Dead Space 3 is a game that everyone should play – especially other developers. Not because the game employs any interesting gameplay mechanics, or expands what you can do with an established franchise. Instead, Visceral Games and EA are showing the gaming community how you can easily run a series directly into the ground by running away from what made you great. Unfortunately and ironically it seems as if the title of the game has also described its latest iteration.
We pick up the story some 200 years after Dead Space 2: the Unitarians have surpassed and supplanted their EarthGov rivals and have become much more powerful. So powerful in fact that they now have their own black-market-loving militia. Our favorite necromorph-stomping engineer, Isaac, is back and has been trying everything to forget the past. Everything, that is, except for Ellie, the one-eyed survivor from the Sprawl incident. It seems that in the time span from the last game, you two have become romantically involved, broken up, and now she’s dating a jerk who forces you – at gunpoint – to help him save her. Isaac can’t catch a damn break.
I won’t go into spoilers in this review because for as forgettable and rushed as I think the product was, I want people to experience the narrative for themselves. Rather than do that, I will discuss the wrapper and not the candy.
Many Dead Space fans bought into the story and universe for a couple of reasons: wanting to be scared and really liking gory action. The first game introduced an eerie world filled with atmospheric solitude and a “strategic dismemberment” concept. Coupled with an iconic design for the protagonist, it created a very different and fresh take on the horror genre that captured people’s imaginations. Dead Space 2 expanded on that with updated graphics, a broadening of the mythos and ramped up the gore factor to ten. Dead Space 3 took almost all of that meaty foundation and actively chips away at it.
This is why this game is so frustrating. Early on, when Visceral announced this sequel, they gave us a glimpse into a game that wound up resembling Gears Of War more than Dead Space. Cooperative play and soldiers shooting at Isaac were the showcases. The gaming community saw this, heaved a collective sigh, and waited for a new trailer or word from producer Steve Papoutsis that the elements that embodied the series were still intact. Steve’s response was to reassure everyone and ask then to give the benefit of the doubt. After finishing Dead Space 3, it’s left me more disappointed than anything.
For every advancement made, the game feels like it takes a step or two backward. Gone are any of the memorable moments that you found in Dead Space 2, like the needle in the eye scene or any of interactions with the NPC’s.
The design of the characters seems a little off as well, especially Ellie’s. Her animations and speech often seemed rather disjointed. The addition of the Unitologists as a fighting force and enemy was a poor choice and removed any tension or horror that could have been. The allure of the crazy religious sect was that they were shadowy and all you really knew about them was their undying allegiance to the makers. When you meet them now they are nothing more than a SWAT team, hell bent on killing you. Adding enemies with guns, while providing only a tacked-on cover system that doesn’t really work did the game a disservice and lessened the final product, in my opinion. The new co-op character, Carver, didn’t really add anything of significance to the mix either in my solo game; although I hear he is fleshed out a bit more in the co-op missions. Everything in this game seemed a bit throwaway: the story, environments, and villain all seemed to be an afterthought. Even the small transitions that occurred when you put on a new suit seemed to be rushed. I loved the way the camera would focus and hang on your visor after you put on a new suit, though – it just added the small touch of flair and badass-ness that makes you want to be Isaac. The lack of those small touches makes me feel like the game was either rushed in some way or that the team put their efforts in other unseen places.
I will say this: the gun building in the game was the highlight for me. At first I scoffed at the two-gun approach, but in retrospect it made me experiment much more and try out new combinations more often. My assault rifle/rocket launcher combo made parts of the game much more enjoyable. I learned this the hard way when some boss battles took twice as long because I didn’t have the right weapon setup. It felt like in older games you could get away with just using a plasma cutter if you wanted to play that way but in Dead Space 3 you need to manage your toolset in smart ways or make a Swiss-Army type gun that suits all situations. Most people won’t know this unless they are told or find themselves consistently on the losing end of a fight.
Dead Space 3 had a bunch of things going for it when it was announced: it came with the foundation of having a pretty rabid fanbase, super interesting story with great characters, and some of the scariest tension-filled moments since Doom. It falls short on most of the things that made the franchise great, and adds unnecessary fluff to try and compensate. It seems like the tradition of weak third games in a trilogy has reared its ugly head and the Dead Space series looks to be its latest victim.
For the folks who rent this game, understand that there is an online pass required if you want to play co-op. I didn’t know this when I rented from Gamefly and was super disappointed that EA would gate a major feature behind a paywall. I know that this has become the way of the world, but it still stings a bit when you want to have the full experience in a narrative-based game.
Once I have a chance to run through the game on co-op, I will post my review on what new or interesting things are on that side. Hell, if you want to play co-op with me and help me review it, send a friend request to KAHJAH1 on PSN.