Dead Space 3 Review!
Before jumping into Dead Space 3, I decided to replay the other two entries so that their quality would be fresh in my mind rather than looking back through nostalgia-tinted goggles. Doing so reminded me what it was that I loved so much about the games and my eagerness to continue Isaac Clarke’s story only [...]
Before jumping into Dead Space 3, I decided to replay the other two entries so that their quality would be fresh in my mind rather than looking back through nostalgia-tinted goggles. Doing so reminded me what it was that I loved so much about the games and my eagerness to continue Isaac Clarke’s story only grew. I’m sad to say, however, that I came back disappointed. EA and Visceral Games were not subtle about the fact that this would be a far different game than its predecessors, what with the inclusion of human enemies and co-op, but I was expecting something along the lines of Resident Evil 5, a game that wasn’t necessarily faithful to its origins but still an enjoyable experienced. What I discovered instead was a shallow game that refused to commit to any decisions on what type of experience it should be, causing the sum of its parts to be competent at best and downright unenjoyable at worst.
Dead Space 3 takes place roughly 3 years after the events on Titan Station. After a short relationship with fellow survivor Ellie Langford, Isaac Clarke finds himself alone and in hiding, essentially living in a rundown apartment on the New Horizons Lunar Colony as a paranoid hermit. The events of his life cause him to jump at the slightest provocation and wishing to be left alone, but Ellie leaves to find a way to stop the Markers that cause the necromorph infestations. While lamenting their breakup, Isaac is practically abducted by two EarthGov soldiers, John Carver and Robert Norton. Robert tells Isaac that they need him for a special mission involving the Markers, one that Ellie was apart of but has not been heard from in some time. Isaac agrees to try to save her, but coincidentally this is the same time that the Church of Unitology, the creepy marker-worshiping religion from the previous games, decides to go from sinister brain-washing cult to outright terrorist organization and overthrows the entirety of EarthGov in what seems like a matter of minutes. Under the leadership of Jacob Danik, the Unitologists are also hunting for Isaac due to his connection to the Markers and apparent ability to destroy them. After fighting through the Unitologists and killing a decent number of innocent people in a traffic incident, Isaac Clarke and his new war buddies escape the Lunar Colony and head off to a recently discovered planet called Tau Volantis, a frozen world that serves as Ellie’s last known location and possibly the very source of the original Markers.
With this entry, Dead Space has become a true horror franchise. The first couple of entries’ stories were great, but now it has become a middling attempt to just find some reason to continue the tale so that more monsters can jump out of vents. The plot isn’t just mediocre, it’s downright bad in some places. The main irritation is the middle-school level bickering between Isaac, Robert, and Ellie due to their ridiculous love-triangle. There are some hints that it’s the influence of the Markers that turns them into simpering middle-school kids, but I liked it a lot more when the Markers turned people into terrifying schizophrenics rather than moody teenagers. There are some other complaints that I have with the story that I cannot list here out of fear of spoilers, but I’ll just say that the horror-movie analogy continues in other ways, such as bad attempts to explain the powers behind the Markers and Isaac’s role in the whole thing.
First I’ll touch on the new additions to the Dead Space experience. We’ll start with the co-op, which is the main feature that EA’s advertising has been trying to drive home. Before you even think about playing with a friend, remember that there is no split-screen co-op and playing online requires an online pass so don’t plan on enjoying the co-op unless you and your buddy are both willing to purchase separate copies. Player one assumes the role of Isaac Clarke while player two takes control of John Carver as they tackle the various threats of this 3rd installment together. In one of the cooler aspects of the game, the player who is controlling Carver will witness special hallucinations regarding his son that Isaac will not witness, thus driving home the point that the Markers make each person see different visions. These moments were very similar to what Isaac experienced in Dead Space 2 with his girlfriend Nicole, and it made me wish that there was an option to play as Carver as a lone player in some way. Additionally, having a partner allows access to special side-missions that I found to be some of the best sections of the game. Throughout the course of each chapter, Isaac and John will come across two optional objectives that take them into unique areas, one being possible alone but the other requiring a friend. These are the only segments that truly make use of the co-op with special puzzles and sections that require you to split up. They are also some of the only moments that I ever felt any similar emotions to those that I felt from the first Dead Space, so I highly recommend tackling these detours on your first playthrough even if it’s just the solo ones. The main bulk of the solo campaign, however, was clearly not designed with Carver in mind. Cinematics and most dialogue with the rest of your team often seem to assume that you’re alone anyway. If you’re a completionist and want to see everything in the game I recommend you play with a friend, otherwise I found the overall experience more enjoyable alone.
Next we have the inclusion of human enemies. Many people were worried that this would turn the game into a Gears of War-lite, and I’m sad to say that those fears are mostly founded. Isaac will automatically take cover when near waist-high objects when unitologists are present, but there is no way to actually hide. He simply crouches a bit lower, always leaving a little of himself exposed. Luckily the unitologists went to the same training camp that most James Bond-henchman attend so them actually hitting Isaac seems largely based on luck. Their AI is also abysmal; they will often stand out in the open and give you all the time in the world to line up a headshot. Furthermore, I sometimes killed an enemy only to have his friend immediately run to the exact same spot. A last bit of proof of how stupid they are involves their behavior when necromorphs are present. I walked into a room and began exchanging rounds with a few of them, but it wasn’t long before a couple of necromorphs burst into the room and started stalking towards the unitologists. Even once the monsters started hacking into them, they never stopped aiming and shooting at me despite me being somewhat behind cover and not currently trying to cut their stomachs open. Immersion has always been Dead Space’s strongest attribute, and such terrible AI easily reminds the player that they’re playing a game with sub-par programming rather than experiencing a sci-fi nightmare.
I’d like to end this section on a good note by mentioning the fantastic weapon customization system. Gone are the days of hunting for credits and power nodes with which to buy and upgrade gear respectively. That has been replaced with a robust crafting system that allows Isaac to create weapons out of various resources scattered around the environments and within the bodies of necromorphs and unitologists. The system is a huge improvement over the older one and the main reason that I didn’t score the gameplay lower. There are a wide variety of weapon parts that you can build and put together, thus leading to some very interesting possibilities. For example, one of the earliest guns I crafted was a rapid-fire version of the signature plasma-cutter with an attached electric bayonet. It was slightly weaker than the main plasma cutter, but it was perfect for moments when I found myself swarmed by smaller necromorphs. There are also some pre-built weapons that you can buy with enough resources, but earning enough to actually purchase them is next-to-impossible without delving into EA’s insidious micro-transaction system. Thankfully, the custom weapons that you can build yourself are often better than those named variants anyway, so there’s really no reason to even look at them. Build you’re own, you’ll be happier for it.
This doesn’t happen often when it comes to sequels, but Dead Space 3 actually looks worse than it’s predecessors, even the one that came out almost 5 years ago. The environment textures are mostly top notch, but the characters look horrible. I could never get over just how ridiculous Robert’s face looked and how Ellie looked far more plastic than she did in Dead Space 2. I imagine Isaac also looked awful, but his stubble probably helped to hide his face whenever it was visible. Also, has anyone else noticed that Isaac has more hair with each game? I’m starting to think he has the same disease as Benjamin Button. The game is also far too bright for a survival-horror game even with the settings turned down low. It’s understandable for the chapters on Tau Volantis but the earlier segments within derelict ships above the planet, segments that should have felt like the original Dead Space, were ruined by being far too luminous.
My biggest gripe with the graphics is surprising because it wasn’t an issue in the previous games at all, and that’s some weird quirks I found with the enemies behaviors regarding damage. In Dead Space and the sequel, most enemies would react if they were hit. The only ones that didn’t were the tougher enemies that were meant to be a bit more of a challenge. In Dead Space 3, however, neither enemies or Isaac react at all to being shot unless it results in a severed limb. This is a bit forgivable for the necromorph enemies despite the irritation it causes against even the most common of variants, but I see no reason that the unitologist enemies would be able to simply shrug off a plasma cutter blast to the face without flinching in the slightest. Even Isaac shares this strange new resilience to gunfire, as he rarely reacts to getting shot by the crazed soldiers. On more than one occasion this caused me to not even realize I was taking damage until I stopped aiming and was actually able to see my healthbar. Speaking of the severed limbs, the physics behind them seem to have been amped up to ridiculous levels; on a few occasions, I would shoot a necromorph in the leg and his torso would get cut completely in half in addition to the leg. On another occasion, I shot a unitologist in the head, causing the severed part to fall normally but the rest of his body to go flying straight up into the air. This would have been fine for a game that wasn’t taking itself so seriously, but for a game like Dead Space 3 it does nothing but take the player out of the moment.
For the most part, Dead Space 3 retains the excellent musical score that helped to suck the player into the games throughout the franchise. Eerie tones set the mood while you’re exploring dark corridors or stumbling blindly through a snowstorm and the music picks up appropriately with loud screeching violins when necromorphs make their appearances. The only disappointing addition was, of course, the new music for the rare battles against the human enemies. It’s your typical sci-fi new-age melodies and were completely forgettable, making it probably the best aspect of those moments as I really wish I could forget them entirely.
The voice actors perform their roles admirably, but I they weren’t given enough to work with. As I said in the story section above, the bickering between some of the characters is eye-roll inducing. I’m sorry, but arguing about which two people should be making the beast with two backs is a bit ridiculous when there’s probably an actual beast with two backs trying to rip everyone’s faces off. Jacob Danik is particularly memorable as a fantastic antagonist but it’s upsetting that his motivations were so mundane. With a bit more time to flesh him out, I could have easily seen him as one of my favorite villains.
The voice acting was good overall, but I still kind of wish it wasn’t there so much. Dead Space has always been an experience about lone survival, but the constant updates and arguing from the members of your team simply make you feel less nervous. My personal favorite part of the game is about mid-way through when Isaac finds himself separated and stranded. The absence of the team immediately made me feel alone and vulnerable, thus reminding me of how I felt so long ago on my first trip through the corridors of the ISHIMURA.
As you can clearly tell, I did not have an enjoyable time with Dead Space 3. I found the overall experience to be a shallow attempt to appease to a wider audience with the result being a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s clearly not a survival-horror game anymore and it’s a sub-par action shooter at the absolute best. I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the strength of the franchise that this game would be finding much less favor with a lot of the community. Still, a lot of people seem to be enjoying it and at the end of the day this is all an opinion. Perhaps there really is a great game under the AI, graphics, gameplay additions, and writing just waiting to be found. If it’s there, I certainly missed it.