Game Review: Dead Space 3
Developer: Visceral / EA
Platform: Xbox360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+ with Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language.
Multiplayer: ‘Drop-in-Drop-Out’ Co-Op Campaign available.
Evolution is sometimes an essential thing for franchises, there’s simply no avoiding that fact. What can be avoided however is betraying the very roots of said franchise in exchange for progress, the two (evolution and progress that is) don’t always go hand in hand and recent titles such as the ill-received Resident Evil 6 stand as unfortunate examples when developers try to change too much. I should warn all my readers right now that I will be comparing Dead Space 3 to Resident Evil 6 more than a few times in this review, for the right reasons! Where Capcom’s flagship series faltered Visceral’s has survived the sketchy business of evolution. It’s odd to say this but it’s somewhat satisfying to see Dead Space, a series long compared to Resident Evil, actually beat it’s competition at their own game.
Two months have passed since the events on Titan Station’s Sprawl and downtrodden Engineer/Marker-Killer-Extraordinaire Isaac Clarke has since become both romantically involved and split from fellow survivor Ellie Langford. Isaac is shaken out of his fugue state by two EarthGov officers Robert Norton and John Carver who need his help in finding Ellie and her research team. The trio come under attack by Unitologist soldiers as Norton tells Isaac that the Church of Unitology has all but overthrown EarthGov. The leader of the Unitologist contingent, Jacob Danik, activates a Marker concealed on the colony, causing another Necromorph outbreak. With the life of his beloved in the balance as well as his own Isaac agrees to accompany Norton’s crew out into deep space to find Ellie. What did Ellie’s team find in such a remote region of space? Why has Unitology risen up now of all times? All this and more will be revealed as Isaac takes on the monsters from his childhood nightmares once more.
I’d best start the dissection of Dead Space 3’s mechanics by addressing what many suspected in the run-up to the game’s release would prove to be it’s downfall: Co-Op. In the first of many comparisons to Resident Evil 6 Co-Op play is something Dead Space 3 really nails on the head. Not only does the Co-Op campaign play differently to the single player campaign, with stronger Necromorphs and new areas becoming accessible, but it also adds more depth to both Isaac and newcomer John Carver. When playing Co-Op, something made easier with the implementation of a crispy clear in-game voice chat feature, both players will still need to conserve resources and Necromorphs can still brutalize you both so don’t expect an easy ride. There are options which disable reviving downed Co-Op partners, which on higher difficulty settings can really amp up the tension despite having someone watching your back. The bare-bones mechanics of Dead Space as a whole remain the series staple: it is an over-the-shoulder third person shooter mixed heavily with elements from both survival horror games and classic sci-fi horror movies.
Many critics have come down hard on Dead Space 3 in a similar fashion that they did with Resident Evil 6 because of the apparent series focus shifting away from horror towards flat-out-action. But really, if you ask me that is not a valid argument in this instance. One of the key components necessary in order for things to become frightening is for them to be mysterious or unknown to us, that’s just human nature. However, once the ‘monsters’ have been seen for what they are or we think that we understand them a lot of the ‘horror’ is made redundant. The difference is how we go about addressing this fear once we understand it. Where Resident Evil 6 went WAY over the top with action set pieces featuring bombastic meat-head characters and implausible action set pieces Dead Space 3 manages to retain a sense of constant tension through it’s environments which are varied and unlike anything the series has seen thus far as well as it’s top tier sound design which always manages to unsettle the player. Whether you are in the void of deep space, hopping between ancient derelict spaceships, or fighting both Necromorphs and the elements on the icy plains of Tau Volantis Dead Space 3 manages against all the odds to deliver scares and edge-of-your-seat moments frequently. Whilst there are ‘shoot-out’ segments of the game where Isaac and Carver are faced with fanatical Unitologists they are few and far between and rarely break the atmosphere that other gameplay elements do such a stellar job of instilling.
All of the resources Isaac and Carver scavenge go towards maintaining their current arsenal or towards building better tools. Weapon crafting in Dead Space 3 is beyond satisfying, if you have the resources and imagination there’s hundreds if not thousands of combinations you can try. Pre-built blueprints can be found all over the place if the player is in need of some inspiration but the real joy here comes from seeing hordes of Necromorphs being decimated by something you have built with your own hands, it’s really something!
Another thing which pleasantly surprised me about Dead Space 3 is just how long it is. I always felt that both Dead Space 1 and 2 were over before I knew it but the single player campaign this time around, depending on the difficulty and amount of optional side-missions done, can take between 20 and 25 hours to complete. Couple this with a nifty “New Game +” mode which carries over all your upgrades and resources to another play-through, the equally lengthy Co-Op campaign, as well as all-new modes which become unlocked once certain requirements have been met and you’ve got a lot of content here. Some of these new game modes will really appeal to ‘purists’ who want to play what they deem ‘the authentic’ Dead Space experience, Classic mode for example restricts weapon construction to series staples such as the Pulse Rifle and the Line Gun and limits the abundance of resources. Whilst it is good to see that Visceral have clearly taken the concerns of their fans into consideration it’s still baffling why features such as the Classic mode are not available from the start. It’s almost like Visceral are testing the waters, to gauge fan reaction to series changes before going any further.
This brings me to what does not work in Dead Space 3 because unfortunately things are not perfect. First and foremost the story is somewhat convoluted; it features a love triangle which frankly doesn’t work, especially in such a macabre and hostile setting. Secondly the plot, especially towards it’s conclusion, delves into some rather far-fetched areas and certain developments will leave players scratching their heads. The biggest problem with the story however is the way it ‘ends’, which I cannot really discuss here without potentially spoiling the entire game. It is not quite Mass Effect 3 level of rage-inducing but it is still unsatisfactory to say the least, and if it is going the way I suspect it is then EA need to hang their heads in shame for such a dickish decision. Another gripe I have falls at EA’s feet again: the persistent plugging of downloadable content. Normally I do not have a problem with downloadable content because it can help prolong the life of a game but here it has been implemented for the entirely wrong reasons. In Dead Space 3 there are features which allow players to purchase “ration packs” with Microsoft Points, packs which contain resources, weapon blueprints, and new suits. If this was a small menu on the title screen I would not have such a big problem with it but the frequency that these packs are advertised in-game is relentless and it really started to get on my nerves. Call me a ‘purist’ but if someone needs leg-ups in this genre of game to the extent that they are willing to pay out of their own wallet then they don’t belong here to begin with. Practices like this in gaming need to die a horrible fiery death, the sooner the better.
Despite it’s minor narrative and peripheral problems Dead Space 3 manages to survive it’s own evolution, catering to both conservative and progressive fans and delivering a tense thrill ride which still manages to scare players silly.
Final Score: 9/10
If you have a buddy who you can team up with to tackle the Co-Op campaign this is a perfect 10.
+ Surprisingly tense despite the obvious increase in player power.
+ Locales are diverse and beautifully presented.
+ Introduction of Co-Op is welcome, does not impede the game, and is actually ingenious at times.
+ Weapon crafting is seriously addictive.
+ There are options available for “Purists” who want the “Authentic” experience.
+ Difficulty ranges from casually easy to the unbelievably hard.
+ Soundtrack, as ever, is first class.
+ Campaign is considerably longer than in previous titles. A first-time playthrough may take between 15 and 20 hours depending on difficulty. This is not taking into account a separate and equally long Co-Op campaign as well as vastly different modes to play both campaigns on. You get a LOT of content for your buck.
– Story is somewhat convoluted, featuring a rather unbelievable love triangle that feels very out-of-place and some seriously questionable plot developments later on.
– Story is not conclusive, perhaps due to be addressed through DLC? If so that is a real dick move EA…
– The regular plugging of DLC throughout the game… this shit needs to stop.