Dead Space 3 Review
(The review was written for the Playstation 3 version of this game. Other consoles may differ.)
To lay my cards flat onto the table before even starting this review so no-one can lay into me about any potential bias I may have or accuse me of being payed off by someone or another, I really enjoy the Dead Space series and Dead Space 3 is more than likely going to go into my favourite games of this year, much like the previous two Dead Space games have in previous years. Contrary to now popular belief that this will be a full endorsement of the game, I am going to say that considering things Dead Space 3 is not a brilliant game. It’s a good game with no doubt but it will come with a more tentative recommendation than I would give its predecessors. Now, before I completely spoil my review in the opening paragraph, let’s slow the speed and backtrack over Isaac Clarke’s latest adventure.
To those of you who are new to the series, a brief summary of the plot is in order. There will be spoilers. So, Markers: alien artifacts which cause hallucinations and a violent morphing after death turning the deceased into Necromorphs. Two markers were discovered/destroyed and two Necromorphian outbreaks were thwarted in the previous games by our hero Isaac Clarke. During the events of the previous games; Isaac has lost one girlfriend, who went what is medically known as fruit loops crazy and has learned to speak the Marker lingo while finding a second girlfriend. In the events of this game, Isaac’s second now-ex-girlfriend has gone missing while searching for a convenient plot device that could stop the markers for good and Isaac is enlisted to go and help her.
It’s pretty clear to me that the guys at Visceral knew they were on shaky ground when it came to the continuance of this series, especially when you consider the extravagant five million copy sales bracket it had to reach, so a lot of Dead Space 3 feels like the end to a trilogy. In fact, all ending. Which is my way of telling you, the reader, to expect less scares and more action when entering this journey. Not to say the game doesn’t startle anymore but just not to the highly reliable basis of even the previous games in the series which had been argued about their horror status to begin with.
Not to sound overly harsh, but I think this does owe a little something to the art design and the basis of the story. With a lot of the Necromorphs now being formed from older, more mummified remains due to the location this time around, it leaves less to the squishy guttural feelings of the previous games. The Necromorphs are formed out of gnarled bone and crusted rotten flesh which, which is audibly disturbing, they compare meekly in visual merit to the dangling meaty mandibles of previous games and look more like something from Jason and the Argonauts or The Mummy. It’s the difference between shredding up a crispy duck from your local Chinese and shredding a dead but fleshy and feathery duck. That cringe you just had proves I am correct.
Not to be said that all of the visual design is stagnant. Some enemy design does still contain the required level of WTF-ery required for a Dead Space game. In particular for myself are the redesigns of the Lurkers and the occasional boss fight monsters, however, one in particular does lose its sting after repetition. The rest of the game looks and runs beautifully taking full advantage of current generation graphics engines. Location design is fitting and in later chapters, quite astounding, but can still run together at certain points with one snowstorm or dark spaceship corridor being quite indistinguishable from the last.
Gameplay is similar to previous Dead Space games with most changes being largely cosmetic. Featured this year are cover mechanics to support new enemies in the Unitology Soldiers however they don’t seem particularly useful. Especially when Isaac himself doesn’t seem too taken with the idea and instead sidles up to the cover with his head seemingly resting gently atop it like a beer bottle on a brick wall at target practice before he starts to pop and shoot.
This is a real shame because the Unitology Soldiers actually make for a more tactical, difficult enemy who make good use of the cover and an interesting aside of whether you let the Necromorphs and Soldiers duke it out or help one side to an advantage conscious of the fact that they can and will turn on you instantly. The AI remains smart enough to provide a genuine struggle in the mob packs that the 3rd installment in particular likes to throw at you. However, the game provides you with enough medipacks and ammo to render most of the threat this might provide you with mute. There were literally points where I would be selling off my ammo or dropping it to clear space for more vital things in my inventory which took me out of the experience somewhat to say the least.
The cover shooting works in conjuncture with another new mechanic. Based off a popular internet meme, fellow space traveler Starfox has now taught Isaac to do a barrel roll. This can work quite well for getting you out of a pickle in a wide open space but in the claustrophobic corridors that Dead Space is well known for, you will occasionally find our hero in a space suit attempting to desperately roll past two burly invincible Necromorph linebackers much like I did. I’m sure this would’ve been incredibly frustrating if it weren’t hilarious to watch.
Another new feature that I’m almost certain you’ve heard about by now is weapons crafting. You see, on the icy planet Tau Volantis there are very few J. C. Penney’s and Victoria’s Secrets for Isaac or anyone else to doll themselves up with. Therefore, the credits from previous games were no use to anyone. Instead, now everyone has to scavenge for the parts to accessorize their Pillow Fight Lingerie suit or buy the Vibrating Rabbit of Love or Death gun they so desperately wanted. An interesting concept. Alternatively, if that was too much effort, they can buy the components from the shady guy on the street corner, who for some reason seems to be wearing an EA marketing jacket.
In all seriousness, it’s a nice new feature to include and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to craft all manner of dream weaponry. But it is possible to create a weapon that completely breaks the game balance. For me, this meant a combination rivet gun and plasma repeater that chewed up alien monstrosities like rapid-fire dentures. Despite this flaw, it’s kind of endearing for it. It comes with having the freedom to make something completely devastating that gives the player a sense of ownership and individual bad ass-ery. The real problem is that this idea, taken as read, sucker punches the concept of any horror in its face before it can even put up a fight.
As for the already heavily covered micro-transactions, it makes little to no sense in my opinion. It’s just buying your way ahead in the game. Which I can vaguely understand for a free to play game, but a game you’ve payed £45/$60 for? Personally, I want to work my way through a game I spend that much for and get rewarded for doing well in it, not gore myself through with very little effort. A lot of people have explained this position a lot better than I can in what I want to remain a review of the entire game so you should go look for them if you’re really that concerned. All I am going to say is that it’s there, it adds nothing to the game and that thankfully, they put in a work around.
By playing through the game and deploying scavenger bots to collect ration seals (along with more resources), you can earn enough to buy a DLC pack with, which felt a lot more like being rewarded for doing something and for experiencing more of the game rather than paying to use a cheat code. If that doesn’t interest you however, the resource packs are easily missed in a side menu from the bench and can be ignored unless you want to specifically go looking for them.
Multiplayer returns again in the final installment of the series but has been recalculated from the frantic but infuriating online arena of yesteryear to the tornado-tag testicular team-up that is online co-op. On his final adventure, Mr. Clarke gets partnered with professional bromance officer and Gears of War extra, EarthGov Sergeant John Carver who can help in occasional hairier moments, specific co-op missions and otherwise add a degree of vibrancy or extra story/world building to moments when nothing is occurring.
If you prefer to have your Space however, Carver isn’t vital except for 100% completion and will instead just materialize from behind like an inmate at a prison shower for moments when he is necessary. However, this can be especially jarring when in the final chapters and within the space of about 4 minutes, the game tries to capitalize on several hours worth of character building that, to the forever alone type, never happened. This, and the fact that having a friend in a terror filled scenario in games works about as well as trying to cross-breed mice with hippopotami, further devalues the games value as horror. It’s really hard to maintain a tense and fearful atmosphere when you and xXmajortomXx are trying to play football (soccer) with necromorph limbs by stomping on them so that they go flying through a doorway and past the other player.
After all of these criticisms, I still love Dead Space as a game and a franchise. In the case of the third installment, the gameplay that made the previous games so enjoyable is still there along with intelligent AI and at the stories end, the payoff is rounded off nicely and ambiguously, combining to make a journey that kept me thoroughly entertained and engaged from beginning to end. Gone is even a semblance of horror, with enemies and locations feeling uninspired at moments and lacking any significant gameplay additions despite Visceral’s best attempts and intentions. It feels like it’s just going through the motions at some points and I think now is the best time to call the curtains on Isaac’s Space Tours before it makes some really bad design decisions and slams itself into an oncoming asteroid. To make a comparison to another franchise very similar to Dead Space; if Dead Space’s 1 & 2 are Resident Evil 4, then Dead Space 3 is Resident Evil 5. Still a whole lot of fun to be had but lacking the spark of the game/s before it. I’m just really glad it wasn’t Resident Evil 6.