Game Review: Dead Space 3
Genre: Action, Action-adventure, Survival Horror
Dead Space 3 is a fine addition to the series with lots of lore-exposure and great new gameplay additions that break into new ground for Dead Space. However, it does stray away from its roots at points, leaving the series as a whole in galactic uncertainty.
Weary, old and rusted hallways, decrepit corridors and a deafening space-vacuum silence: these are the images that I conjure when thinking of Dead Space. From the first encounters with the horrifying Necromorphs in the original Dead Space, to the powerful manipulation of revisiting old grounds in Dead Space 2, EA once again offers up a new mass of horrors with its latest entry in the fledgling franchise, Dead Space 3. Revisiting the space-bound struggles of Dead Space mainstay Isaac Clarke and his encounters with the unsettling Necromorphs and the Markers, the runic shrines that harbor their existence, Dead Space 3 provides a sequel that brings many of the trademark attributes of Dead Space, but both adds to and hinders the franchise in some ways. In a fairly descriptive way, Dead Space 3 is a sequel that takes two steps forward, and one step back: while co-op and weapon crafting bring a number of boundless opportunities to the series, the increased focus on huge epic set-pieces a la Uncharted or Call of Duty, and the “Action Hero-ification” of Isaac Clarke feels curiously un-Dead Space, and do at times call into question the future of the franchise. Nevertheless, like the previous explorations before it, Dead Space 3 provides an experience of isolation and uncertainty filled with dread, and that makes it all the more enthralling.
Set 3 years after the events in The Sprawl during Dead Space 2, Isaac’s latest explorations bring a number of new story elements to the series. Having been romantically involved with his partner Ellie Langford from the previous game, they have now since separated, and Isaac is now being pursued by EarthGov after her recent disappearance. Setting the stage for Isaac to be faced with recovering Ellie and her excavation team on the arctic planet Tau Volantis, it soon becomes apparent that the frozen tundra holds more secrets to the Necromorphs and The Markers than either of the two ever thought possible before. With his partner John Carver assisting in co-op, Isaac and John will face new Neocromorphs, the ominous Unitology forces, and more in the latest exploits of Dead Space 3.
Following in the Alien and Aliens-esque footsteps of its two Dead Space predecessors, Dead Space 3 from a storytelling perspective continues to build on the lore and foundations of the series in an interesting way, a feature that permeates throughout the game as a whole. However, this overall sentiment presents the largest setbacks for Dead Space 3, featuring numerous ideas that breathe new life into the franchise, yet at the same time hold it back and present many moments of dejavu and territory that feels well-worn, or done much more effectively in previous franchise installments.
The story and settings in particular highlight these biggest faults: while the space settings aboard the CMS Roanoke or the cold, windy settings of Tau Volantis set quite the departure from Dead Space of old, the new locales just don’t quite have that same level of constant dread and wariness that completely encapsulated Dead Space or Dead Space 2. From the creaking, derelict halls of the USG Ishimura where Necromorphs could lash out instantly at any moment, or even in the unsettlingly creepy used-community feel of The Sprawl, witnessing as dozens of citizens are viciously attacked before your eyes, Dead Space 3 often struggles to find these same sorts of moments that are the hallmark of the series. While encountering Necromorphs as they burst out of the snow instantly is shocking at first, the moments are usually only fleeting, lacking the same sort of uncertain terror as in the first moments outside of the Ishimura in Zero-G, or even the realistically disturbing scenes inside The Sprawl’s kindergarten and children’s areas that have been ravaged by Necromorphs in the previous games.
Truly the greatest horrors are the ones unseen, and while Dead Space 3 continues the proud tradition of amazing sound design and top-notch graphics like its predecessors, it often feels too bogged-down in establishing itself as a “AAA blockbuster franchise,” and leaves itself yearning to be Uncharted, Call of Duty, or Gears of War, rather than looking back on what sets Dead Space apart from everything else: terror, shock, and constant fear of the unknown while carefully managing resources, and your heart rate. Relying heavily on QTEs, huge action set-pieces, and droves of enemies that Dead Space has never thrown at you like anything before, the game feels effectively big and epic in scope, yet lacks those smaller, more intensely horrifying moments of terror that defined the series, and ultimately feels the most derivative and complacent of the series so far.
That said, despite these setbacks of Dead Space 3, the game is still incredibly satisfying and has lots of new excitement for the series to offer. The addition of co-op in particular is a hugely welcomed inclusion, as both a great way to ratchet up the terror and a great replacement for the well-designed but ultimately forgettable multiplayer component of Dead Space 2 (or as those such as myself liked to call it, Left 4 Dead Space). While it seems that Carver gets the more interesting side of the story, with experiencing Marker hallucinations and side-stories that Isaac, the hardened and grizzled Necromorph fighter that he has now become, doesn’t get to see, it at least is a riveting new co-op concept that eschews traditional “bro-op” a la Gears of War or other series. Having Carver experience a hallucination, and then talk to his partner saying, “Did you just see that?! HOLY S@#*,” while the co-op partner only shrugs and says “What?” is terrifying and eerie, to say the least, and hopefully the idea of these sorts of “asynchronous” co-op experiences can be taken even further in the (probably eventual) next Dead Space installment.
Personally, the weapon-crafting system, while initially confusing and difficult to find effective with limited resources at the beginning of the game, is incredibly detailed and offers thousands of weapon combinations, and while it is a large departure from the more standard weapon progression in previous the previous Dead Space entries, is one that provides huge possibilities. Much like the addictive loot cycles of Borderlands or Diablo, the acquiring of weapon resources and materials that results in the endless experimentation of new (and pretty darn ridiculous) weapons is pretty riveting. A Military Rile with Force Gun secondary fire? Awesome. A Plasma Cutter infused with Stasis Shots that collects ammo as you go, AND slows down enemies with every shot? Even better. Luckily, with the weapon-crafting system, nearly every possibility can be created, and allows for intriguing new weapon possibilities.
Even amidst some large setbacks, and especially in the wake of nickel-and-dime DLC available in the in-game store (want new weapons? 160 Microsoft Points, please), Dead Space 3 is nevertheless a solid entry in a constantly surprising and thrilling series. While this newest entry at times lacks the clear focus of its predecessors and often takes the “two steps forward, one-step back” approach, Dead Space 3 offers big thrills and the largest, most epic scope seen in any of the games, with weapon crafting and co-op just as much offering exciting new possibilities for the series. Evoking the eerie, desolate solitude and well-worn creakiness of its locales, Dead Space 3 may not be able to shake off some of the cobwebs that have started to form on its ship, but with some new additions and installations, hopefully a new installment can hopefully shake things up and set Dead Space, as a series, for uncharted territories.
Review based on Xbox 360 version of the game – retail copy.