Dead Space 3
March 8, 2013, Author: Ray Willmott
My worst fears have come true. They didn’t manifest in the face of rampaging necromorphs with crowbars. Nor did they emerge in the emptiness of an outer-space wasteland.
It’s the horrible reality that the face of Dead Space has changed irreparably, and much of the ambience and atmosphere initially embedded in the franchise seems to have been permanently lost.
The end of an era
It’s no secret that EA and Visceral have plans for Dead Space post-release of this third instalment. It’s also no secret that this could be the last game that focuses on series protagonist, Isaac Clarke. That’s not spoiling or revealing anything about the storyline, but it does help set the scene for this review, while also putting a certain sense of pressure on Dead Space 3 from the outset.
For instance, if this is to be Isaac’s last game, then this needs to round out the trilogy and give his story some closure. It also needs to take the great ideas that have made Dead Space so great over the years and successfully produce something that remains faithful to the series’ roots, while offering a new game that’s fresh and enticing.
From the demo, you’ll know there’s a frozen planet in Dead Space 3. It brings Dead Space more in-line with survival horrors such as The Thing and Lost Planet. However, you may be surprised to learn that players won’t reach that point until they’re halfway into the game. There’s a lot of ground to cover before that.
Dead Space 3 looks at the origins of the franchise. Where did the necromorphs came from? How were they were created? How can they be stopped? Why is Isaac Clarke pivotal to that?
There’s a strong focus on story in Dead Space 3, more than either game previously. There’s also a massive emphasis on character development. In that regard, the game should be commended. Visceral clearly have a narrative arc they’re in the process of concluding and they want to ensure that all plot-threads from previous games are tied up.
The good news is, all major questions are answered.
Dead Space 3 takes place two months after the events of the second game. During that time, we learn that Isaac and Ellie have become romantically involved and subsequently separated. We find Clarke down and dejected, trying to come to terms with the end of the relationship and also trying to keep his composure which he has been infamously known to lose.
Suddenly, Clarke is abruptly broken from his stupor by Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver, who demand his help to find Ellie and her crew who have gone off the grid. This kicks off a series of wild events both unpredictable and unexpected.
Clarke has more reason to survive than ever here, not just for himself but those around him, and that certainly makes Dead Space 3 much more interactive with its audience.
Yet, Dead Space 3 is plagued, not just by the incredible standards of its series pedigree, but by the pressures felt by other trilogies that have recently concluded their narrative arcs. Many felt cheapened by the closure of such big franchises as Mass Effect, Gears of War and Uncharted.
Unfortunately for Dead Space 3, it has its own set of problems to contend with.
For instance, the story thrusts Isaac Clarke into a love triangle, rather than focusing on his mental breakdowns. Although that’s not as bad as it sounds, it certainly feels quite alien in a Dead Space game. Still, it gives new appreciation for the character we’ve come to know.
Through Dead Space 3, you’ll get to better understand the mind that powers the man. For those expecting the crazed outbursts that are a series staple, however, those are fewer and far-between. Because of that, when they happen, they have more of an impact on the player and Isaac.
The game has also been made much more open and user-friendly than other games in the trilogy. Dead Space now feels less of a niche action/adventure and more of a big-budget open adventure that anyone can dive into. Dead Space 3 will still give you the creeps, but those that have previously felt paralyzed by its ferocity will feel more comfortable dictating the action.
In terms of gameplay, it has remained mostly faithful to previous Dead Space titles. Wield futuristic weaponry; shoot limbs off enemies to defeat them; stamp on them if up-close; use the marker tracker to move between locations; and when out in space, use the boosters to move between areas. Isaac handles as smooth as ever, and the camera follows him around without fault.
New here is the ability to sprint, duck down low to avoid projectiles and take cover, and even take part in QTE sequences. Many of the game’s major set-pieces require excessive button-tapping or stick waggling. They’re in no way as infuriating as the ones in Resident Evil 6, meshing well with the action rather than taking away from it, but their inclusion still presents a new frustrating evil in the modern day action/adventure.
The major difference, of course, comes in the form of the workbench. Here, players can make unique modifications to every weapon, changing the handling, the trigger, barrelling firepower and more. Players can even turn unique creations into blueprints, making them constantly accessible from the menu. Weapons are developed through resources collected in the world, whether they’re looted from the corpses of enemies or harvested by scavenger drones set off by Isaac.
The workbench is a fantastic tool and a great evolution of familiar apparatus. The microtransaction model sits well within the game, and neither demands any money be spent, nor does the game manipulate the player into thinking otherwise. Truthfully, if this is how games will be played in the future, providing the implementation remains this low-key, I’m content.
Dead Space 3 is filled with variety. Much of DS1 & DS2 were dark, gloomy and claustrophobic. Players would spend their time traipsing corridors, sticking to the shadows and being made to jump with the slightest flicker of light.
Not so much here.
Dead Space 3 enjoys taking players to the loneliest reaches of space. In fact, the game feels less linear and more open world than before. Coupled with new side missions, that feels quite appropriate. Players will see the dawning of suns and the rising of moons orbiting planets. In somewhat of a unique twist, they’ll get to see that both from the outer reaches, as well as if they were an inhabitant of the planet itself. The engine holds up wonderfully and constantly compliments the action with it always feeling true to the environment.
Dead Space 3 looks glorious, and by far stands out as the most vibrant of the series. While that may seem a bastardisation to what Visceral have previously achieved, it still works in creating an atmosphere in Dead Space 3, just a very different one from what we’re used.
More than ever, Isaac will interact with people in Dead Space 3. Players will still spend plenty of time on the intercom, gaining advice while out in the field, but more than ever, Isaac will need to speak to people in the flesh in order to progress the story. This time, the characters have more of an identity than just a voice. That, in of itself, does create further suspense and intrigue.
So, it’s a relief to be able to tell you that the voice acting is done very well. Everyone plays their role the way they should and each contributes key characteristics to the overarching story, both with their emotional portrayals and well-infused dialogue.
Then there’s the tense, on-edge music. While much of the game has changed to accommodate a broader audience, the music of Dead Space remains as chilling and intimidating as ever. It’s a score intended to make you skip heart-beats and jolt involuntarily in your seat, and it works.
Sound is everything in a game like Dead Space, and with headphones on, it will get its clutches onto you very quickly.
Co-op is a massive addition to the Dead Space franchise. We’re no longer dealing with a shoehorned multiplayer mode that nobody played outside of Dead Space 2‘s launch week. This is a fully integrated, properly adapted mode, and frankly, it has become a welcome series staple.
It works well. Carver is a good, strong lead-character and plays a nice stark contrast to Isaac’s erratic engineer role. Carver has more of a military mind and with waves of enemies, it makes perfect sense to have him enter the fray and get Isaac’s back.
The co-op works surprisingly well in the Dead Space franchise. Does it take some of the edge off the game by alleviating some of the tension? Of course it does, but it encourages teamwork against seemingly insurmountable odds, and it also adds new elements to the story. If in co-op, Carver and Isaac will interact in new ways, and reveal new findings about the environment, as well discuss things to try and better understand them.
It’s worth playing the game both ways so you can see the changes, and likewise learn more about the storyline from another perspective.
From my point of view, this is a success. It works darn well and I’m looking forward to seeing it embedded in future instalments of the Dead Space franchise.
End of the road?
Despite all the good things I have to say about Dead Space 3, I can’t escape the fact that this feels less of a Dead Space game than ever. Frankly, the game feels like a typical action/adventure that I’ve played dozens of times over the last few years.
That doesn’t make Dead Space 3 a bad game. It’s definitely not. It’s just not a particularly memorable nor sufficiently great one to round off a fantastic trilogy. Yes, the story held me from start to finish and it makes great sense in context of the franchise and yes, some of the scenes are quite memorable and even show glimpses of the horror of previous installments.
However, the niche, grittiness of Dead Space has been mostly abolished. What we’re left with is a game that is more open to new audiences and will entice new players in, but those who’ve been playing since the series started may feel irked by the decisions EA and Visceral have made.
From a personal standpoint, I come away from the game with mixed feelings, just as I did with the conclusion to Mass Effect, Uncharted and Gears of War. There’s a definite trend of developers confused by how to end their trilogies as we approach the end of this generation of systems. Yet it’s not the story that has baffled me, but the mechanics, ambience and gameplay that led me there. Dead Space 3 has become just another example of that and I can’t help but feel just a little bit disappointed, despite all the good the game has managed to achieve.