The original Dead Space, from 2008, instilled a sense of horror and awe not seen in the current generation. Whilst the PS3 was enjoying various Japanese horror releases, the PC saw merely action games and the ever-changing Resident Evil series. We hadn’t felt trapped, suffocated, and helpless in a long while, until Dead Space and its Necromorphic horror-space-zombies burst out with a classic mix of exploration and true survival horror. It was undeniably old-school, and because of that, it didn’t “resonate” all too well with the public. Visceral Games polished, expanded, and grew the title for the sequel – Dead Space 2 – retaining the classic horror aesthetic with more cinematic, AAA moments. Sadly, EA yet again did not accept the critical fate of that installment, therefore orchestrating serious changes that extend further than marketing the title on a “your mother is gonna’ hate this” vibe, and a sense of 1990′s kiddy dissidence.
This installment is the product of changing times, where survival horror is too scary to be popular, or played alone, and full $60 titles nag you to pay a little extra – despite no effort from Visceral Games to push for the best possible product for those on the PC.
Dead Space 3 is by no means a terrible game, but it is the epitome of compromise this late in the generation cycle: micro-transactions, a lazy port, compromising the solo experience to accommodate a cooperative one, and over-produced music, story ideas, and scale.
This third installment has in some ways returned to its corridor crawling roots, whilst in others it has expanded into the generic, with cover-shooting, plentiful ammo, and more combat oriented weapons. Ingenuity isn’t really something Dead Space 3 focuses on compared to the first two – for instance, whilst there’s a crafting system which on paper is very extensive and interesting, you can purchase the scrap material required to craft items with real cash. So you’ve three options for acquiring scrap: walk around and find it yourself, use the scrap bot (automated), or pay for it (with real Earth pounds).
Scrap acquisition adds nothing to the game. Despite weapons being comprised of multiple, upgradable components, which you can mix and match as you see fit, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why building them yourself is any more interesting than upgrading or purchasing them at pivotal moments such as in the previous two titles. In fact, I suspect, as a consequence as the addition of scrap-heavy farming designed to bore you into forking over more cash, enemies are – at first – harder to kill. Taking around 3 shots to each leg with the Plasmer Cutter, I found myself in a surprising need to upgrade very early on. I also found that for the longest time, I didn’t have enough materials to properly upgrade with. That seemed an interesting situation to be in given the introduction of micro-transactions that shouldn’t affect game-play in any way. In other words, Visceral Games had taken something out of the game – the ability to purchase new weapons – and replaced it with the aforementioned scrap acquisition methods, which are neither enjoyable nor necessary.
In theory, though, the extensive weapon building mechanic is very interesting, and it has a lot of depth. 8 components on each weapon can be modified, swapped out, and upgraded with power upgrades, which can be found or built, to change your rate of fire or damage. This gives you ultimate control over the Necromorph enemies, and whilst scavenging for materials is a pain in the back-side, there’s potential for some fun theory crafting if that’s something you’re into.
If you really want an easier game, though, I suggest using a trainer to acquire scrap – instead of paying for it, since use of a trainer is free.
Dead Space 3 is a visually inconsistent title. It looks notably rougher round the edges than the previous two installments, with low resolution textures, chunky models, and incredibly janky physics and animations. Many times myself or my coop partner found enemies’ limbs or bodies stuck to our legs, or flying into the air bugging out. Any sharp turns also seemed to launch all the character models into the air. Lighting, too, is thickly pasted on and lacks finesse. Visceral Games previously admitted a straight port to PC, and it really shows. Whilst the game can and sometimes does look quite beautiful, it’s often because of the alienating sci-fi aesthetic and the videography, not the fidelity of assets used.
Necromorphs look washed out and blurry, and in many of the scarier moments, the games technology can’t help but show its age. The segments in space surrounded by debris are beautiful, and at times the atmosphere is suffocating, but there isn’t the same sense of containment from the first or second games, and Visceral Games seemed to have lost the ability to create visually exciting surroundings set in lengthy metallic hallways, and the inner-workings of ships. Because much of the game takes place on-world, we’re let down once again by snow that doesn’t move with your feet, or dated caves and caverns. It may seem like I’m being too hard on the graphics, but something about Dead Space 3 makes the title feel like a spin off – and a cheap one at that.
Despite the over-produced Hollywood style soundtrack that trumps with your every movement turning what was high-horror into a B-movie monster romp, there’s no elevated sense of grandeur. The voice acting, whilst competent, is let-down by poor facial animation and textures. QTE’s asking you to incessantly smash the ‘E’ key ruin moments that should have been left as cut-scenes, and incredibly ‘gamey’ level design kills the atmosphere due to either the single player being clearly designed for coop, or playing coop with chatting ruining the mood.
At one moment, I had to escape a room as a shuttles engines were firing up. This meant pacing myself between jets of fire as enemies constantly came pouring in. With clunky movement – which I’m okay with in a survival horror game - it felt restricting, and annoying; not challenging, and intense. In actual fact, getting multiple enemies thrown at you is basically the only trick up Visceral Games’ sleeve. Entrapment is no longer a subtle, atmospheric achievement from the team, and the game has devolved into merely tossing endless Necromorphs at you until whatever happens, happens, and you can move on. I can’t help but wonder if this artificial entrapment is merely designed to ‘help’ you want to upgrade your equipment, therefore tempting you to spend money. I am at least certain that enemies, at first, are tougher, with Isaac taking more hits throughout the game.
The campaign is fully cooperative, with coop play changing the dynamic and story slightly. Isaac is ‘emotionally detached’ due to the Necromorphic hoopla, so John Carver tags along for the adventure. Carver exists in Isaac’s mind, but there are moments when Carver interjects either playing solo or cooperatively. As you probably suspected, playing cooperatively turns Dead Space 3 into Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City, for the following reasons: the ability to craft weapons, and buy scrap, means you are ultimately over-powered very quickly. You have military weapons this time, not engineering tools, so running through hordes of poorly rendered Necromorphs whilst your friend is cracking jokes, constantly trying to one-up you, isn’t very scary. In fact, it isn’t very ‘survival’ either. Since there is coop in the game, the campaign is built for coop. This means there’s no more suspense, since you’re not alienated. Because of this, Visceral Games have had to emulate suspense. They do this with music, hordes of enemies, and QTE’s relying on the player feeling something for the characters. The entire dynamic of the game has changed, and as with many games, story, crafting, mechanics all become negligible as your trudge your way through countless generic, muddy areas, against the same enemies.
At moments in the cooperative experience, we were literally just walking forward, aiming down our sights, like something out of a Ghost Recon game. The introduction of actual, risible cover-mechanics and human enemies played out like a parody of this review. Spontaneously, suspiciously rectangular, hip-height rocks appeared on Tau Volantis, and Gears of War sprung to mind. Not to say that this all wasn’t fun – but anything is fun cooperatively. Fear 3 introduced cooperative mechanics employed in this title, but it did it so much better. The problem is that in creating a cooperative experience, they have ruined the single player one, and damaged the mechanics unique to the franchise.
Certain unique story changes happen when Isaac and Carver are together, though, such as Issac and Carver sometimes seeing things independently to each-other, for instance – no spoilers – the player controlling Isaac will see assets Carver will not, and cannot see. Whilst this has the potential for some genuine scares, it actually doesn’t play out like that. In fact, if you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t notice this element even existed – you might assume it was a bug.
There’s always a risk with cooperative games, like Fear 3, that they become shooting, linear grind-fests. Unfortunately, this is no exception. Whilst there’s clearly an effort to retain the classic Dead Space aesthetic, the title merely marks itself as a mediocre, clunky action game.
If you really want to knuckle down and get into the story enough to genuinely get that sense of fear and entrapment, then you need to think about playing this alone. The trouble is, doing so really unmasks the titles blemishes, and navigating the cluster of ships, caves, and snowy terrain along a convoluted and poorly explained story without a sense of purpose feels like an allegory for Isaac’s involvement. One day he’s sitting in his apartment, and the next he’s fighting Necromorph’s again. One day you’re just happily minding your own business, the next you’re playing another Dead Space title. It sounds audacious to describe the process as a chore, but like Isaac’s forced involvement, Dead Space 3 - played alone – has an overwhelming sense of ‘oh, okay’ about it. Every enemy interaction: ‘oh, okay, better take care of this’; every time you want to upgrade, but don’t have enough resources: ‘oh, okay, might as well wait. Whatever’; every time you need to change ship to progress in the story: ‘oh, sure, okay, better go to the transport then’. It merely feels like you’re going through the motions, and if you’re a fan of the original two, then you might feel as though you’re playing some parallel universe title in the franchise, where something that seems like Dead Space from 2008 tried and failed to do what it did so well.
After a good 9 hours of game-play, I realized that all I was doing was hitting B to follow a blue line, accurately estimating what vent enemies would burst out of, and merely ‘going through the motions’. This led me to the conclusion that Visceral Games were all out of surprises.
Whilst there are new enemy types, Dead Space 3 by no means feels like an evolution of the franchise. It seems as though someone has taken the lore’s aesthetic and applied it to a generic cover-action game, with a much more linear, less dynamic aventure, with poorer graphics, animations, and textures. You can’t get immersed on single player because of the overwhelming sense that it’s built for coop, and you can’t get immersed in coop because of the overwhelming sense of your friends presence – which sort of negates the whole point of playing it. The mechanics don’t translate well into the more action oriented experience, and the level design doesn’t translate well into the clunky mechanics of the survival horror genre. Visceral Games admittedly doesn’t care that the title looks shoddy on PC, and EA decided to take away the ability to purchase guns to laterally tempt you to purchase them with real cash. There’s not a whole lot I’m excited about with Dead Space 3, and EA’s virulent infatuation monetization has left a sour taste in my mouth – despite my fervor for the previous two titles.
Compromised in basically every single way possible, Dead Space 3 is a fun cooperative experience. That’s all it is. The problem with that is that everything is fun in coop. It might as well be Hello Kitties’ Zombie Adventure, because this generic action cover shooter gains nothing from the IP’s aesthetic and lore, even if the whole thing does feel like Hollywood wants to get in its pants.
Title was played partly with the Corsair M90 mouse – but with switching to the Xbox 360 game-pad due to stuttering issues ostensibly caused by mouse drivers with this particular game.