inFocus

“It’s a blizzard out there!

Game Info
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Visceral Games
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 05/05/2013
Meta Score


Before Dead Space 3 came out, there was a lot of fuss on the internet that this sequel had changed far too much from Dead Space 2 and was therefore the end of the world, or whatever it is the internet shouts when it’s upset at something. Those were my thoughts going into Dead Space 2, and that one turned out pretty well, so I went into Dead Space 3 ready to accept the changes it brought, and take the game for what it was, not for what I remembered the games before it to be.

And I found it boring.

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Dead Space 3 isn’t a bad game. It’s well constructed, mostly polished (with a handful of frequent glitches), and good looking. It succeeds in creating tense atmospheres most of the time, and it can still offer up a couple of scares. But the great pacing and matching of highs and lows from the series’ past have given way to Uncharted-like spectacle set pieces and endless waves of similar enemies.

Story: The story telling for Dead Space 3 is often clunky and mishandled. The game opens with a multiple minute long summary of Dead Space 1 & 2 that wipes away much of the mystery around the markers, turning them from embattled religious artifacts to icons of evil, and this concept continues throughout much of the game. Dead Space 3 is much more black and white than its predecessors.

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It seems to be a theme in the game that everything has become much more impersonal. Gone are the scenes of humans turning into the horrifying necromorphs. Gone are rooms with stories in them, telling tales of Unitologist mass offings. The necromorphs now simply are, and Isaac has to kill them.

The biggest problem with the story for Dead Space 3 is that Isaac lacks any kind of motivation. When the game gets to him, he is living in an apartment, trying not to be found, when two guys bust in and tell him he has to save the world or they’ll kill him and if he refuses, some other guys are going to kill him. He eventually finds motivation when he learns that Ellie is stuck in a space ship somewhere, but being that the game doesn’t go to any lengths to explain that Ellie and Isaac were an item (or that they aren’t any more) for quite a while, it just feels really hard to get behind any of his reasoning.

The story does pick up around when you get to Tau Volantis, the frozen world where you’ll spend 60% of the game, and you start to learn what the Markers really are and how they work, but at the point when it does, it suddenly changes pace to be a character piece/love triangle story. This tonal shift comes off really strangely, and I just couldn’t get behind any of the love drama that played out in the game. Well, maybe a little at the very end.

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Another major problem with the plot is that it keeps trying to convince you that the Unitologists are the real bad guys, but that is a really hard pill to swallow. How can you take them seriously? They’re led by one of the most ham-fisted cartoon characters in the history of gaming, and they believe that your character is the only thing standing between them and rebirth… as a betentacled octopus monster. Unitology has always been one of the stranger and harder to grasp areas of the franchise, and it worked best as a smoke screen, changing the light we saw the game in, but never tangible enough to grab. Now that you have to fight through the misguided idiots (who stop shooting at Necromophs to shoot at Isaac… seriously), they just seem pitiful.

Dead Space has never had the best of stories in gaming, but at least in the past games the story was well paced and structured. This game has arguably the most interesting premise of the three games, but it’s simply mishandled.

Graphics/Presentation: This game is no slouch in the graphics department. Dead Space 3 is one of the best looking games of this generation. While the game may not exactly be scary anymore, it is atmospheric, and they nailed that graphically. Dust hangs in the air, floating around and illuminating your lasers. Isaac’s visor casts a haunting glow on the floor. Snow flurries whip at Isaac on Tau Volantis as he braces himself against the storm, his fur coat billowing. There are plenty of times where the game will happily show you how beautiful the frozen planet can be when it’s not loading your face with dead things and exploding body parts.

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On a more technical side, the game runs very smoothly. Playing on the 360 without any install, the game ran at a constant 30 fps without hardly a dip. The PS3 ran pretty smooth as well, though there were two occasions when I had major slowdown (supposedly to be fixed with a patch). The game looks, and runs, great.

Gameplay/Controls: The gameplay in the Dead Space franchise is top notch. The core mechanics of Dead Space 3 are phenomenal, so it’s truly disheartening to see how some of the design decisions really knocked the gameplay down.

The two biggest overhauls are to the weapons systems, and the change to a more action oriented set up. This newest entry no longer sports pre-set weapons that you can upgrade to make stronger, allowing you to run through the game with your favorite weapons. Instead, you now get to “build” your own weapons.

I say that term tentatively because you aren’t really building them. You can’t get down and dirty with the components to make a unique weapon that no one else is going to have. It goes like this: you pick a weapon frame (either compact or heavy) which determines if it’s a big gun or little gun, then you pick an engine, which determines what kind of gun it is. A military engine on a compact frame is an SMG, while on a heavy it’s an assault rifle. Then, you can add a tip, which can change the firing pattern of the gun, like turning an assault rifle into a shotgun, or making the Ripper a projectile. Finally, you can add components, which make the guns stronger, or reload faster, etc.

At first, the weapons system seems quite deep. I was giddy the first time I added a flamethrower to my acid shotgun. But as you get further in, you find that Isaac is basically duct-taping two guns together. And in doing so, you lose a lot of versatility that the guns of Dead Space 2 toted. Why should I have to choose between a Ripper I can hold out, and one that fires? Removing the alt-fire function took away a lot of the personality of the guns. The fact that they can’t really be upgraded anymore also means that they’re about as powerful as they are when you get them, so the Plasma Cutter is quite weak (unless you have the Planet Cracker Variant), and the shotgun is nigh on invincible.

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The other major gameplay change is the switch to action from survival horror. The moody, somewhat-slow-but-always-tense nature of the past two games is gone. Necromorphs will constantly sprint at you, making stasis a requirement. Rooms will be flooded with wave after wave of enemy, requiring you to chew through ammo, which isn’t too much of a problem since you’ll always have hundreds of clips (and ammo is universal for weapons now). The personality of Dead Space seems to be gone, and what’s left is a good action game, where in you fight endless hordes of dead things that you can happen to shoot the limbs off of.

Even the set pieces reflects this change. Isaac spends a great deal of the cinema scenes sliding down mountains, leaping from falling vehicles, and being dragged along of nasties. These scenes aren’t alien to the series, but they’re just on such a larger scale here that it can almost seem out of control.

I think a lot of this can be contributed the idea of co-op. Dead Space was always a single player experience, and things had to change to fit a second player. Being in a hall with one slow walking necromorph wouldn’t be scary when two people are standing at the end of the hall with electrified assault rifles attached to flamethrowers. More enemies, faster enemies, had to be thrown in to compensate, but at the cost of variety. You see many more slashers, stalkers, and pukers than anything else that I was glad to get to fight lurkers, leapers, or the new Feeders. And the Pregnants and Guardians are in the game so rarely that they may not have been in the game at all.

Another problem presented with the co-op is that neither the single player nor the co-op experience seems whole. There are times in the co-op when they game seems so focused on Isaac that you forget why John Carver is there. In the single player, John Carver seems magically pop out of corners with more skill than the horse from Assassin’s Creed III. It’s a strange disconnect that foiled the pacing over and over again.

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As an aside, if you’re both a completionist and a single-player only kinda gamer, you might want to skip this one as playing co-op is required to play all the content, get all the artifacts, hear all the video logs, get every achievement, etc.

This sounds really dismal, but that’s only because these things weigh heavily on the great Dead Space formula. The zero-G fights are still amazing, moving and shooting is still some of the best-in-class for that third-person-shooter, and taking off necromorph limbs and shooting them back with TK powers still feels right. The addition of side quests is a great way to pad the content, and though most are pretty bland, one of the single player ones that pits you against a crazed survivor is a high point of the game, and all of co-op missions are the best part of the Carver experience.

Sound: There isn’t much special in the audio department for Dead Space 3. The voice work is good, but not great. Gunner Wright puts in a good effort as Isaac Clarke, and Sonita Henry is probably the best actress in the game as Ellie Langford, but everyone else sort of falls by the wayside. Simon Templeman plays the comically out-of-touch big-bad, Jacob Danik, but the over the top performance he gives keeps his character seeming shallow and parodic instead of menacing or contemplative (which I’d hope such a blatant critique of modern religion would be).

The music is what you’d expect. Lots of violins being slaughtered and insane piano accompaniment. It can make scenes more tense, but it also can get annoying as it starts and stops every time you kill of enemies and more pop in through the vents.

I kept getting audio glitches throughout the game. Some of them were goofy, like hearing sounds for weapons that I wasn’t using, but others were pretty major. There was a multi-hour period in which all the audio was completely garbled and unintelligible (though I play with subtitles on, so it wasn’t too much of a problem), and it only resolved itself after I reset my game, leading to the save glitch again. Another audio problem I had happened when I went near a side mission late in the game, and one of the characters who had died proceeded to strike up a conversation with Isaac like nothing had happened. It freaked me out, sending me to the internet to figure out what I had missed.

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Replay: There is some good replay in Dead Space 3. The main campaign took me 13 hours on Hard difficulty (single player), when completing 5 of the side quests, but I moved through the enemies pretty fast (Believe me, the acid shotgun is unmatched). The game has a slew of difficulty choices, with your standard Normal-Hard-Impossible being just the tip of the ice. There’s Classic mode, which gives you only DS1 weapons, Hardcore mode, which deletes your save file the first time you die, Pure Survival mode, and even a Retro mode that makes the whole game look like it came out on the Sega CD. The presence of the extra difficulties is good, because even on Hard the game can be pretty simple.

Aside from changing the difficulty, there’s also an assortment of collectibles that all offer a little background to the game universe, and the side quests to complete, many of which require you to play in co-op. If you’re a completionist, this game could keep you on for a long time. If not, then there isn’t much here for you.

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Dead Space 3 PlayStation 3 Demo Footage Shown Below.

Overall,  Dead Space 3 isn’t a bad game, but it seems an odd fit for the company it keeps. It makes the transition from survival-horror to action game much more smoothly than say, Resident Evil 5 managed (potshot!), but it lost a lot of personality in the process. The story can be a mess, but it does manage to tie up most of the plot strings it casts out. Pick it up if you’re a hardcore third person shooter fan or a die-hard Dead Space lover.

Written By: D.R. Maddock