OXCGN’s Dead Space 3 Review
A ‘visceral’ stomp?
by Daniel Geikowski
©2013 Daniel Geikowski
Whether they are visual styles, aesthetics, themes, mechanics or gameplay styles, many publishers attempt to incorporate these current trends into their games and franchises, with mixed results.
The Darkness II altered its visual style from a realistic to cell-shaded effect, reminiscent of the game’s comic origins.
Splinter Cell: Conviction ditched its primary focus on stealth and silence, opting to turn to a more “Bourne-like” action theme.
Some hit the jackpot, while others damage their franchises by incorporating something which feels seemingly out-of-place.
Dead Space 3 is no different.
EA and developer Visceral Games have taken the Dead Space franchise in a new direction, incorporating more of an ‘action-shooter’ feel, like many games have over recent years.
The changes made to the third installment in the series have produced mixed feelings from fans of the series.
Some feel the increased focus on action, along with the addition of co-op, is a natural progression of the series, while others feel it strays too far from the series’ roots.
It can be said while most of the changes do in fact enhance the overall gameplay, these same changes ultimately affect the core of what Dead Space 1 and 2 were: horror games.
Ice To See You
Dead Space 3 is set a few months after the Sprawl Incident of Dead Space 2, with players once again placed in the boots of engineer Isaac Clarke, who is in hiding from the religious Unitologists, after destroying the supposedly sacred Marker.
Isaac is still the sad, depressing person you know from Dead Space 2, even more so now, as he was romantically involved with Ellie Langford (also from Dead Space 2), only to be separated.
The game starts off with Isaac wallowing in self-pity on an unnamed Lunar Colony, when Unitologists discover his location, hell-bent on revenge.
They hold Isaac responsible for halting “Convergence”, a product of the Marker, believing it would save mankind.
Luckily, two EarthGov soldiers (one being the playable John Carver), are able to reach Isaac first, leading to an escape. As Isaac battles his way off the colony, he is told by EarthGov that Ellie went missing in search of the Necromorph homeworld, and Isaac’s experience with Markers is needed.
Therefore, it is up to Isaac to not only find Ellie, but also the Necromorph homeworld, in order to find the source of the plague, and destroy it once and for all, in order to save the human race.
Dead Space 3’s opening is nowhere near as impressive or memorable as the up-close and personal Necromorph transformation of Dead Space 2, and while it doesn’t set an eerie or disturbing atmosphere, it does a good job of throwing players straight into the action.
A Freeze Is Coming
It is here all the trademarks of the Dead Space series are prevalent: Spacewalks, Zero Gravity, amazing backdrops, and unexpected frights.
Players will travel around derelict spacecrafts in order to uncover the mysterious expedition conducted by humans 200 odd years before, and it is here that fans of previous installments will be at home with Dead Space 3.
While there is the familiar feeling of constantly been sent on fetch quests while your AI buddies sit around and do things the easy way, all areas provide a sense of variety, in order to break up the monotony.
One of the main goals players are tasked with in this space section is to repair the team’s craft in order to reach the mysterious planet situated below, Tau Volantis, a desolate, icy world located in the nether regions of space.
While the new setting does well to freshen up the series, instead of constantly walking through tight, metallic space station corridors, I felt that it didn’t quite portray the great atmosphere that players have seen in previous games.
While exploring Tau Volantis, players will traverse vast, open areas that usually have players facing either shear walls of ice, or visibility-restricting snowstorms. It almost feels as if these areas are “tight corridors” in their own right.
However, these “corridors” are broken up by various outposts and do offer a few expansive vistas, but the environments aren’t nearly as interesting as those out in space.
In fact, all of the environments are fairly dull and somewhat familiar compared to previous entries.
The original Dead Space had eerie environments, full of crew members, both dead/alive and re-animated. The mystery of the whole situation, coupled with unexpected frights, and a balance of gory and untouched locations, really added to the overall horror atmosphere.
Dead Space 2 continued the trend, but applied it to a residential, urban sprawl.
Visceral Games had portrayed a truly immersive representation of an outbreak of a horrific plague, and the effect it had on the mental spirit of people.
It feels as if Dead Space 3 is a backward-step in this regard.
The vast majority of areas are devoid of disturbing imagery, in both spacecrafts and Tau Volantis, with the exception of a handful of areas.
This may be a result of the narrative itself, with Isaac visiting areas unexplored for 200 years, combined with gamers feeling like they’ve seen graphic scenes along the way.
There are however, some unique environments late in the game, and I commend Visceral Games and EA for constantly trying to mix things up, and they succeed in this aspect.
The same can be said for the story of Dead Space 3, in particular the revelations regarding the Necromorph plague, along with the game’s resolution.
While there are a few cliché moments littered throughout the campaign, it’s an entertaining romp stomping and slicing along the way.
Slice And Dice
While most of the enemies seen throughout Dead Space are practically re-skinned versions from previous installments, there are a few new additions.
Even though there are new enemies, the familiar formula still applies: aim for the limbs. Dismemberment is still front and centre in dealing with Necromorphs.
One new enemy carry around various types of axes, which can be dismembered and used against other Necromorphs. Another sporadically jitters around the place, making it hard to get a fix on, easily getting up-close and personal to Isaac with little warning.
There are even specific Necromorphs reanimated from dead soldiers, who can therefore utilise their weaponry against Isaac.
While these new additions are a refreshing change, the vast amount of enemies are those fans of the series have dealt with before.
Large Necromorphs also make a reappearance, acting as mini-bosses of sorts, with the addition of some truly gargantuan beasties. While these beasts make for an impressive spectacle, it falls to the same old formula of finding the weak spot, and continuing to exploit it.
One of reasons for the success of the original Dead Space was the unexpected attacks from Necromorphs. They’d jump out of vents in walls and roofs, often frightening the crap out of me.
It’s still the case however, in Dead Space 3.
Anyone who’s played through the previous games will know what to expect when waiting for a lift or door to open, which sucks the tension right out of the game.
There are also human enemies to fight as well, in the form of Unitologist soldiers.
They provide far less challenge to dispatch, with one well-timed shot enough to kill them, compared to the 3-4 shots required to kill a Necromorph.
However, the enemies present do come in a wide variety, much like the weaponry available to hack off their limbs.
However, unlike the previous games, players don’t pick up weapons left lying around; they instead have to craft them at Workbenches.
This is a fantastic addition.
Utilising benches fits right into Isaac’s background of being an Engineer. Players are not limited to a standard weapon set; they are free to craft weapons using resources found throughout the game’s environments.
Players can craft a Plasma Cutter with a Revolver attachment, a Rifle with a Blade Saw Launcher, or my personal favourite, the Javelin Gun with Rocket Launcher attachment.
While all these various combinations do give players a multitude of choice in order to find their favourite setup, I found the game a bit easy when I was able to craft a Rocket Launcher as my first weapon.
Careful resource management is needed however when choosing upgrades, as the same items used in upgrading the RIG is used to craft weapon components. Therefore, players will constantly have to choose whether to upgrade Isaac’s RIG Armour, or craft a much needed scope for his rifle.
Both Stasis and Kinesis are once again utilised in obliterating Necromorphs, as well as the games puzzles. While the vast majority of the game sees these abilities operate like in any other Dead Space game, some supercharged versions are available late in proceedings.
While character models and such aren’t groundbreaking, the environments look good. Floating in space, staring down at Tau Volantis, looks amazing.
Subtle things such as the light from Isaac’s helmet shining onto the floor, to the HUD contained entirely in Isaac’s RIG, go a long way to immersing the player into the game world.
The graphic nature and dismembering Necromorphs, as well as stomping them into the ground, looks especially violent, and (pardon the pun), visceral.
So too does Isaac’s graphic deaths: getting crushed, snapped in half, or chopped into bits and pieces.
The sound complements Dead Space 3’s visuals.
All weapons sound meaty and solid, and the squish heard from dismembering a screaming Necromorph never gets old. You can even hear Isaac pant and wheeze when he’s just survived a brutal fight. The game’s soundtrack suits each level, and is never overpowering.
Dead Space 3 also features excellent use of sound design.
There were countless times I had battled my way through waves of enemies, for the music to slow down, signalling the completion of a battle, only to then have a Necromorph attack me from behind. Needless to say, that was when I got most frights.
Truly an excellent use of exploiting gaming habits.
Two Boots Are Better Than One
It’s a lengthy campaign in today’s action standards, but even once the campaign is done and dusted, there’s more than one reason to play through again.
In a first for the series, Dead Space 3 offers cooperative play.
Visceral Games and EA consistently stated that the addition of co-op play would offer a whole new experience compared to singleplayer, and they’ve delivered.
The ability for two friends to play through the campaign together is a great experience, although it does sacrifice the tension/loneliness elicited through playing alone.
One player takes on the role of John Carver, one of the EarthGov soldiers who rescue Isaac form the Lunar Colony.
Throughout the campaign, Carver and Clarke constantly have back and forth conversations, with Carver’s personality being revealed in greater detail compared to singleplayer, where Carver only appears in a few scenarios.
While I personally feel that the co-operative addition detracts from the overall horror experience that the past two installments provided, it’s good to see a choice given to the player, with neither mode favoured over the other.
If you’re adamant that co-op in Dead Space isn’t for you, there are a few other modes to experience.
New Game Plus allows players to once again play through the campaign, with the addition of all the gear from their previous playthrough.
Classic Mode allows players only to use classic weapons, with and increased difficulty level. Pure Survivalist is for fans of resource management, where all items have to be crafted at benches, as enemies no longer drop health or ammo.
Hardcore mode is for those sadists out there, where players are tasked to complete the campaign without dying. It sounds punishing, and it is. Players are able to save their progress, however player death will send you right back to the game’s beginning.
Cut To The Chase
There is something for every type of gamer here. Fans of both single and multiplayer games will find enjoyment.
With a multitude of various modes to play once the campaign is over and done with, there is a wealth of replayability to be had.
Visceral Games have clearly made some changes for the latest entry, and I’ve got mixed feelings on the matter.
While I commend them for introducing a new environment, enhanced focus on weapons, and incorporation of co-op play, I personally feel the horror aspect that made the original such a success has greatly suffered as a result.
However, as an action game, I felt it was well ‘engineered’. While it’s not perfect, it wasn’t horrible either. A solid effort.
It’s a great method for broadening their audience, in order to get more gamers interested in the series. It may be my nostalgia for past games influencing my decision. Maybe players’ interest in Dead Space 3 will entice them to go back and check out the previous two.
It leaves me with a tough decision; do I judge this game against what was offered in previous Dead Space games: horror? Or do I judge it as an action title, for which it clearly has been influenced?
Whatever the case, I can recommend Dead Space 3 to any gamer.
While the horror aspect pales in comparison to the originals, fans like me will find enough within to get some enjoyment out of it, even though a large number of enemies have been seen before.
As an action title, it’s hard to fault.
It’s a case of the sum of Dead Space 3’s parts add up to be a quality title. No one feature or mechanic stands out as the shining light.
Although, who doesn’t like stomping things into oblivion?