Dead Space 3 Review – Third Time’s A Charm?

EA and Visceral Games are back for a third time, putting players in the boots of the very unlucky space engineer, Isaac Clarke, who’s looking for a way to finally put an end to the necromorph infestation.  Visceral is once again on hand to flex their ability to craft an immersive and stunningly crafted world.  They also know how to create some tense and haunting moments, though something feels a bit different this time around.  With bigger set pieces, a new crafting system in place, and much of the game centered on a planet rather than in space, is this still the Dead Space we all remember or has it morphed into something hideous?

Full review after the jump…

Dead Space 3 picks up a few years after the events of the second game.  Series protagonist, Isaac Clarke, has managed to isolate himself from the rest of society and to hide out from EarthGov.  Unfortunately for him, this reclusive nature has also lost him Ellie Langford, who was with him through the events on Titan Station.  Before long, Isaac is found and confronted by John Carver and Robert Norton, sent by Ellie to recruit Isaac to join their mission to stop the markers once and for all.  It’s also at this point that the three are antagonized by the Inner Circle Unitology leader, Jacob Danik, who unleashes a necromorph outbreak on the colony.  Isaac and crew manage to escape and set off to Tau Volantis to put an end to the nightmare. Or so they hope.

Personally, the story wasn’t able to grab on to me like I was hoping it would and it’s one of the game’s weaknesses.  In fact, it didn’t really start picking up until the last few chapters in the game when things started to unravel a bit.  It’s unfortunate that it took nearly the entire game to begin telling the story as that’s just way too late to hook a player on your narrative.  It almost felt like Isaac was continually on one long fetch quest constantly backtracking and either repairing or finding a needed item.  With a team full of people, it was always on Isaac to do eveything for everyone.  It got a bit tiresome to hear someone ask me to go find this, go fix that, or deal with these things.

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Outside of Isaac (and Carver if you do his optional co-op missions), the characters Visceral as created for this game just aren’t very compelling.  There were a few times where I’d see a character and not know that person’s name or who they were. Isaac spoke with them as if they’d been fast friends for ages.  Even Ellie Langford, making a return from Dead Space 2, is not given much time to explain her side of things and what she’d been up to.  I mean, you’ve given some information, but the character development just never really happens.  In fact, Isaac comes off a bit flat in this game as well.  You can clearly see he’s a broken man by this point in the story arc, but we never really get to delve into his situation like we did in Dead Space 2.  I also would have like to have seen his bout with Post-Traumatic Stress/Marker Hallucinations crop up again as that created some seriously warped situations in the second game.  Strangely enough, it’s completely omitted here.

Where the game shines however is in it’s stellar art direction and combat.  Initially I was worried about the title because the marketing team seemed to focus hard on the ice world Tau Volantis.  They showed off a ton of gameplay in the sunlight on the surface of the planet.  Even the demo focused heavily on this aspect.  To me Dead Space had always been about those dark, desolate corridors, not knowing when something was about to pop out at you.  That’s what really drove home the experience and from the pre-release information, I strongly believed that was going to be missing.

Need help locating that dastardly Peng Trophy? Locate it here.

After playing the final product, what EA showed off, did not accurate represent the game and for that I’m glad.  The first 6 or 7 chapters deal directly in space on derelict old ships creating the mood and tone of classic Dead Space.  The dark hallways, flickering lights, rusty pipes, and blood splatters create an unsettling, unnerving situation and that’s exactly what a player expects from this franchise.  As the game transitioned to Tau Volantis, I began to worry that the tone and atmosphere the game had worked to create would all but vanish.  After the first couple of chapters on the planet, the game managed to shift back to underground tunnels and cramped spaces.  It’s not quite space, but it does a good job to give off that same vibe.

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The other big element that Dead Space 3 pushes to the front is action and set pieces.  This is a change from previous entries and one I feel doesn’t translate as well as it could of.  While the game still features some shocking moments and thrilling set pieces, the biggest problem is that that gameplay isn’t set up properly for these events.  Isaac still moves like a plodding tank, so trying to navigate through action elements or enemies that would fit better in a third person action game, just don’t work that well.  Later in the game, Isaac has to go up against the Unitologist gunships.  If you’re spotted by the light, they shoot at you.  Unfortunately, Isaac (even when running) isn’t that fast so it’s impossible to run away to safety.  If they move to a fourth game, I’d like to see them either adjust the action to fit better with the gameplay or find a way to make Isaac move faster so he can actually keep up with things on screen.

In addition to dealing with those crafty and gross necromorphs, Isaac will have to deal with Unitologist soldiers which opens up an interesting conundrum just like the new focus on action segments.  Thankfully, the necromorphs are back front and center including new variants such as the creepy Feeder types because fighting actual humans with guns proves to be more clunky at best.  As previously mentioned, Dead Space has always intended to be a slower paced game with the best example of that being Isaac himself.  When you add in enemies that have the ability to run to cover and shoot at you with automatic rifles, the game becomes a sort of third person cover shooter.  Only, Isaac doesn’t stick to cover as he can only half crouch behind boxes.  Honestly, it’s not the best use of the game’s time, but thankfully these sections are few and far between.

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The highlight of the game has to be with the brand new weapon crafting system as it’s damn impressive.  As you play through the game, you’ll come across various weapon parts and attachments.  You can take these items to benches located around the world and use them to fashion and create new weapons.  Want a plasma gun on top of a ripper?  Sure, you can do that.  As long as you have the raw materials (or spend resources to buy what you want), you can make it.  The beauty here is that the game allows you to pretty much go nuts as the only limit is your imagination.  Upgrade circuits will increase the power on these guns and with enough creativity, you can create some seriously powerful weapons.  Some may scoff at how this affects the game balance, but things tend to balance back in the later chapters as you start to face black armored necromorph variants.

MicrotransactionsAnother big change is with the actual resources that you find.  Nodes, credits and specific ammo is now out, replaced by universal ammo that fits any gun, upgrade circuits, and now materials used to craft items.  That’s right, you’ll be using these raw materials to buy new items, craft weapon parts, and upgrade your rig.  It’s a change that will confuse you for a bit until it starts to click and make sense a few chapters in.  You’ll still be able to upgrade your rig but upgrading specific guns is completely out in favor of weapon crafting.

I’m not going to go over the microtransaction controversy here (see side bar), except to say, people really made a mountain out of a molehill.  Personally, the outrage over the microtransaction aspect of Dead Space 3 is in my opinion way overblown.  It’s on par with what Mass Effect 3 did with their multiplayer.  You can ignore it completely, or use in game currency (Ration Seals) to unlock content.  No real money required.

Outside of what I mentioned above, the other aspect that really got under my skin, was the lack of communication from the game to the player.  You get a quick rundown of the controls during the prologue and chapter 1, but ultimately, the game assumes you know what you’re doing, even though new moves have been added to the game.  It’s almost like a skydiving instructor pushing you out of the plane before you’ve had a moment to check your chute.  For example, Isaac now as a tactical roll move to allow him a quicker way to get out of a tight spot.  The game doesn’t tell you how to use this until you’re about 60% of the way into the game.  It would have been very handy to have known from the beginning as there’s a number of quick moving enemies and trying to slowly walk away from them is impossible.

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Multiplayer wise, the somewhat generic Necromorphs vs Humans mode from Dead Space 2 has been scrapped in favor of a co-op mode, where player two takes on the role of John Carver.  The only thing you’ll want to be aware of if you dive into Co-op is that the tension/horror elements erode away even more due to the fact that there’s now two of you.  Travelling down a desolate and dark hallway is a very different experience when doing it with another person.  All in all, you’ll get more dialogue having Carver around and you’ll also get to experience some great co-op only missions, but ultimately, solo is still the best way to go in my opinion.  It also doesn’t help that when the second player drops out or in, the game needs to reload.

Even though the action element has been pushed into the forefront for this third installment, Dead Space 3 packs in a ton of tense, frantic, and downright spooky moments.  The game has never looked or sounded better.  For all of the things it does right however, you’re constantly aware of it’s short commings while playing.  The story really never leaves a lasting impression, there’s way too many fetch quest backtracking, and ultimately, the game is trying to be something it’s not with over the top action sequences.  While I am a big fan of the franchise, Dead Space 3 just never hit that high note for me like I was hoping it would.  With all of that said, Visceral sure knows how to create an engrossing shooter and despite the faults listed above, I’d still recommend the game to fans of third person shooters.

Dead Space 3 gets three and a half necromorph limbs out of 5
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