Dead Space 3 Review
Written : Tuesday, February 05, 2013
By: Richard Walker
Creeping along a creaky, decaying corridor in near-darkness, surveying the walls for the slightest flicker of a shadow, listening intently for suspicious noises... That's what made Dead Space such a fine entry in the survival horror series upon its release in 2008, but it's something that seems to be sorely lacking in Dead Space 3. While fears that the series is leaning more towards action prove unfounded, you can't help but feel that Visceral Games pours things on a little too thick during the first half of Dead Space 3.
In short, Dead Space 3 is something of a joyless slog – despite a slick and unexpected opening segment - for the first nine chapters or so of its 19 chapter campaign, seemingly forgetting what made the first two games so special in the first place. As far as its intrinsic gameplay mechanics are concerned, DS3 seldom puts a foot wrong however, and continues the stellar work of the previous two games. Nonetheless, it still suffers from some pacing problems that really only even out once the narrative begins to gradually unfold and escalate.
Freewheeling from one set-piece to the next, the trouble with Dead Space 3 is that it doesn't feel much like a Dead Space game when it's constantly hurling enemies at you without ever letting up. The great thing about the past Dead Space games were the quieter moments that really allowed the tension to crawl beneath your skin, but DS3's earlier moments feel more like Michael Bay's The Thing than what we'd deem classic Dead Space.
There's always time to stop and pose.
Of course, it all improves vastly once you get past that halfway point, and allow yourself to slowly soak up the story and remember what it was that you originally loved so much about Dead Space. The story picks up with Isaac on the run having pissed off the fanatical Unitologist sect – the band of maniacs who worship the game's ubiquitous 'markers' – and with the Necormorph slayer branded a 'marker killer', they'll stop at nothing to see him dead.
With a central villain who both looks and sounds like Jonathan Meades - a Unitologist nutjob with a plummy English accent called Jacob Danik – you'll find yourself running into sticky situations against Danik and his army, which means the odd bit of light cover-shooting. We're not talking Gears of War here though. There's no cover-system as such; although Isaac can now roll and crouch, he can't press against walls. This is still very much cast firmly in the Dead Space mould, but it does feel somewhat jarring to be shooting at human foes, rather than spiky, spindly aliens.
Still, these encounters are relatively rare, and indeed much of Dead Space 3 does take place within those same old creaking derelict facilities with their claustrophobic corridors and dark corners. Yet where previously you'd be left guessing what's coming for you next, in Dead Space 3, you'll be able to predict pretty much every moment when you'll be ambushed by a legion of Necromorphs, and more often than not, you'll have to face unrelenting waves that'll pile on the pressure until you're screaming at the screen to simply stop and give you a moment to think.
It's hardly in keeping with the Dead Space you know and love during these sections, where tension takes a backseat to constant assaults that outstay their welcome and will likely have you rolling your eyes. Usually the best course of action is to turn and run. Thankfully, these bits become less frequent as you march through the game and there are some genuine flashes of that old Dead Space magic, like during Isaac's sojourn to the geology, biology and palaeontology laboratories, where there's less of an onus on combat and a bit more puzzling and exploration.
"Please! I just want one dance!"
And the more exploration you do, the more resources you can scavenge for weapon crafting and creating med packs, ammo clips, stasis packs and other necessities you'll need to survive. With the weapon crafting system comes universal ammunition too, and plenty of scope to create some rather beefy weapons. As a result, you're restricted to two weapon slots and a fixed inventory for storing your other items.
Weapon crafting is a neat feature, and you can cobble together some rather formidable weapons that you can tailor to your own play style, whether it's a shotgun and electrified ripper blade combo for close encounters, a scoped pulse rifle or the ever-reliable plasma cutter with its classic rotator cuff for precision dismemberment. You can add chips to your guns to boost their capabilities, and there's all manner of attachments to find or craft.
There's really very little in the way of limitations when it comes to weapon crafting, meaning you could potentially while away minutes or even hours building your perfect weapon. While you're able to painstakingly gather resources for weapon crafting, rig upgrades, items and more, you can also send out your scavenger bot to do the legwork for you or there's the option to spend real money to instantly purchase the required components to craft your ultimate weapon, should you so wish.
Conserving ammo is still possible with judicious use of Isaac's TK ability too, with a spiky limb or Fodder axe perfect for a quick impaling kill, and as ever, resource management plays its part. With crowd management a pressing concern on numerous occasions, it's the scavenging, hoarding aspect that gets thrown into focus, making each instance of combat a process in which almost everything in your inventory is expended. This is especially true in the recurring boss battles against a pesky snowy crab beast, which thankfully ends in a gratifying, rewarding manner. Incidentally, the newly-instated action roll, executed with a double tab of the run button, isn't particularly useful and simply running and strafing is normally far more effective for dodging attacks.
The game of charades took a nasty turn.
Alongside weapon crafting in the list of new additions to Dead Space 3 comes co-op, teaming Isaac Clarke up with EarthGov soldier and fellow tortured soul Sergeant John Carver. He's a fairly interesting character, whose optional missions, extra segments, dialogue and additional cut-scenes add another dimension to the story. The core co-op mechanics are also well thought out and neatly executed, making a playthrough with a friend nigh-on essential. It's a surprisingly strong new element for Dead Space that's fun and incorporates added intrigue.
While co-op undeniably dilutes the scares, it does help with the sheer number of enemies you'll face. Defeating wave after wave of Necromorphs is far more manageable and infinitely less frustrating with a co-op buddy by your side, able to revive you when things go awry. You can also share med packs and ammunition, meaning no arguments over who grabbed what, unless you're really mean. Unexpectedly, we actually got more enjoyment out of playing the game in co-op, which is something we never thought we'd say.
DS3 is also another one of the increasing number of games that's supposedly 'better with Kinect'. 'Perfectly fine without Kinect' is more apt, as the voice recognition stuff essentially does the job of a single button press. In a pinch, we'd rather tap a button than call out the command, even if the Kinect stuff does work in the way it should. Again, it's another attempt to shoehorn Kinect into a game that doesn't really need it, where the more direct input of a button press is always going to be preferable to the majority of gamers. Kinect can be a good way of navigating and using the game's interface, but for in-game actions, a button will always win out as far as we're concerned.
Remember: sever the arms and chuck 'em back.
There's a rather complicated list of achievements to tackle in Dead Space 3, requiring a minimum of four playthroughs to complete the various modes, which are unlocked upon finishing the game. So, you'll need to complete classic mode (shorn of weapon crafting and DS3's new mechanics), pure survival mode (minimal resources) and hardcore mode (death means starting over, sadists need only apply), having finished the game on casual, survivalist or zealot mode. A tall order. Then there's all of the side missions and collectibles that will take a fair bit of playtime to uncover and work through, as well as the co-op stuff and weapon crafting bits and bobs. Expect to dig in and invest a lot of time and effort for the full 1000G.
Clocking in at about 12 hours on a normal playthrough, Dead Space 3 is a substantial chunk of entertainment, but it's scuppered by uneven pacing, moments of genuine hair-tearing frustration and a lack of classic Dead Space horror, especially during its first half. While it all gradually improves as you progress, there's really no hiding that Dead Space 3 is the weakest instalment in the series, favouring easy jump scares and non-stop Necromorphs with a voracious appetite for face-munching over more subtle, psychological horror.
Dead Space 3 isn't a bad game, and there are some fantastic, truly memorable set-pieces that recall the previous two titles. Yet, it fails to hit the right notes on so many occasions, that much of the campaign feels like a chore where Dead Space and Dead Space 2 managed to balance its action and horror aspects comparatively well, making for a more enjoyable gameplay experience. Not quite a case of diminishing returns, Dead Space 3 is a patchy though mostly engaging, playable affair, if only in small doses.
Another exemplary effort, Dead Space 3's audio is fantastic. The only downside is that it's used less to ratchet up the tension and more to tactically assault the ears. The music is uniformly excellent, as is the voice acting and atmospherics.
Dead Space 3 is another graphical tour-de-force, picking up where the last game left off, with gorgeous visual fidelity and effects. It's hard to fault in this department.
The gameplay mechanics are still brilliant, but they're not really tailored for handling the volume of enemies that the game insists on throwing your way at several junctures. We hate the regenerator Necromorphs you meet early on too, and there are too few puzzles for our liking. By and large, the single-player campaign is still solid, entertaining stuff, but arguably co-op is more enjoyable, if less scary.
A hefty single-player campaign with a whole bunch of optional side missions, collectibles, numerous unlockables and multiple new game+ options make Dead Space 3 by far the biggest in the series yet. How many times you choose to play through the 10-15 hour campaign however will simply be down to how much you enjoy the game during your first time round.
Too many achievements devoted to completing multiple playthroughs in almost every single mode spin out the time it'll take to 100%, which might well put many off even attempting to grab the 1000 Gamerscore. Some of the list is repeated from the previous game, a handful are devoted to the new features like co-op and weapon crafting, and the rest is all about acquiring upgrades and collectibles or severing limbs, using stasis and so on. There's a decent spread here that'll encourage you to explore and experiment, but don't expect anything too exciting. Oh, and there's always Peng.
Dead Space 3 is another hugely engaging and entertaining entry in the series, but it's hampered by uneven pacing, predictable scares, a surfeit of aggressive enemies and too many frustrating bits. There's a lot of nice new ideas, such as weapon crafting, and co-op is a genuinely worthwhile and fun addition. Another masterclass in visual detail and atmospheric audio, Dead Space 3 is nonetheless lacking in the areas that really matter. Suspense, tension and horror.