The Dead Space series is EA’s answer to titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil and Dead Space 3 hopes to finally give its fans some closure.
Horror movie fans will tell you that as a franchise is milked for more money, it loses its edge. And to some extent, we’ve seen this formula emulated in video games, too.
So how does Dead Space 3 fare? Is the series still compelling after its four years in service? Let’s find out.
Dead Space 3 is torn between four identities. It desperately wants to be a horror game, dreams of being an action game but knows when it grows up, it’ll be an RPG. Meanwhile, its parents are pushing it into the movie industry, hoping that it will make it in Hollywood.
It tries hard, but the mishmash of genres sadly distract from the overall experience. What we’re left with is a mess of formulas with little binding them together.
Dead Space fans will feel comfortable in the story line. Isaac Clarke is back, this time investigating a Necromorph outbreak on planet Tau Volantis. The story is one of the game’s strengths, especially for fans of the series, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Newcomers will feel isolated, though, as only a short introduction to the series by way of narration at the start of the game is hardly enough to do the sci-fi story justice.
Tau Volantis is teeming with Necromorphs that limber awkwardly towards you. The game’s “Dismemberment” system means that the creatures are resistant to shots to the chest, so you will need to shoot their legs, arms or head off to slow them down. Necromorphs have not changed much since the first Dead Space game over four years ago, however, and as a result they have lost their edge. They have become uninteresting and predictable and their animation is far from scary; almost comical. Shooting a head off, for example, sends it into a perpetual roll across the floor. The body part will spin quickly, but actually move slowly. The real laughs begin when there are multiple arms, heads and legs randomly spinning and sliding all over the place.
The Necromorphs also lack difficulty. Shoot off their legs then stomp on their face until they stop squirming seems to be the perfect formula to victory. In harder modes, the AI is no more intelligent, but their hits are heavier and will dole out more damage.
If you’re looking for a scare-your-pants-off horror title, Dead Space 3 is not the game for you. Being killed in battle holds zero consequence and as a result, the game doesn’t even try to give you the psychological thrills of being hunted down and killed. Instead, it relies on cheap, loud things jumping out of the darkness. This might scare a 10 year old, but horror fans will be disappointed and probably disgusted that their intelligence is being mocked.
Adding in drop-in/drop-out co-op dilutes any thrill the game might’ve served up in the horror department. The new character, John Carver, might spark some interest in fans and some of the best moments in the game are those when played with another player. There are side missions that are exclusive to Carver, too, adding some extra incentive. If you have no friends, fear not — the co-op is a nice addition, but not a necessary one.
Overall, the action in Dead Space 3 just misses the mark and when you think things are about to get exciting, you’re slapped in the face with Quick Time Events. Sure, there are used sparingly, but their mere existence in a game like this is questionable. The game spends so much time trying to hide the fact that it is a game (more on that in a moment), that suddenly being prompted to mash the ‘X’ button seems ridiculous. In all cases, the story would’ve been better served if a cutscene handled the action, rather than a QTE.
Thankfully, there are some saving graces that make Dead Space 3 not terrible. The game’s presentation shines in some areas. Being in the High Definition era, I am personally a big fan of games not having any UI on the screen. Ammo count, health, and other similar information is contained on the character. This helps immerse the player into the cinematic nature of the game without a giant healthbar floating above the screen.
There are some major problems with the overall presentation, though. First, it’s understandable that so-called “hardcore” players dislike tutorials, but Dead Space 3 makes no attempt to guide players into the game world. Suddenly, you will find your character has the magical ability to levitate items or activate doors with the power of his mind. Where did it come from and how is it used? You should’ve played the older games to find that out.
But the biggest disappointment with the presentation is certainly the sound design. The game will output 5.1ch Surround Sound, whether you have the speaker setup or not. Those using a stereo setup will be met with uneven volume and no vocal track. Admittedly, I have not had hands-on time with the retail code for Dead Space 3, but the soundtrack of the review copy left a lot to the imagination when playing in stereo.
So far, Dead Space 3 has fallen apart when being tested as a horror game, or an action game. But what about that RPG stuff mentioned earlier?
This is where things finally get interesting. Dead Space 3 has a deep, extensive weapons crafting system. Players can take apart items and weapons to create better ones and the constant looting, scavenging and recipe making is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game. However, it’s unnecessary for the most part so the player is left to decide if he wants to upgrade or just ignore the feature altogether.
Overall, Dead Space 3 is a case of style over substance, fan service over series progression. As a horror game, it lacks jeopardy. As an action game, it lacks unpredictability. As an RPG, it lacks incentive.
Fans of the series will appreciate the story, but those wanting a satisfying video game experience need not apply.