I wasn’t the biggest fan of Dead Space 1.
Dead Space 2, however, blew me away. I don’t know if it was the increased variety from a raw gameplay standpoint, or the more interesting locales, but Dead Space 2 had me hooked.
Now, it seems as if Dead Space 3 is set to combine the survival horror elements of the first game alongside of the more action oriented portions of the second, as it introduces new systems like weapon crafting, cover, and human on human conflict.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem — they just…went a little overboard and took away from what made the series so special in the first place.
Dead Space 3 gets off to quite a slow start. If you were expecting to roam the icy depths of the new arctic planet Tau Volantis right away, you’d be mistaken. After a few action-packed set-pieces, like an all-out brawl in the city against the deranged cultists of the Dead Space universe, you’ll find yourself in very familiar looking areas both in space and on orbital stations.
It isn’t until around halfway into the roughly 10-12 hour game that you’ll actually touch ground on the arctic planet.
Of course, given the nature of the first half of the game, everything feels…pretty similar to how it felt in Dead Space 1 and 2, but without pretty much anything that made those two games feel special.
You’ll occasionally encounter enemies from the first two games, make your way through some corridors, and explosions will happen from time to time. In parts of the game where you’d normally expect to see new and innovative enemies, you’re going to fight other cultists in what feels like a watered down version of Gears of War.
Simply put, combat does not measure up to the pedigree the series has established. There are absolutely no fights in the game that are as innovative as the Raptors from Dead Space 2, for instance. The vast majority of your necromorph and human conflicts boil down to — shoot their limbs, and shoot the glowing orange weakspot — sometimes, the game will even outright remind of the simplicity hours in.
My main issue with this is that combat is now extremely generic rather than the “tactical limb cutting” feel of the first two. Slow moving enemies were a joy to fight in Dead Space 1 and 2, because they felt unique.
Having to dissect the limbs of foes felt like a puzzle, and really added depth to the series. Now, enemies will run at you at full speed, and the strongest tactic in the book is spamming your kinesis ability to slow them down. That’s…about it, really.
Truthfully, there was a point where I had over 300 bullets in my gun with 15 healthpacks to spare, and I just said, “this doesn’t really feel like Dead Space anymore.”
But that’s not to say the game is bad, because it’s not. It’s still very much the same serviceable action game, with tight controls and solid visuals that it’s always been. It may have lost part of the magic for me personally, but it’s not like the game is broken by any means.
The new and improved crafting system is incredibly deep, and although I hit a few walls where I knew the game really wanted me to indulge in its micro-transaction scheme, I was able to do whatever I wanted for the most part with materials I found throughout my travels. Crafting and customizing new weapons is as easy as finding a part and attaching it instantly at a workbench.
In addition to weapons, you can also create health packs and ammo, should you feel the need to boost your chances of survival. It betrays the survival horror roots of the franchise, but since the series was already moving into an action oriented direction with Dead Space 2, you should be used to it by now, and I didn’t really have an issue with it.
But going back to my overall experience with the game, the theme of Dead Space 3 is also lacking — during my travels through the game’s setpieces, I never feared for my well-being. Overall, I never truly felt “scared” or even “freaked out,” like the nursery part of Dead Space 2, or the infamous “eye needle” scene.
There’s a sense of urgency in some areas of the game, but it’s stuff you’ve seen before, like ice formations falling down a cliff, or a giant creature running at you up a wall — nothing ever feels new in Dead Space 3 both in terms of content and the presentation, and that’s a problem for me.
There are a few cool moments in the game, but it wasn’t until literally eight hours in that I experienced anything truly interesting. That’s partially because the story is absolutely atrocious, and probably the worst yet. In addition to the absolutely insufferable supporting cast that will make you wish they were dead, the narrative is lacking any sort of imaginative spin outside of one fairly silly revelation near the end.
The first game was a mysterious journey through the psyche of Isaac Clark, and it worked — the second felt more mystical in nature, and although it had a fairly cheesy ending, it kept you guessing. With Dead Space 3, it just feels like this third trip through its paint-by-the-numbers universe has overstayed its welcome — not to mention it also has a horrid ending to boot that will satisfy no one.
So what about the infamous inclusion of two player co-op? Well, it’s mostly a non-issue in more ways than one. For the most part, co-op works, even if it’s not really a thrilling experience. Visceral boasted that Dead Space 3 would feature full drop-in/drop-out co-op, which is partially true, but it’s so haphazard and annoying you may just skip it altogether on occasion.
Since the 360 version takes place on two discs, there’s an issue right there when connecting to games, not to mention the fact that the game pauses when players drop into a game. Although I didn’t have that many connection issues, on more than one occasion I just quit and played the fully functional solo campaign.
When co-op does work, it works though. Visceral did a great job pasting newcomer Carver in as an optional part of the story, and he never feels too overbearing, or like the co-op function is going to “ruin” the game in any way. For the most part, Isaac just does his thing, and it’s worth replaying the game as Carver to see his perspective on things as well.
Honestly, I’m just excited that co-op is completely optional, and the poorly implemented Versus Mode from Dead Space 2 is gone.
Thankfully, there’s a ton of content to explore should you find yourself enjoying the game more than I did. For starters, the classic New Game+ mode is back, which allows you to retain your items and statistics. There’s also a Classic Mode, which in the vein of the original Dead Space, eliminates crafting, and ditches co-op.
Pure Survival lowers all possible resources, and Hardcore is back, which allows Isaac just one life — but this time, it’s vastly improve, as it allows unlimited saves, but deletes your file instantly upon death. These modes all help augment the experience on top of the deep crafting system and co-op functionality, but I didn’t feel compelled to play any of them due to the fairly unexciting nature of the game.
Since I played the Xbox 360 version, I was also able to test out the Kinect functionality. Like Mass Effect 3, it doesn’t really hurt the game in any way, but it isn’t really profound either. Outside of basic vocal commands where you’d basically be using a simple button press, there’s really nothing here of substance outside of a few slightly convenient co-op functions.
At the end of the day I was pretty disappointed in Dead Space 3. It took many, many hours of investment to truly get started, and ultimately, it substitutes the shocking moments of the first two games with a load of fairly average events you’ve seen before in other games.
It’s not a bad action game by any standards, but without the Dead Space name, I doubt this iteration could have even made a splash in the genre. Wait for a price drop unless you’re the hardiest of Dead Space fans.
This review is based on a physical copy of Dead Space 3 for the Xbox 360