The talk of the internet for months has been Dead Space 3 and the emphasis on action over horror with Isaac’s third battle against legions of Necromorphs. We have read about cooperative gameplay, microtransactions, and the adjustment from tight spaceship corridors to the icy tundras of a new planet.
There is an undeniable aspect of the internet that will never go away: negative hype. Was Dead Space 3 a victim of the latest skirmish in the never-ending flame wars? Did it ever stand a chance against the growing population of detractors, many of whom had not even played the demo themselves? Was there any way that Electronic Arts could repair an increasingly hostile relationship with its customers?
No. It was all justified.
Dead Space 3
Systems: Playstation 3 [Reviewed], PC, Xbox 360
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: February 5, 2013
From the moment Dead Space 3’s prologue shifts into the present day and Isaac Clarke, former mental patient-turned-drunk, is roused from his alcoholic haze to join his ex-girlfriend Ellie of Dead Space 2 fame, it is obvious that Visceral wanted to include as many new players into the universe as possible. Gone are any immediate senses of dread, isolation and fear. Instead of mutated corpses with razor-sharp limbs protruding from muscles, Isaac evades government soldiers in the opening escape sequence. Rather than cutting off the limbs as instructed by terrified audio logs, you just aim for the head. It is at once jarring for Dead Space veterans and awkward for people new to the series and not accustomed to the slow and deliberate controls.
Once you make your escape, however, the game sees a bit of a return to form. You will find yourself back on an abandoned spaceship with bloodstained, corpse-riddled corridors while the reanimated beings known as Necromorphs stalk you through the air ducts. It is during this stretch of the game, which lasts from about Chapter 2 through 8, that I was ready to write off most of what the media had been shouting. While the aesthetics of the menus had shifted, and while Isaac’s co-op partner John Carver ( a rejected Arnold Schwarzenegger character if I have ever heard one) is a little too bro-ish, this was still the survival horror experience I had grown to love and fear over the past five years.
While exploring the fleet of abandoned and infested ships, Isaac (and Carver, if you choose) will be subjected to constant onslaughts of Necromorph battles. The increase in combat and action is to be expected after everything Visceral has discussed about broadening the scope of the series, but the problem with this idea is in the way you maneuver your player. Dead Space has always been about navigating tight passages while keeping your eyes and, more importantly, ears open for shambling horrors who want to eat your face. It is not uncommon in the early stages of the game to find yourself in a small room with six Necromorphs descending on you, but Isaac and Carver are physically incapable of turning around quickly enough for you to avoid the one monster who always manages to sneak up behind you and take a quick slice or nip. Any sense of terror quickly turns to annoyance when you hear a vent explode and can already tell you need to get to the nearest corner so that you have a full view of your attackers.
Once you get to that corner, however, you’re fine. At no point throughout my entire solo campaign did I ever have to worry about how I was doing with ammo. By the time Chapter 5 started, I had 365 piece of universal ammunition – you no longer find bullets for individual weapon types. It doesn’t matter if you are using a plasma cutter, line gun, pulse rifle or flamethrower, so long as you continuously pick up the plentiful ammo that can be found on shelves, looted from corpses or purchased from the store.
Speaking of the store, let’s talk about something the internet has not been able to shut the fuck up about since the idea was announced. Rather than the credits of the other games, Dead Space 3 has you scouring raw materials like tungsten and somatic gel to build items and weapons from scratch. You will not be using power nodes to upgrade your weapons and armor, and in fact, “maxing out” a gun is now impossible. You are free to craft weapons that combine all the best aspects of, say, a line gun and force gun, but are now forced to choose which aspects you want to enhance with upgrade circuits. This all plays out in a convoluted menu that is too ambitious for its own good. You could spend hours coming up with different combinations of weapons to craft, but why would you? Half of them are shit in combat no matter how much material you use to upgrade them. As for the microtransactions, spending real-life money is allowed but not encouraged. In fact, some of the resource packs that are purchased with your credit card can actually be bought with in-game currency…which begs the question, why should we have to go on the PlayStation Store or Xbox Live Arcade for something that already exists in game?
You’ll find most of the resources and upgrades while playing through the optional missions that pop up through the course of the campaign, each one adding anywhere from a half hour to more than sixty minutes of gameplay. They will seem like fun diversions at first, with plenty of extra text and audio logs to find to further explore the history of the Dead Space universe. If the fact that I am highlighting files as one of the better features of the game seems troubling, you are on to something. Some of the optional missions require you to have a partner, a fact that caused me to curse out the game on more than one occasion. I understand putting in cooperative play as an option, but to deny people entire sections of the game (along with trophies and achievements if you’re into them) because they prefer going it alone is bullshit.
Things were going pretty well until Isaac gets separated from his crew after yet another ship crashes and he finds himself on the surface of Tau Volantis, an icy planet that owes John Carpenter some serious license fees. You will have to monitor your body temperature for a little while before you get a suit upgrade, and this is where the game began to fall apart for me. Necromorphs burst out of the ice from beneath you, and the strategies you employed inside the lonely derelict ships are thrown out the window when the creatures swarm you from all directions.
The aging control scheme does nothing to help you deal with this, a point further illustrated in Chapter 10 when human enemies make a big return. If Visceral is insistent on making this game appeal to more people, why would I not be able to switch to a different shoulder for supporting my gun? Every crappy and generic shooter on the market allows you to do this, along with an evasive roll that is only just explained to you in this tenth chapter when the game is halfway done. I would say that I could have used that information earlier, but the truth is that the roll is horribly counter-intuitive, sharing a button with running and practically stopping your player dead in his tracks so he can be torn apart.
By the time you reach the heart of this icy planet and begin the final steps toward the end, you will have become so bored with the narrative that you might start a checklist for how many characters end up getting killed. The banter between Isaac, Ellie and her new beau Norton has the writing of an Expendables spinoff. John Carver is one Monster Energy away from being an armed forces recruiter, and Isaac is insufferable as the tortured engineer cursed with an equivalent of shining, touch or whatever other media reference Visceral was aiming for when they turned Isaac into a douchebag. I shouldn’t have expected a plot on par with something like Bioshock, especially considering the trailer for the game featuring “In the Air Tonight” that said to me “Look how much money we have. We’re gonna spend it on this song, even though it could not possibly be interpreted for this game.”
The last battle, along with the handful of other bosses, is as underwhelming as the first game in the series. Epic fights have never been one of Dead Space’s strong points, but after five years, you would think Visceral could try and step it up a notch. Much like the first game, I was in no danger whatsoever and could very well have left behind the fourteen large health packs I had accumulated by the time the end came. If we are going to talk in terms of cliches, the game goes out not with a bang, but a whimper. I watched the end credits and came to the conclusion that it may have been time for Visceral to move on, because it really didn’t seem like their hearts were in this anymore.
I will give them credit for shooting for replay value. Upon completion, you unlock a myriad of new modes to try along with new difficulties. Dead Space 3’s Hardcore Mode takes the same mode in the previous game and rapes it with a severed claw, expecting you to beat the game without dying once. Whoever has the patience to put up with this game a second time, I wish you the best of luck.
Visually, the Dead Space universe still looks impressive. The rusty hallways of spaceships remain just the right amount of dark to let you see the blood smeared on the floors and walls. Necromorphs are on par with their Dead Space 2 counterparts while the human enemies look like they were trying out for Delta Squad in Gears of War. I was impressed by the blinding snow drifts that Tau Volantis used to obscure approaching enemies. The icy locale was an interesting change of pace and I would have liked to see it in a modern video game about The Thing.
The music in Dead Space has shifted along with the tone of the rest of the game. The sweeping orchestral opening and electric solo for the ending felt incredibly out of place, but that was par for the course. Necromorphs still click their talons against the air vents when ready to pounce, but at this point, they are more of an indicator than an atmospheric touch. The voice acting is sufficient, with the best performance easily going to Simon Templeman (Uncharted, Legacy of Kain, Dragon Age: Origins, Angel) as Jacob Danik, the leader of the church of Unitology and main antagonist.
Dead Space 3 came into this world much in the same position as Resident Evil 6, under an astronomical amount of pressure from its executives to perform well at retail. Because of this, the developer tried to do too many things at once and not only alienated the millions who loved the series as it was, they watered it down to the point that new fans will wonder what the big deal was in the first place. For me, the main difference was that Resident Evil 6 seemed like a more passionate and honest attempt to give everyone something to love. I felt the developers saying “We are going to make this the greatest thing Resident Evil can possibly be.”
Dead Space 3 tells me that Visceral, at some point, decided “Well, we’re fucked” and phoned it in. There are remnants of the two previous efforts here, but this final product makes it obvious that the life has been sucked out of the company. Having played the first two games multiple times, I know Visceral is capable of giving us contenders for game of the year.
This is not one of them.
Let’s not mince words: although we at NSFW Gamer love us some sexy time, there is nothing sexy about Dead Space 3. Given a few months, some fantastic hentai will likely make itself known featuring Ellie, Santos and some combination of Isaac, Carver and/or Necromorphs. The only thing remotely resembling any sexual material in this game is brief kissing, which encapsulates about eight seconds of the campaign.
Ellie is a formidable female character, and while I wouldn’t compare her to Samus, her position in space as a damn good lady fighter should put her somewhere in the ranks of great women in horror games. Don’t expect her to be straddling anyone in the future, though – this game won’t be selling five million copies.