Okay, so here is the deal.
Yes, the gameplay is altered substantially from the previous two, yes the T-Energy mechanic doesn't come into play sadly. I had hoped the game might have had a section as a nod to the old games where Jim's suit gets damaged but alas it did not.
Co-operative play is also not featured anywhere in the single player story.
This said however, while the gameplay is somewhere inbetween extreme condition and the first dead space title, the controls most of the time feel fairly fluid.
The characters, especially Jim Peyton himself are really likable and it kept me immersed in the story. Jim's wife is a very interesting character (as well as Jim himself)and the game has a lot of soul.
Jim isn't a grizzled space marine who can kill an akrid from 300 metres, but he is also not out of his death.
With a temperament somewhere between a trucker and a cowboy he instantly became (for me) one of my favourite videogame protagonists of all time
When you're out there on your own, with just music you brought from planet earth (the game imports music from your computer files so you can creat your own soundtrack for the cold wastelands) you really feel like there's no-one else you can count on but yourself. You feel isolated and in danger at every second.
This also works in reverse, that when you get a message from your in game wife you feel like you're at home, like you're making a difference and the characters really come to life. The same can be said when you return to coronis and upgrade your rig and weapons, greeting old friends.
There's a fair bit of longevity in the upgrades to your rig. Certain upgrades allow you to get to new places you couldn't before, or allow you to scrounge for scrap metal in new places.
The controls when fighting the akrid will feel a little alien at first due to the over the shoulder viewpoint of the camera, but you quickly get used to the contextual-only use of the grappling hook as well as dodging out of the way of enemies.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that this does actually provide an interesting and very unexplained part of the story of the franchise and while they do retcon one or two things, it really does feel like it's for the better. The plot makes sense and while isn't anything spectacular, it is coherent and well-written. The supporting cast for me, was what really pulled along the plot for me and kept me interested even while trying to hunt down those annoying albino akrid.
The setpieces out in the ice and snow are quite fantastic and this is where the game excels, in the sheer scale of the areas outside. The opposite is unfortunately true in that on the occasional offchances you go into an enclosed space, combat and movement can feel clunky and out of place.
It's a shame likely the repetitive sidequests will put anyone off buying this because the atmosphere is amazing.
You really do feel like a lone contractor out in the middle of nowhere drilling for a precious substance.
I imagine the feeling and atmosphere in this game is not all that disimilar from the feelings of isolation and longing that ice truckers deal with on a day to day bonus.
Which brings us to the Rigs. The rig is not the vital suit (this is a prequel don't forget), it is an entirely different breed of machine, but this isn't a bad thing.
Yes, there are a few mechs in this game and while at first you may lament the loss of having shoulder mounted rockets and gatling guns, you will immediately warm up to the defensive and offensive capabilities of Jim's machine. Admittedly the rig can feel quite slow at times and while this may have been an artistic choice by the devs at Spark it can bog down the pace at times until you access fast travel quite early in the game. The good news is that those who loved the sheer mayhem and carnage of slicing off a limb or two from the large akrid will be right at home. It is just as satisying, maybe moreso to time your grab just right as you hold the creature and helplessly drill into it's cores with the drill arm as their lifeblood (T-energy) spills out.
I should point out that I was only ever interested in the game (and series) for the single player experience and therefore I did not touch multiplayer. My understanding is some of the maps from extreme condition make a reappearance and generally most reviewers say the online is where the strength of the game really lies.
This game did poorly due to the mountain of scathing critiques and generally poor write-ups it received.
I personally enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the series for the story.
In terms of all the bad press and poor scores, I'd advise you to try it for yourself, it's not the most amazing game in terms of graphics or presentation but I sure had fun with it.