Review | 2/11/2013 at 3:03 PM

Dead Space 3 Co-Op Review

Nothing to fear

I missed out on Dead Space and Dead Space 2 when they first launched in 2008 and 2011, respectively. When I learned Dead Space 3 was going to support cooperative play I decided to get acquainted with the series. In the last few weeks I faced the horrors of the Planet Cracker Starship, Ishimura, and escaped the depravity of Titan Station, familiarizing myself with Issac Clarke and his particular... troubles. Having just completed his latest adventure I can say that I really enjoyed the entire series, and cooperative play is a welcome addition.   

Dead Space 3 begins with our reluctant hero called to battle the Necromorph menace (again). Clarke has fallen on hard times. His ramshackle apartment betrays what is left of his frayed mind and ruined personal life. But there's no time to dwell on the past. Rough-looking men are at the door, and Issac's trusty plasma cutter is in hand. We're quickly introduced to John Carver, our cooperative partner for this adventure. He's a hard-as-nails soldier with a bad attitude and a scar on his face that looks like it was stitched together with slightly smaller, angrier scars. The world outside is starting to explode in fire and panic. Time to go out into the mean streets of the New Horizon Lunar Colony and shoot people. People? Yes, people. I know, Clarke usually uses his MacGuyver-esque weaponization skills against rotting space zombies. Things change. Don't feel bad.  I'm sure these agents of the Unitologist cult have it coming.  Besides, they won't be dead for long.  

Carver suits up. Clarke approves.

So begins Dead Space 3. The trappings of the horror genre are still present, but this is much more of a third-person shooter than a horror experience. If the first Dead Space was about survival, and the sequel was about escape, then this third entry is about extermination. The creeping confines of the Ishimura are long gone. Clarke seems more like a soldier now, rather than an engineer. Don't fret; Dead Space 3 is still a very good game.

By now we know some dead bodies will get up, sprout giant claw-tipped tentacles, and amble toward us menacingly. We know  every vent and air shaft is just waiting to belch forth the latest iteration of some zombie-blender hybrid. When we see a huge cache of supplies laying around we know something bad is going to go down in the next room. We know this enemy. We need not fear it. That doesn't mean we can't have fun shooting, cutting, stabbing, exploding, and stomping Necromorphs to pieces. Why not do it with a friend?

The game really opens up once we enter the orbit of Tau Volantis. That's the icy planet believed to be the home world of the Markers, the alien monoliths responsible for the horrors of the Dead Space franchise. The game hits a steady pace of find-it/fix-it missions, sending Clarke on several perilous quests through zero gravity wreckage, with grumbling Carver in tow. We're introduced to a few pieces of Necro-fodder support characters which breathe some life into what has been a very isolated world. As Clarke and Carver explore the wreckage of space vessels a few side missions open up, giving our heroes access to more supplies, weapon parts, and upgrades. There are even a handful of missions that are only accessible when playing with a partner. More on those later. 

The zero G space exploration is one of the highlights of the game. 

Dead Space 3 has some great ideas when it comes to cooperative play. John Carver is a gruff, fun character. When playing with a partner, the dialog between Carver and Clarke brings some levity to the ludicrously grim story. Sure, they're on a suicidal mission to save the galaxy from becoming walking cutlery. That doesn't mean they can't have a laugh. It's not quite that light-hearted, but their relationship keeps things entertaining and doesn't feel forced. 

Environmental puzzles adapt for co-op, most of which involve players using their telekinesis powers on two moving parts at once. Some puzzles require players to cover one another as enemies attack, whereas Clarke would be left alone to finish the task if you were playing solo. Purist will be glad to know that Carver will not accompany you as some sort of brain-dead AI if you decide to go it alone. He'll be around as an NPC, but his role is greatly diminished. 

Co-op is easy to access through the main menu and in-game pause screen. The game has been touted as having drop-in/drop-out co-op, but that's not really true. Players will have to either reach the next checkpoint or restart their game from their last saved checkpoint before the second player can enter the game. Thankfully, the antiquated save system of the past two titles has been replaced by an autosave feature, but it's not without its faults. Personally, I had my chapter 17 game save kicked all the way down to chapter 11. I was able to make up most of the lost time with the handy chapter select feature, and my inventory was intact, but I was more than a little perturbed. Don't mess with someone's save file.

Carver's personal hell is invisible to Issac. 

Story progress is saved for both characters. If you're just starting out you can jump into a buddy's Chapter 10 game, if you want. When you continue your individual game you'll be able to load your own uninterrupted campaign or load up your advanced save file. It's up to you.  Each player keeps their own valuable inventory at the end of a co-op session. Players will receive their own ammo, health, stasis, and resource drops. Important items, like weapon parts and artifacts, are credited to both players no matter who picks them up. 

The host player will take the roll of Clarke, the guest will play as Carver. There is no difference in how the characters play, but there are a few missions that can only be accessed through coop mode. These side missions offer more back story on Carver, and your experience will differ greatly depending on which character you play as. I played through an early mission as Carver, and it was creepy. I played through the rest as Issac, and having my co-op partner describe to me what was happening was even creepier. Carver sees things that Isaac can't. I wish there were more missions like these. If you want more of the blood and guts of the co-op details I suggest checking out our Dead Space 3 Co-Op FAQ

The pair of Clarke and Carver is a formidable team. I was able to easily dispatch any Necromorphs I came across while playing solo, and two players will absolutely wreak havoc on the pathetic enemies. I highly recommend playing on higher difficulties if you plan to play cooperatively, as the game doesn't seem to scale the enemy count for a second player, with the exception of a few specific occasions.  Once you take away the element of surprise, which basically entails covering each other's backs, there isn't much of a challenge. On normal mode enemies drop far more ammo than it takes to actually kill them. They're like gorey, pointy pinatas. Once I made a rocket launcher that wouldn't blow my own face off, I didn't have to worry myself with things like tactics, or strategy, or aiming. 

The weapon crafting system is wonderful. Shotgun laser hammers for everyone!

When faced with puny human enemies I felt completely overpowered. Catching an enemy rocket with Clarke's telekinesis ability and then sending it right back at them is sweetly satisfying. Let me say that again: Issac Clarke can pluck enemy grenades and rockets out of the air and then fire them back at the bad guys with near pinpoint accuracy. I don't think I've ever played a game before where I hope the next platoon of enemies has a few extra guys with rocket launchers. Oh, and there's a new cover system, but it's not really necessary. 

While playing co-op, players will be tethered together in the same room, so you can't go off in different directions to complete multiple objectives. That's okay. The small confines of some of the areas lend themselves to vicious melee attacks and boot stomping parties. There's no friendly fire, which is a good thing, since the weapon crafting system allows players to make ridiculous tools of war. 

The new and improved weapon crafting system is a great addition to the Dead Space franchise, but it also marks the series' move from a horror staple to a more action-oriented title. I could make a plasma cutter pistol withe a ripper blade attachment. Or I could make a fully automatic assault rifle with an underbarrel shotgun that does acid damage over time and automatically picks up any surrounding ammo. There are an astounding amount of options, allowing to kit your player out as the Necromorph exterminator you want to be. You can make a melee specialist who uses hydraulic hammers, or a support character who can heal and replenish stasis for your co-op partner. The choice is yours.

The Dead Space 3 Video Co-Op Review. Thanks to Locke Vincent 

These weapons can't be passed between characters, but you can share your custom blueprints with each other. Tools of destruction can be made with the resources found in the game, which are fairly plentiful. Your little scavenger bots will also gather resources for you, including ration cards. These ration cards can be used to buy actual DLC supply packs, which is pretty cool. You could shell out real money, but why bother?

There are a few flaws in the game. At times certain prompts for switches and puzzles wouldn't activate correctly, forcing us to reposition ourselves. At times I had no idea where I would end up when I restarted a checkpoint to allow a co-op player to join my game. I could lose one minute, or twenty. I also found quite a few enemy "trigger points," which means if I retreated a few paces the enemies would stop pursuing me and run back and hide behind cover. Then they would shamble out again as I approached, then quickly turn and run again if I took a step back. It was kind of hilarious. This gave the impression that the horrific monsters were actors wearing rubber suits, trying to take their marks before I called "Action!"   When I would get tired of this I'd simply feed them a rocket and be on my way. 

Dead Space 3 is a very good single player title, and an equally good co-op title. Horror fans can scale the difficulty to make it more of a challenge, but people who just want to enjoy the ride with a friend will have a good time, as well. Some technical issues, both in the single player and co-op, hold it back a bit. While the early space-faring levels are really enjoyable, the planet-bound second half of the game becomes a little tedious. Still, Dead Space 3 is a welcome addition to the series and another interesting chapter in life of a rather unlucky space engineer.

This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.