Dead Space is a series known for raising the bar in video games. The completely immersive experience that stems from a lack of HUD display began a new style in mainstream gaming. On top of that, it is arguably one of the best series to combine action and horror, and, more importantly, to incorporate both genres well, something Resident Evil seems to be struggling with lately. With a solid protagonist and a creative setting, Dead Space has really outdone itself as a series. Now that the third game has arrived, the story of the popular series continues – but is Dead Space 3 as good as its predecessors?
Admittedly, it is a good idea to play the first two games before playing this one, but there is a recap video if you want to skip the previous games. You play as the emotionally disturbed Isaac Clark, a man that has suffered more than anybody should in one lifetime. He is in his apartment, depressed about his life (can’t really blame him), when suddenly, two soldiers come in and ask for Isaac’s help…while pointing a gun at his head. He goes along somewhat willingly, but finds he doesn’t really have a choice. Eventually, you head to a frozen planet named Tau Volantis, where two hundred years ago, a Necromorph outbreak was stopped, and it could be the answer to saving the universe.
The story this time around is centralized on the characters more than the overall story premise. There’s even a love-triangle this time…completely up to you on whether that’s good or not (hint: it’s not). Previously, the story followed Isaac almost exclusively, and a side-character would pop in now and then. The side-characters make constant appearances in this game, and they play a bigger role, as well. Most of the game deals with the interactions between all the characters; it’s different for sure, and although it isn’t necessarily bad, the story doesn’t hold up to what people have come to expect in a Dead Space game.
It wouldn’t be a Dead Space game without a great setting to make the player feel like they’ve been sucked into the game. Dead Space 3 certainly looks great and has some pretty creative settings that will not disappoint. Add in some terrifyingly intense music at the right points, and you have a classic Dead Space game. The moments when you’re in open space are always incredible, and may be the best in the game. The way it all appears endless is almost frightening as everything quiets down to a whisper; with drifting objects from Mankind’s previous endeavors to the distant stars filling the blackness, it will make you linger as you take note of it all. Not that Tau Volantis is bad by any means. The cold winter landscape is littered with abandoned warehouses and facilities, giving it an eerie vibe that has come to be expected in Dead Space. It sends a clear message that something happened 200 years ago, and it presses you onward to discover what transpired so many years ago.
The gameplay is more or less the same as the previous two games. It’s still a third-person shooter, and the controls are as fluid as ever. Every button has its function, and they all work well. The combat is tight and highly addicting. The dismemberment tactic against Necromorphs is as fun as ever. It isn’t all fighting, since there are mini-game type puzzles now and again to break up the intense action. The overall setup is still the same, and playing a game with no HUD is always wonderful. There are no distractions on the screen, since everything you need to know is creatively incorporated into the game in some way or another. The ammo count appears on the gun, and Isaac’s health is located on his back. The zero-gravity scenes are absolutely spectacular; it’s amazing how you can be upside down for ten minutes and not realize it until you have to land back on a platform. The controls are completely smooth, and what could have been tedious gameplay is actually some of the best.
There are a few changes this time around to keep the game new. The biggest difference is that at certain points in the game, you have to fight other humans rather than Necromorphs. You can crouch behind cover, but it isn’t inventive or even that fun. Shooting other humans gives you almost no enjoyment in comparison to dismembering Necromorphs gruesomely. The A.I. is dumb, to say the least, and these parts in the game almost feel like a chore to get through before getting back to the real gameplay.
Thankfully, the other main change in Dead Space 3 was well done, for the most part. The gun customization this time around is much deeper than the previous games.
In the first two Dead Space games, you could only upgrade them with power nodes. You can still upgrade your weapons, but now you can also build them from scratch. By collecting parts throughout the game, you can completely create your own weapon, making for some awesome possibilities. What’s a shotgun if it doesn’t also shoot acid as a secondary fire? A simple force gun could only knock over enemies until you put on an electric charge, so now it knocks over enemies while electrocuting them. There are lots of options to experiment with, giving a very deep personalization experience to the game. You’ll constantly tweak your weapons throughout the game every time you reach a bench to try and make it just a little bit better.
The third biggest change this time around is the drop-in/drop-out co-op feature. You can play online with another person throughout the entire game. There are even some parts of the game that can only be accessed when playing co-op. Luckily, it’s very fluid and works well. Most importantly, when you play by yourself, you are by yourself. There isn’t some idiotic A.I. attached to your hip throughout the game. When you play by yourself, the other character disappears and the story gives an excuse as to why. This also means it may be worth playing through the game twice, one time alone and one time with someone, just to see what’s different story-wise.
Okay, let’s ask the question that everyone really wants to know: is this game scary? The answer: sadly, no. Yes, there are a couple moments, but they occur very rarely. When they do occur, they are just cheap jump-scares that make you flinch. A Necromorph jumping out of nowhere will always cause you to flinch, but after a couple hours, that gets old. It’s hard (and maybe a little unfair) to just declare a game not scary, but honestly, Dead Space 3 can be classified as such. It has pushed aside its horror roots and made the transition into action/thriller. In the earlier games, it had a fairly good balance between action and horror. In Dead Space 3, the bar has dramatically tipped towards the action side. The action is definitely top-notch, with some incredible instances that will stick with you as the shining moments of the game. They are intense and an absolute blast to play through, but Dead Space just isn’t really Dead Space without horror.
The story premise alone makes the game less scary, as well. The first two games were all about Isaac trying to survive while being trapped in some horrific situation. Being stuck on a ship in the middle of space filled with crazy monster-aliens that want to eat you is horrifying. Isaac was just trying to survive, and that adds in a “hopeless situation” feel on top of the horror. In this game, from the very beginning, Isaac is on a mission, which means he isn’t some desperate, unfortunate soul in a bad situation. He is putting himself in danger, which is heroic, of course, but it decreases the factor of fear.
The biggest reason, by far, is the co-op feature. Co-op is definitely fun, but it just takes away the scary vibe entirely. Dead Space games are scary because you are immersed in the game and closely follow along with everything that’s happening. Having another human partner constantly breaks the illusion of being a part of the game. Walking into a room full of dead bodies would be scary if your buddy didn’t pick up a severed head and throw it at you. A couple of seconds later, you’re having a sadistically gruesome snowball fight with human corpses. It’s the same as watching a horror movie alone in your house and watching one with friends. They’re just never as scary.
It’s important to say that this doesn’t mean Dead Space 3 is a bad game, by any means. It’s just essential to make a note of this, because some people do only play Dead Space for the horror. Those people who do may be disappointed in this game, but the game itself is still incredibly fun to play. There are still the situations where you go into complete panic mode because a group of tough Necromorphs just appeared and you don’t have the equipment to handle them, which requires some out-of-the-box thinking on your part.
There are some other problems with Dead Space 3, as well. Besides maybe one or two action moments, there wasn’t really anything to outshine the previous games. Admittedly, it’s hard to top sticking a needle in Isaac’s eye, but there wasn’t anything truly original this time: it had all been done before. Another small problem is that all the guns use the same ammo, so you rarely run low, which was always a factor in the other games. It was needed in this game to add at least a little tension. The most problematic factor is that the entire game is basically a series of fetch quests, most of the time backtracking through the same areas. Usually in a game, you go from point A to B to C to D. In Dead Space 3 you go from point A to B, back to A, then to B, then to C, then back to B, back to A, and then finally to D (it’s even more annoying than reading that sentence). You want to experience new scenery in a game, not the same blood-splattered room over and over. Similarly, you fight the same boss three times, which is a big “no-no” in video games. It’s tedious, repetitive, and feels lazy on the developer’s part. The third time you see it, you curse under your breath and mutter “Seriously, again?” Dead Space 3 feels like it recycles ideas from the two previous installments and even some ideas from itself rather than trying to set new standards.
Dead Space 3 may not be the greatest game in the series, but it is definitely a good game that is fun and well-worth playing. Dead Space always has wonderfully smooth controls, which makes it an absolute joy to play. The gun customization is deep, and you can come up with some pretty crazy contraptions. The co-op is a blast to play with friends and even opens up some extra missions to experience. It took me eight hours to beat it, but the new game plus and side-missions gives the game some extended hours. Like most games, it isn’t perfect. The backtracking fetch quests are annoying, and running between the same areas multiple times is a letdown when the setting has such potential. Most importantly, the game just doesn’t have that fear factor like the previous ones. Whether that is truly a bad thing or not is completely up to you, but it needs to be stated. Playing as Isaac is always a joy, and the deeply intricate world of Dead Space is a constant thrill-ride. Basically, this game is just good, nothing more and nothing less, but because it doesn’t hold up to its predecessors, it feels like a big let-down.
This review is based off the Playstation 3 version of a retail copy of Dead Space 3, developed by Visceral Games and distributed by Electronic Arts.