Rating – R18
Developers – Visceral Games
Publisher – Electronic Arts
Platforms – PC, PS3, X360
Have you ever had an amazing meal somewhere, only to go back a second time and find out it’s not quite as good? It’s not bad food by any means though, so you go back a third time, and a fourth, always hoping for another taste like the first meal you had but never being satisfied. While not like any food I’d ever hope to eat, the Dead Space franchise makes me feel very much like the situation I’ve just described. Any of you with any sort of interest in the series will be aware that it has been replacing its original survival horror feeling with a more action-oriented experience, and while this makes the games feel more epic the trade-off is the loss of the horror atmosphere that kept its fans coming back. Dead Space 3 still has some events that will make you jump, and the necromorphs may disturb those who haven’t been exposed to the series before, but if you start the game expecting something similar to the first Dead Space you will be disappointed.
I’ve talked before about comparing sequels to the games that came before them. I started playing Dead Space 3 with the intention of doing just that and quickly found that I wasn’t enjoying the experience. Dead space 3 falls apart when you hold it up next to its prequels; it’s just not the type of game the first two were. However, as soon as I accepted that Dead Space 3 was just going to be a different experience I started to really enjoy myself. Having said that, I loved Dead Space 1 and I’m going to compare the hell out of the two games (because how dare they do this to one of my favourite franchises =( ).
Dead Space 3 starts off a while after the second game, with Isaac having rejoined (relatively) normal society and thoroughly messed things up with his love interest, Ellie. Because the human race can been colossally stupid, every decently-sized colony has created its own Marker research facility despite every previous encounter with the Markers having ended with the horrible, horrible deaths of everyone involved (except Isaac, that is). Suddenly, Ellie’s new main-squeeze shows up and bullies Isaac into helping to find her just as the fanatical religious sect of Unitology decides that freeing the Markers from their research facilities would be a dandy idea. If this paragraph isn’t sardonic (gee, there’s a word I don’t use too often) enough for you, please feel free to speak up.
The game is split into two major parts: one where you are stuck in orbit around a planet that is quickly identified as the Marker Homeworld, and one where you are stuck on the planet that was quickly identified as the Marker Homeworld (aren’t you lucky). It may be worth noting that I didn’t actually start having fun until I reached the planet itself but, like I said earlier, that might not have anything to do with the actual quality of the first setting. The story itself is alright, with its best quality being that it is slightly (read: much) more epic than the first two games. There is a larger cast of characters than in previous iterations, though I felt like many of them were just there to die so the other characters had something to talk about. In Dead Space 2 Isaac was granted the gift of speech, but still felt fairly 2-dimensional (probably owing to the fact that most of the people he could have interacted with were already dead by the time you started playing). Maybe it’s because he has Ellie’s new BFF to contend with, but Isaac feels a lot more human in Dead Space 3 and it really is noticeable. Despite the original Dead Space atmosphere being lost in this sequel, to my everlasting disappointment (yes, this is going to keep coming up), I cannot deny that Visceral has done a great job with their characters.
A new addition to the franchise in this instalment is that of side missions. Whereas exploration constituted the vast majority of extra content in the previous games (not that there was much, admittedly), Dead Space 3 includes stand-alone side missions that, to be honest, were a complete miss for me. The discovery of a side mission usually follows a [Find Side Mission –> Progress in Story –> Find Key for Side Mission –> Trek Back to Side Mission Location] recipe. Each mission has a few audio logs you can find that give you a vague idea of what may have happened in each place, but out of the four or so missions that I completed (and I’m pretty sure I finished all of the single player ones), only one of them was even a little bit interesting. In most of the missions the audio logs were few and far between, with the vast majority of the mission consisting of fending off hordes of necromorphs for very little reward. One good point I can make about these additions is that they’re reasonably well hidden, so the less completion-focused of us should be spared their tedium.
Dead Space 3 also adds cooperative play into the mix, though I was unable to review that aspect as my usual co-op partner was too scared to play. What I can say, however, is that without the extra communication between Isaac and his partner, Carver, their relationship seems a little odd. In the single player experience Carver and Isaac talk about very little, and when they do talk Carver isn’t the nicest guy. Despite their incredible lack of bonding though, the two seem more than happy to completely trust each other at the end of the game, exuding a sense of camaraderie that just seems out of place given their previous interactions; it’s a little jarring, to say the least. Also, finding a special door only to be locked out of it because I wasn’t playing co-op kinda sucked.
The final new feature I need to talk about involves the newly implemented crafting system. There’s no real shop from which to purchase your supplies in Dead Space 3, with the Bench coming to the fore instead. Whereas previously the Bench only allowed you to upgrade your gear, this time around pretty much everything is done there (except for upgrading armor, which is done at a separate machine for some reason). You can’t just buy things either; scattered around the environment are several different types of resources you can collect to craft new items and equipment. You will also find scavenger bots which you can use to hunt materials down for you. It’s an interesting system, but after the half-way point I only actually needed two of the five or so materials, which made the whole process of finding the others instead rather annoying.
That’s the new stuff, so what’s changed other than the overall feel of the game? This time around you can only carry two weapons rather than four, though some might argue that the addition of secondary weapon attachments counteracts this. The attachment allowing the Plasma Cutter to switch orientations (as its secondary fire does in earlier games) takes up one of those same slots though, which is a little galling. The weapons are entirely customisable, which may sound like good news to some people but seemed completely unnecessary to me since I pretty much used the same two weapons for the entire game. The Plasma Cutter, my weapon of choice for the first two Dead Space games, felt severely weakened, lacking any sort of push-back effect (and leading to the necromorphs munching on my face more than a few times), though this was entirely fixed once I found a module that had a Stasis effect on anyone I hit, at which point the game ceased to provide any degree of challenge at all. Most of the attachments’ effects extend to the cooperative player which, as you can guess, was incredibly helpful in my solo playthrough.
As is usual with each successive instalment of a Triple-A franchise the graphics in Dead Space 3 are superior to its predecessors. However, in what I can only guess was an attempt to make the necromorphs seem “cool” to a wider audience, Visceral has removed a lot of the human-ness that made them disturbing in the first place (and some of them aren’t even necromorphs as much as they are glorified zombies). Maybe I’ve just been desensitized by the previous games, but the change simply wasn’t necessary in my opinion. Still, they’re still reasonably grotesque so I suppose I can’t complain. As far as I could tell the scenery was well done, but since you’re either outside in the snow or inside metal containers I don’t feel it’s something I can really comment on. The music was fine; nothing stood out as being particularly good or bad, though the voice acting easily met my expectations for a Triple-A game.
Summary – This game is not the Dead Space we are used to; a number of superfluous changes to a formula that already worked make this abundantly clear. Having said that though, Dead Space 3 achieves what it set out to do with flying colours. The game is more epic, the game is more exciting, but it has lost some of what made it great in the first place, and in my eyes that loss is greater than what was gained. I suppose the bottom line is that I did enjoy it, which is what really matters, while at the same time feeling let down and disappointed. As I say for a lot of sequels, I would have loved Dead Space 3 if it was a stand-alone game; it’s the series that came before it that stopped it from being great.
Plot/Characters – 8/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Audio/Visual – 8/10
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10 – Good