The original Dead Space was iconic. In a shifting world where action spoke louder than horror, Dead Space maintained the essential qualities to create a terrifying experience. The isolation, the dank corridors, the resource management all contributed towards what was the standout horror title at launch. Fast forward five years and it is evident that Dead Space has evolved into something arguably more terrifying: a straight up action game rife with fancy explosions and generic expectations.
Following a brief prologue, pre-dating the game’s events some 200 years, you once again assume the role of Isaac Clarke, now situated within yet another Blade Runner inspired settlement. While never really explained as to how or when Isaac and Dead Space 2 survivor Ellie Langford started ‘going out’, it appears their relationship has taken a turn for the worse. Currently separated for reasons unknown Isaac is, as expected, a bit pissed. With Unitologists now resorting to terrorist activities in achieving their goal to ‘release’ the Markers, Clarke is persuaded by stereotypical military beefcakes John Carver and Robert Norton to fight once again, for the sake of Ellie’s survival, eventually tracing her last transmission to the snowy planet of Tau Volantis. It all sounds run-of-the mill, because it is. Fortunately Dead Space 3 doesn’t become the bro-show snooze as most may have feared, but it comes perilously close to doing so too often.
Fans of previous games will appreciate the early portions of the game. Whilst lacking the same impact as it used, the dank, linear corridors of the first few hours harkens back to what made the series so special. Closet tactics are in order as expected in these confined moments, but given the frenetic nature of this entry these moments are more overwhelming than fear provoking. With the impression not as lasting it used to be, the early game feels more like fan service than integral to the make up of Dead Space 3, even to the point where the intro of the first game is practically cloned, as if Visceral Games were asking the player if they remembered what Dead Space used to be.
The gameplay has been ratcheted up to eleven, with encounters coming both more frequently and frantically. The problem with this is that Isaac’s mobility has not been adjusted to complement this increased intensity and speed. The addition of lumbering rolling animations does nothing to alleviate the issues that a slow and cumbersome Isaac has with the new combat direction.
With action now relentless, it reduces the possibility to deal with enemies in constructive ways. Necromorphs will be savaging you before you know it, so it is essential to apply the stasis ability to slow their advances before even contemplating dismemberment. Stasis has become, for the most part, the only significant strategy to survive rather than a means for experimentation. It is still executed well enough that you won’t ever find yourself bored playing per se, but more variety would have maintained Dead Space 3’s predominantly good combat.
The introduction of humans to contend with is a big misstep however. They make sense in terms of the plot, but they only serve to diverge the player from the far more interesting and apparent threat. Other than to simply crouch behind any wall or obstacle in the vicinity, there is no suitable cover system to supplement these encounters. This of course begs the question ‘do we need another Gears of War clone?’ The answer to that is a resounding no, but if you’re going to do pander towards third person cover shooting at least do it right.
Thankfully the familiar foes are more interesting. There are still those thrilling moments of dread and panic you’d expect as necromorphs sprint towards you when you are backed into a corner, though such incidents are diluted due to the grave omission of resource management prevalent in prior entries. Isaac can quite happily bullet spray without ever having to worry about conserving ammunition, something which greatly detracts from the fear of what lurks around the next corner, a tried and trusted tactic employed in previous games.
To mix things up, Dead Space has allowed for a greater freedom in the zero gravity periods. While, much like everything else in the game, you will never fear asphyxiation, this also allows the player to explore some intriguing and vast areas and new spacecraft within the cosmos. These moments are always fun and often exhilarating. Exploration is encouraged as many of the rarer items are hidden within these out reaches of the universe. It’s a shame these moments aren’t more frequent, as they serve the perfect ingredient to spice up a familiar gameplay dish.
A review of Dead Space 3 can’t be completed without commenting on the contentious day one DLC, but I shan’t harp on about it either. Is it right? Is it wrong? Should we accept it when we’ve paid full retail price for a less of a game? Whatever your perspective this approach should never be intrusive. With Dead Space 3 however, this ‘business model’ rears its greedy head too often and is firmly embedded in the game we should be enjoying. Too many materials and items are conspicuously exceptional, so it is nigh on impossible to craft the weapon you perhaps desire most. You can still create
Dead Space 3 is certainly a looker. It’s not ground-breaking technically, but the diversity in both aesthetics and scope of the environments provides a more aesthetically pleasing experience than previous. A greater use of the colour spectrum gives Dead Space 3 a new vitality, often far removed from all things dark and dull. Whether this is a welcomed change in terms of the series’ character is obviously questionable, but there’s no denying Dead Space 3 is a complex and pleasing visual spectacle.
The audio is once again the standout quality in presentation for Dead Space 3. The eerie sound of lurking necromorphs, the distressed crew members who log their last words in scattered audio diaries, it all creates a convincing atmosphere that can still elicit a sense dread in the player. What Dead Space does incredibly well in its audio displacement is offering perspective. A lingering groan or wailing cry always had a locality, yet the player could never be truly prepared what might result from the situation. When Dead Space 3 is at its most turbulent, the audio becomes chaotic and suffers, but in the quieter moments it can still send shivers, even if the are once in a blue moon.
A lot of questions have been raised, synonymous of what Dead Space leaves you with upon completion. One minute playing the nostalgia card, the next 10 minutes overloading your senses with all things action-packed, Dead Space 3 sits uncomfortably on the fence, too close to the edge of the survival horror cliff to be honest. Lying at the bottom of that descent is the sea of DLC lunacy. Dead Space 3 is EA’s magnum opus, or more pertinently, Frankenstein. There really is no limits as to how far EA will go in butchering a much revered franchise and including ‘incentives’ to spend a far greater amount of money than what the retail product offers if you want the ‘full’ experience. These new business models only look to burn an even bigger hole in our pockets.
If you want to buy the game, stick with the retail product and don’t show EA an extra penny. As for the game itself, it’s indicative of where the industry has largely been headed for the past few years and that is tragic. Dead Space 3 is a good game overall, but certainly not consistent or memorable. For those who want the tension, atmosphere and claustrophobia that made the first game in particular so special, they will have to come to terms with the harsh reality that Dead Space is, for all intents and purposes, no more.