When I told a friend I was playing Dead Space 3 for this review, his eyes lit up at the thought of the thrill ride he imagined I must have been having.
"Ooh, scary!" he said with a grin.
Dead Space 3 continues the story of science fiction's handiest engineer, Isaac Clarke, as he struggles to contain the galaxy-wide spread of Necromorphs and contend with Unitologist soldiers with motives of their own.
The increasing influence of cover-based this and co-operative that in shooters threatens to have a negative impact on Dead Space 3, taking it out of the cramped corridors of survival horror and bringing it, after some scene-setting chapters, to an ice world where the series' lingering questions will finally be answered.
The first full chapter is reminiscent of last year's Gear of War wannabe from the Resident Evil series, Raccoon City Chronicles, which was more laughable than lethal, and takes some patience to complete. Character movements aren't as fluid as they could be, and it's a fine line between comedy and tragedy when your character is trying to stomp Necromorphs but hits only empty space, looking less like a beatdown and more like a hoedown.
Dead Space 3 could easily have gone the same way as Raccoon City Chronicles in its quest for relevance - but the thrill of shooting apart wave after wave of Necromorphs with surgical precision and stomping their bloodied remains for items adds some gloss to the experience, even if it doesn't raise it above the pack.
You can play a 25th century MacGyver thanks to the game's ingenious use of Clarke's engineering talents. Using the in-game workbenches, you can use space junk to craft your own weapons. It's here, hopping aboard the as-you-like-it bandwagon, that Dead Space 3 truly shines. There's some controversy around the microtransaction facility that lets players buy the bits they want, within reason, but purists can easily ignore it. Mobile gamers used to authorising pay-to-play transactions may enjoy it.
The characters, items and holographic user interface are beautifully rendered and float superbly over richly detailed environments that are clearly labours of love but are dead spaces themselves, reminding me of Jon Toogood's La La Land, with everything and nothing at all.
All would be lost right there if not for the sound design. The dialogue's not memorable, but the music and effects bathe the game in so much atmosphere you almost need Nasa clearance just to handle it. If you can, play this game with a good quality headset. When the Necromorphs fail to give you the willies on sight, the audio picks up the slack with incidental music creeping in to overwhelm the standard track as the reanimated corpses try to do the same to you.
Dead Space 3 is an interesting and contradictory animal, as if constructed using the finest parts taken from the biggest cats in the jungle - then thrown into a potato sack and left in the rain for a few days until it looks like a questionably soggy moggy in need of a meal and a place to curl up. Despite its flaws, it's worth a look, and may even grow on you when it's time to replay the story mode in its enhanced form. Just don't expect many frights.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC