‘DEAD SPACE 3’ (M)
Most popular game franchises nowadays like to play it safe, with tiny, incremental changes from one entry to the next. So it’s admirable how willing EA was to mix up the tried-and-true survival horror formula with its “Dead Space” threequel. And it’s regrettable that the vast majority of those changes are a hindrance to what made “Dead Space” great in the first place. This series has always been extremely derivative. The original title, with its setting of dark corridors on a vast spaceship, felt entirely like the film “Alien.” The sequel’s grisly events took place in the aftermath of a devastated colony, much like “Aliens.” But “Dead Space 3” is no “Alien 3.” Backdrops here include an orbital graveyard and an icy wasteland, giving the series its own, entirely welcome, unique identity. These environments are effectively horrifying — enhanced by some of the creepiest graphics of this console generation and sound design that keeps players constantly on edge. But other “Dead Space 3” innovations diminish what could’ve otherwise been one of the scariest interactive experiences of all time.
Let’s start with the story — a convoluted narrative even for “Dead Space” diehards, featuring an eye-roll-inducing love triangle, existing simply to shoehorn co-op play into the plot. Then there’s the co-op play. Nothing reduces terror quite like having an able-bodied gunman watching your back. The inevitable banter between you and your partner is an insult to the superb sound design. Fear gives way to annoyance once you’re tasked with climbing multiple ice walls and backtracking repeatedly on power cell fetch-quests. But the core gameplay remains excellent. Dismembering hordes or Necromorphs as they rapidly advance after appearing unexpectedly is as white-knuckle an experience as it ever was. Fear junkies can still get their fix, provided they ignore the story and do so solo.
‘SLY COOPER: THIEVES IN TIME’ (E10+)
Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s ironic that the words “in time” appear in the title of the latest “Sly Cooper” game, considering the last entry was released eight long years ago. But then again, “Sly Cooper: Thieves Late” wouldn’t tip players off to the new game’s time travel premise. Not only does this conceit allow Sly to ply his illegal trade in everything from the Ice Age to the Wild West, it also allows you to take the reigns of Sly’s various ancestors and their assorted abilities. The gameplay is satisfyingly varied, and the platforming is still fun, but the combat feels awkward and tedious. If you’re stealthy enough, you can almost avoid combat altogether, but the penalty for failure to remain incognito shouldn’t be boredom.
‘FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: KEN’S RAGE 2’ (M)
Koei Tecmo Games
Even more inexplicable than the success of the “Dynasty Warriors” series was the success of its spin-off third-person brawler, “Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage.” All the more confounding is this sequel to the latter title, which “Dynasty Warrior” fans will be pleased to know has eliminated the jump button from game control, upped the ante in number of assailants and accelerated the combat, ultimately making it virtually indistinguishable from the button-mashingly idiotic “Dynasty Warriors” games that inspired it.