to the horror/thriller games of today,” he said. “We want to keep this as an arcade title for younger players but want older players to think, ‘That’s the old game. That’s the game I remember and love.’”
“Haunted House” is available for the Wii and PC now and will be available on the Xbox Live Arcade in October. It is rated E10+ for language, mild blood and mild cartoon violence.