A lot has changed in ten years, both in the video game world and in the real world. The world seems to have gone crazy, with spy balloons floating over America and war kicking off in Ukraine. But virtually, Dead Space has come around again, pushed out to a world of video games that seems to focus on more retro styled games than ever before. 

But, I’m going to talk about Dead Space 3 and how it launched back in 2013. The plan is to use that game, to chat about wider topics, mostly focusing on why co-op gameplay and survival horror shouldn’t ever mix. Hopefully I’m not over promising what I have in mind. 

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The first thing we need to acknowledge about the release of Dead Space 3 is that it wasn’t as good as the previous entries in the series; both the original Dead Space and Dead Space 2 trumped it. I’m sorry if you disagree, but this is where the series died. 

The thing that made the previous games tense and scary was the fact that you were creeping around dark corridors, jumping at every little sound; soiling yourself every time a Necromorph appeared. What Dead Space 3 did was take away the tense surroundings and plonk you in almost arena-like areas, with giant monsters to fight. This, to me, wasn’t a proper survival horror game, instead feeling more of an attempt to make it an action game. If I want a third person action game, that’s what Gears of War is for. Isaac Clarke doesn’t cut it. 

The big departure for Dead Space 3, and the thing that I want to concentrate on, was the inclusion of a cooperative game mode. Now, thinking about it, this does seem like an obvious inclusion for a game of this type. However, for a number of reasons, it wasn’t a triumph. 

The main issue in Dead Space 3 was that Isaac was affected by his encounters with the Necromorphs and the things he had been through, so not surprisingly his mental health has taken a battering. This is represented in-game by Isaac hallucinating at certain points. The odds of someone else (in this case John Carver) having not only the same experiences but to have also been affected to a similar degree, stretched the bounds of credibility. Even the addition of different hallucinations for John at the same point as Isaac (so when you see something on your screen, the other player sees something else), while being an interesting design decision, felt tacked on.

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The actual combat suffered because of this addition as well. The thing that Dead Space did well was the combat, especially when you were scrambling around a small space, hoping for ammo and desperately trying to find the one gun that you had left with ammo in. Setting the battles in larger arenas (my abiding memory is fighting a giant Necromorph on an icy planet with a friend, and both of us running out of ammo at the same time and failing miserably as a result), meant that the tension was lessened. It was like a Gears Of War fight, say against the Corpser in the first game, and it took it away from its survival horror roots. 

There were other entries in long running survival horror games where cooperative gameplay was also tried, most noticeably Resident Evil 5. This worked through a different approach, as the game in question had moved to be much more of an action game than the previous entries. Resident Evil 6 flirted with the same idea as well, and this introduced another issue. I must be the most unlucky person in the world when it comes to finding random strangers on the internet to play with.

Take Forza Horizon 5 as an example and I always get thrown into a team for The Trial who are intent on smashing team mates off the road or wide of checkpoints. This luck carried through to the Resi games. The number of times I opened my game up to the world, had someone join and thought “This should be fun!”, only to be disappointed, is quite high. My most common complaint is that someone would join who had no interest in looking around and finding things in the levels (which to me is the most fun part of these games) but they would go charging on ahead, racing through the levels and then getting shirty when I was exploring. and not running straight to the objective. 

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The gold standard for co-op horror games is still that of Left 4 Dead and, more recently, Back 4 Blood. Again, playing this with friends is great, as you can take the mickey out of each other while playing, but I have the same problem with randoms again. My favourite type of random player is the one who knows the levels like the back of their hands, charges off to the objective but doesn’t kill anything on the way, just riling them up ready for when the rest of us come along. The number of times I’ve died by running into a horde of zombies that have been alerted by Speedy McSpeedyface is just not funny. 

I seem to have gone a little off track, but what I’m trying to say here, by way of conclusion, is that survival horror and co-op gameplay simply doesn’t mix – and that was the case for Dead Space 3 when it released back in 2013. Granted, there are games that have elements of it, like Dead by Daylight, but this isn’t a true survival horror game so if anyone out there can tell me a good survival horror game that isn’t ruined by having online multiplayer, I’m all ears. 

Otherwise, I will be playing alone, in the dark, wearing headphones as I attempt to scare myself silly with the newly rebooted Dead Space, forgetting all about the attempted horrors of the franchise killer.

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