The last couple of years have seen some of the biggest series of this generation complete their trilogies. And more than a few of those conclusions failed to deliver what fans had been expecting. Now it is the turn of Visceral Games’ Dead Space to wrap up this generation. While it does not necessarily suffer the same issues as its trilogy finale brethren, it brings its own issues to the table that makes it less than stellar.
Dead Space 3 sees Isaac Clarke, already a slight bit unhinged because of his past adventures, suffering from a major bout of depression. He’s taken up drinking, he’s behind on his rent and his girlfriend has left him because his attitude sucks. One can’t necessarily blame him; after all, he’s survived two harrowing ordeals. Regardless, Isaac is not in a good place when Captain Norton and Sergeant Carver come to enlist his aid in another quest involving markers, necromorphs and crazy religious zealots. Isaac is no hero and wants nothing to do with this quest but personal reasons, specifically his ex-girlfriend Ellie, draw him back in.
While the original game in the series could accurately be described as a classic survival horror game, Dead Space 3 follows more in the footsteps of its direct predecessor, a third person shooter with a horror theme. This entry skews even more towards the shooter aspect. But if one is afraid that might diminish its ability to provide scares, they need not worry. Dead Space 3, at least in the solo campaign, is filled with tons of tense moments that make the game mostly a fun experience.
While the marketing for Dead Space 3 has focused intensely on the Hoth-like ice planet, over half of the game is actually spent above said planet in a ship graveyard. This area, with its claustrophobic hallways and zero gravity sections, will feel most familiar to players of past entries in the series. It also serves as a way of easing them into the new aspects the game introduces, of which there are a few.
For starters the shooting in Dead Space 3 has seen an overhaul. The default setting is more akin to third person shooters such as Gears of War, although series purists will appreciate the inclusion of the classic setting. This adjustment in perspective is directly tied to the all-new co-op experience, which constantly throws tons of enemies at players, but more on that in a bit. The shooting in Dead Space 3 can best be described as adequate and I felt it was a bit loose to start with. It may take some players a bit of an adjustment period before fully grasping its nuances.
Still, despite the adjustments, the core combat of past Dead Space games is fully intact in Dead Space 3. The big mechanical hook of past Dead Space games has always been dismemberment, and thankfully that hasn’t been changed. Players will still use their arsenal of weapons to take out the oncoming necromorphs in exciting, and visually interesting ways. I had a blast using my souped-up plasma cutter to kneecap enemies and then strategically take off their heads as they crawled towards me.
The variety with which you can dispatch enemies is directly tied to the weapons players are carrying and the biggest of the new additions in the game is the crafting system. The crafting system allows players to create pretty much anything they can think of in terms of weaponry. Want a shotgun with an underbarrel rocket launcher? Done. How about a line gun with explosive and acidic ammo? Yep, you can do that too. To accommodate this new system, Dead Space 3 only grants players access to two weapons at a time, as opposed to the previous four; however, with the modifications of upper and lower frames players can easily outfit themselves with four different firing options.
Depending upon what you equip and how you equip it will determine how a weapon can be used. For instance if you want to rotate your line gun, you may have to sacrifice functionality or firepower elsewhere. This creates a strategic element to crafting as you never want to enter into an encounter and have the wrong weapon at your disposal. That said, one can’t go wrong by always having a plasma cutter on hand. I personally worked my way through the game always having it in my inventory.
The system will be different things for different people. Whereas some will find hours of enjoyment playing amateur weapons engineer, I mostly stuck to using a shotgun with different under-barrel’s along with my souped-up plasma cutter with an electric bayonet and I never really had much of a problem progressing. Regardless of how one approaches the crafting system, it does change one major aspect of the game for all players: loot.
In past Dead Space games enemies would drop ammo and health items, along with the occasional upgrade circuit. That still happens to an extent in Dead Space 3 but it has been tweaked a bit to maximize the effectiveness of the crafting system. Gone is individual ammo for different weapons; now, there is universal ammo that can be used on any of the hundreds of different combinations that the crafting system can accommodate. Additionally, enemies will drop components, such as scrap metal, transducers and semi-conductors, and these will be needed to craft your new weapons and consumable items (health and stasis packs), as well as upgrade your rig. While enemies will drop quite a bit of material, players will also have sweeper bots at their disposal to help collect items and these Roomba-like robotic vacuum cleaners will bring you back components on a regular basis.
The second half of the game takes place on the ice planet and at first glance this may seem less “scary”. Once, again there is no need to worry, Visceral Games does a great job of creating claustrophobic and tense gameplay sequences even when Isaac is stuck outside. But marketing the game as some sort of outdoor adventure on an ice planet is a bit disingenuous as the outside sections make up just a minute fraction of the total play time, with most of the on planet levels taking place inside assorted structures. Aside from Isaac’s arrival on the planet surface, which sees players trying to keep Issac’s body heat up by using scattered fires and/or structures, nothing about the gameplay actually changes with the environmental change.
In fact nothing about the game feels incredibly new and exciting from a design standpoint. In a lot of regards Dead Space 3 is just more Dead Space 2. There is nothing particularly wrong with that. Dead Space 2 is still one of the best action games of this generation. But aside from the crafting system, a lot of this feels like been-there-done-that-before. Even the inclusion of optional side missions just feels like more of the same, even if one of those missions is one of the best in the game. However, what does change the game, and not necessarily for the better, is the inclusion of co-operative play.
Dead Space 3 allows players to play through the full campaign with a friend and while some may enjoy this more action-focused experience, I personally felt it broke the atmosphere of the game. Co-op changed the game from a tense, albeit action-oriented, horror game to a full on shooter with enemy encounters that are far more frequent and feature larger numbers of enemies. Additionally it does two things which hurt the overall experience of the game, including the single player campaign.
Because the co-op campaign is the same as the single player campaign, certain narrative moments come across as awkward in both versions of the campaign. In single player Carver, Isaac’s co-op partner, is non-existent when playing and his miracle appearances in spots often make little narrative sense. Likewise, his disappearance from cutscenes when playing co-op also breaks the narrative. However, the narrative disconnect is a minor issue when compared to the fact that unless you are willing and able to play co-op, you cannot get the full narrative experience as the game locks a series of missions behind a co-op-only wall.
These co-op missions, while not amazingly designed, do offer much needed character development into Carver. The sad thing is that the most Dead Spacey aspects of the story, actually take place in these missions, provided that you are playing as Carver. Each of these co-op missions offers a unique perspective on the events, with both Isaac and Carver seeing and doing different things. While it is nice that there are specific co-op missions, the sloppy implementation of the feature to begin with ultimately diminishes its upside and hurts the overall feel of the game, making it something of a disjointed experience.
But poorly implemented co-op aside, there are a few other things about Dead Space 3 that knocks it down a peg from its predecessor. It can be a touch glitchy and the save/check-pointing system can be problematic at times with the need to replay full chapters. The last few levels of the game feel sloppy and tossed together, with a lot of backtracking and some atrocious level design. The last level in particular is very disappointing with the world literally falling apart behind you while a constant stream of annoying and/or overpowered enemies appear in front of you in “locked” sections that need to be cleared before moving on. And the story is something of a mess.
While the narrative works for most of the game, with Isaac being forced to play along, there is a twist that is never really explained and then very poorly handled from a character relationship standpoint that hurts the final third of the narrative quite a bit. Worse is the handling of Isaac’s driving force, Ellie, and the cheap way a highly emotional moment is completely discounted. And then there is the ending, where Visceral ties up Isaac’s journey quite well and makes a powerful statement but then is completely tossed out with an unnecessary after-credits voice over.
One aspect, which received much publicity before the launch of the game, is the inclusion of micro-transactions; micro-transactions that allow people to buy their way to better stuff in the game and/or speed up certain progression aspects. While they are ugly in their implementation, they do not infringe on the game in the least. Resources are plentiful and upgrades can be easily had by just playing the game. In short they are not necessary unless you want to indulge and break the experience for yourself, and if you do, that is on you.
Ultimately Dead Space 3 is a good game and it offers a fun Dead Space experience but it is not incredibly original. It lacks the scares of the first, struggles to replicate the excitement of the second, and its enhancements diminish the overall experience. Still when it comes down to it, Dead Space 3, like its predecessors, is well worth playing and if you’ve been riding along with Isaac Clarke since the beginning, there is no reason to not close out your journey.
Review Note: Dead Space 3 was reviewed using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on PC and Playstation 3.