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Dead Space 3: First 3 hours prove you can have fun without friends

Hands-on with EA's action-focussed single-player campaign

Resident Evil. Silent Hill. Alone in the Dark. At one point in the current console cycle each of these survival horror icons have embraced action-oriented gameplay to mixed success.

Dead Space 2, with its speeding trains and thrilling Uncharted-esque set-pieces, is perhaps the pinnacle of the 'action horror' defection. The last instalment swapped the USG Ishimura's isolated corridors for the comparatively thriving Sprawl, a civilian space station in the midst of a horrific Necromorph attack.

Atmosphere and spooks still lurked around most neon-lit corners, only this time sandwiched between a Michael Bay sized serving of explosions, gunship battles and scenes in which our hero violently fell off things.

Close Close

Since the sequel managed to, according to EA, "dramatically" outsell its slower paced predecessor, it's unsurprising to discover that Dead Space 3's opening hours kick off at a similarly breakneck pace.

EA's asked us to avoid spoiling the prologue's major twist, but what we can say is it's anything but subtle horror - in fact at one point you're sprinting down the side of a mountain, while a spiralling, exploding husk of wreckage crashes down behind you. It's a typically Hollywood opening to a game EA bigwigs hope will attract a wider mass-market audience than its predecessors, but it's by no means predictable.

The following chapters suggest a cinematic, well paced and varied campaign with plenty of thrills, but also oozing atmosphere and interesting scenarios. After three hours of gameplay we didn't get anywhere near the frostbitten Hoth-like planet the threequel is being marketed with - but we did encounter plenty of memorable moments we weren't expecting.

Action Man

The story picks up some months after the events of the last game, with mentally disturbed protagonist Isaac Clarke on the run from EarthGov for blowing up the aforementioned civilian space station.

Isaac's long since parted company with Dead Space 2 love interest Ellie Langford, and he's still showing signs of suffering from multiple encounters with the mind-corrupting Markers. The smashed furniture and mad scribbles on his apartment walls are probably why she dumped him, to be honest.

A brief moment is afforded to stare at the gorgeous Lunar Colony skyline before EarthGov soldiers Robert Norton and Sgt. John Carver - Isaac's co-op partner - smash the front door down. Before the pair can properly explain themselves though, a Unitologist terrorist attack rips through the neighbourhood - and it's our grey haired hero they're after.

Zoom

And so kicks off the first of a few controversial additions to EA's threequel; a shootout with other human men. Darting from cover to cover through damp city streets, Isaac wields an uzi-like projectile weapon to propel bullets towards the army of fanatical Unitology terrorists spilling from every walkway.

It's a scene description that will send series fans wind-milling towards the comments threads, but in truth the cover shooter scenes feel solid and brief enough to justify their place as, at the very least, they offer something a bit different.

Weapons feel powerful thanks to an appropriate amount of spraying gore, while the crouch button (right stick) subtly snaps to cover to avoid any awkwardness.

Norton and Carver take up 'Cortana duties' and attempt to guide our man to an appropriate evac point. They've good reason to get Isaac off the quickly crumbling Moon in one piece, as we'll discover later.

It's not long before a second Unitologist bomb - triggered by a fanatical ringleader with a British accent (above) - reveals an unsettling surprise; a replica Marker in the heart of the city, freed from the towering EarthGov lab within which the government was secretly testing it.

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