Love/Hate: Dead Space 3

Man, I was being nice to this game back when I wrote my original review of it. The intervening years have made me more and more hostile to Dead Space 3, especially considering that EA used its moderate success as an excuse to kill the franchise. That said, there are things to love about Dead Space 3, so let’s dive in and check it out…

Love

  • Tau Volantis is Cool – I remember a lot of fans complained that a Dead Space game was going to be taking place on a planet back in the day, but I’ve never had an issue with this. For one thing, it’s still sci-fi and for another, a frozen planet is barely a step down from the existential danger of space. In fact, it opens up new opportunities for horror – enemies hidden in the snow, body temperature regulation, snow squalls, etc. Visceral Games use all of these elements throughout the game and make the most of the setting within the framework they set for themselves.
  • Side-quests – One of the most interesting new additions in Dead Space 3 is the optional “side-quests” that you can embark on. These reward the player with supplies for completion and, most importantly, provide little self-contained stories to uncover. I’m a sucker for side-quests and appreciate their inclusion in this game – it gives me some fun, optional content to explore and rewards you for taking the risk.
  • Co-Op is Entirely Optional – Co-op modes were being shoehorned into games during this time period and often resulted in you being forced to wrangle a friend whenever you wanted to play, or dealing with invariably awful AI companions. Dead Space 3 makes the elegant decision to make the game’s marquee co-op mode entirely optional. Want to play through the game solo? That’s cool, Carver will be awkwardly on the fringes of the entire story, but you’re otherwise not even going to notice. It is a far more preferable solution to this than brain-dead AI that turns into a frustrating burden. The only issue is that certain side-quests are co-op only, making it feel like you’re missing out on content for not participating.
  • Extensive Weapon Crafting System – Dead Space 3 is often criticized for its weapon crafting system, being blamed for reducing the horror. However, I feel like it provides a more elegant solution to the weapon management system from the previous games, effectively allowing you to pick the weapons you actually want to use and mash them together into two personal super-guns. Sure, this also results in them being potentially overpowered, jack-of-all-trades crutch weapons, but Dead Space 3 is designed around that so it works. Getting your preferred weapon to a “just right” state is satisfying in itself and there are so many combinations you can produce that it’s cool to see it in action.
  • Supercharged Kinesis – In the very late game Dead Space 3 goes off the rails in terms of its stakes. One of the best parts of this though is the supercharged kinesis – kinesis has always been fun, but how do you like the idea of tearing the limbs right off of attacking necromorphs or launching entire markers at the real hive mind of the necromorphs? It’s a power fantasy but it feels so damn good while it lasts.
  • The Space Section – After the introduction, Dead Space 3 spends a good hour or two in orbit around Tau Volantis. It feels like a watered down version of classic Dead Space, but it’s still a blast to play through as you fly through a spaceship graveyard and trying to get the parts to repair your own craft. I especially like the art direction on the necromorphs here, they’ve been dormant for almost 200 years and they look so desiccated after all this time.
  • Feeders – Dead Space 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new enemies, but a couple of them are great. Most pertinent are the Feeders, blind necromorphs that are attracted to strong light sources and sound. Having to deal with enemies in a non-combative way is a great change for the series and provides some of the few true horror moments in the game. Plus their backstory is amazing, having been created after starving humans got desperate enough to feed on the flesh of defeated necromorphs. In addition to Feeders, the Shambler is also a cool concept, where a necromorph decapitates a victim and then embeds itself in their neck cavity to control the body.

Mixed

  • Body Temperature Regulation is Underutilized – I know I praised Dead Space 3 for how it makes the most of Tau Volantis, but one thing it could have done more with is body temperature regulation. When you crash land on the planet you have to stay in proximity to heat to avoid freezing to death, but you soon find a thermal suit and never have to worry about it again. If they hadn’t done this then there’s definitely the potential for this to just become a burden, but handled well I feel like having to worry about freezing to death would have added far more tension to the game and made Tau Volantis itself a more dangerous setting.
  • Awakened DLC – Once again, a Dead Space story DLC lands in the mixed section, for similar reasons. On the plus side, Awakened drastically ups the horror elements compared to the main game, making for a tenser and more interesting experience. However, its ending leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. For one thing, it effectively undoes the ending of the main game, going from a bittersweet ending to one that is straight-up nihilistic. The fact that this is the last piece of Dead Space story we’ve ever gotten just makes it worse. Don’t get me wrong, a bleak ending can work but I don’t feel like it was earned at all. In addition, are you telling me that no one managed to evacuate Earth to the several stations and colonies we know humanity has? Hell, I was under the impression that the vast majority of The Sprawl was evacuated in Dead Space 2 and that was in the middle of a full-on outbreak in a confined station. It just makes me even more annoyed that we never got Dead Space 4 starring Lexine Murdoch-Weller going out to kick some necromorph ass.

Hate

  • Balance Is Out of Whack – Dead Space and Dead Space 2 struck a fantastic balance of making health and ammo scarce while giving you just enough enemies to deal with where you felt like you were barely holding on. Dead Space 3, however, completely fails in this regard and just feels cheap at times. The game inundates you health pickups, to the point where I never managed to run out (and, to be more accurate, my inventory was chocked full of them at all times). You’re also never going to run out of ammo for any particular weapon, because ammo pickups are now universal. Enemy encounters are just a pain in the ass though – you get swarmed by enemies from all angles, to the point where it just feels cheap. I’m not sure if this is because the game only has one spawn system to cover for single player and co-op, or if the game has just been designed to try to overwhelm you, but it makes planning less important than spraying and praying.
  • Microtransactions – Dead Space 3 was the prototype for forced-in microtransactions in single player games. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal back in the day because I never felt like you needed to rely on them to get supplies, but goddamn if their putrid legacy can’t be felt to this day. The fact that this game was so groundbreaking for something so shitty is an irredeemable blight on the game that can’t be taken away.
  • Human Enemies – By far one of the worst aspects of this game is that it turns into a cover shooter at certain points. I’m playing Dead Space, I don’t want to play a crappy version of Uncharted or Gears of War. It’s just… ugh.
  • Everything is Watered Down – Did you like Dead Space‘s mix of horror and gore? Cool, then how about we give you an action game in the vein of Uncharted instead… While Dead Space 3 does have occasional moments of light horror, the game is on the whole orders of magnitude less scary and far less violent. Hell, even aspects of the previous game which return here, such as the Stalkers, are changed to be less scary (instead of trying to flank you, they just charge instantly). Like I said, the weapon crafting and universal ammo reduce the tension as well in favour of straight action. What do we get instead? Over-the-top set pieces which quickly outstay their welcome. Even some of the necromorphs are wielding weapons in this game, which just makes them less inhuman terrors.
  • The Story – Hoo boy, strap in because there is a lot to talk about in this regard:
    • In regards to the set-up of this game, within the first few minutes we’re told that Unitologist terrorists have straight-up wiped out EarthGov and are launching terrorist attacks across the galaxy to try to initiate convergence. Holy shit, that’s crazy! I hope you don’t care about this interesting turn of events though because the game never returns to it and we never got any extended universe content to cover these monumental developments. To make matters worse, Awakened ends with Isaac and Carver trying to contact EarthGov so… did they (by which I mean the writers) forget what happened?
    • I also don’t like the concept of the Brethren Moons. For one thing, we don’t need to know what controls and creates the markers, the mystery is part of the allure. Beyond that, we’ve already got enough complication – the markers make the hive mind, which controls the necromorphs… so what’s the point of a hive mind if there are actually Brethren Moons? It’s the sort of plot development that I hate, where it relies on ever-growing stakes to feel important. Like, what was next for Dead Space 4, finding out what’s controlling the Brethren Moons?
    • Oh and nearly every single character in Dead Space 3 SUUUUUUUCKS. Main human antagonist, Danik? He’s such a lame villain. At least Tiedemann in Dead Space 2 was somewhat understandable in his motivations, Danik is just a monologuing asshole. And speaking of assholes, Norton spends the entire game being a jealous prick to Isaac. Even Carver’s a real dick, but at least he has something of an arc where he becomes friendly over time. Most of the rest of the cast are cannon fodder, except for…
  • Ellie Has Been Sexed Up – God damn, EA wanted Dead Space 3 to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, so what’s one way they went about this? They sexed up Ellie Langford, softening her features, presumably giving her implants and then showing off a ton of cleavage whenever possible. Like… it’s so in your face and so obviously pandering that I hate it.
  • It’s Compromised to the Core – Perhaps the worst thing about Dead Space 3 after all this time is that the game is fundamentally compromised. Visceral clearly didn’t get to make the story or game they wanted to, but in order to keep the series going they had to give in to EA’s demands… and for what? The game still didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive and even if it did we would have gotten a Dead Space 4 that was even more removed from what made this franchise great in the first place. All we’re left with is a game which betrays everything we liked about Dead Space to begin with and ends the series on a truly sour note.

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