Over the course of the Dead Space series, protagonist Isaac Clarke has gone from a lowly engineer to supreme slayer of necromorphs. The second game gave voice to the previously silent character, and now Dead Space 3 has given him, apparently, the power to obliterate everything in his path. EA and Visceral were forthright in admitting that the third game would shy away from the survival horror aspects that made its predecessors so popular. And so they have. Regardless of whether the directional shift was a good idea—that’s completely subjective—Dead Space 3 is still rather enjoyable.
The game still feels like Dead Space, and plays like Dead Space, but Visceral has altered the formula just enough to strip the game of much of its tension. Necromorphs are more numerous and generally easier to dispatch. Health and ammunition are far more plentiful, unless you’re specifically playing on a difficulty in which they are not. Ammo itself is universal, meaning that if the shotgun is your weapon of choice, then there’s no reason to use any other one. This is a rather sweeping change, since scrounging for ammo in the first two games was part of their charm, in an “oh jeez I’m out of all the good ammo, I’m so screwed” sort of way.
As an action game, Dead Space 3 is serviceable, but by no means exemplary. I spent the majority of the game sportin’ the shotgun, simply laying waste to anything in my way—even on hard. Limbs flew from necromorphs without having to worry about precision aiming. The game’s few human enemies dropped just as easily. And since ammo is universal, there was no valid reason to deviate from this playstyle, except for fair bit of experimentation with the quite varied array of weapons. Unfortunately, few could hold a candle to the shotgun.
But at least that shotgun—and all other weapons—can be customized quite drastically thanks to Dead Space 3’s crafting system. Strewn throughout levels are various weapon parts. Combine these to make, say, a shotgun, but if you change the tip of that, it’ll turn into a carbine. And each frame can support up to two weapons, e.g. strap a rocket launcher to that shotgun. These parts, and other crafting resources, are found either stashed away on levels, collected from dead enemies, or recovered with the scavenger bot. Use this little guy to track down resource hot-spots, at which point it’ll spend ten minutes gathering until returning to the workbench, where both can be recovered.
This is about where Dead Space 3 rubbed some people the wrong way, because tied to the crafting system and the scavenger bots are microtransactions. For a fee, crafting resources and customization options for the robots can be straight-up purchased with real cash. While certainly frowned upon, none of it is in any way required. By the end of the game, you’ll have gathered enough resources that any additional would just be superfluous. And scavenger bots collect a currency called ration seals, which are used–instead of actual money–to buy these resource packs. There are also optional missions, which are almost exclusively hunts for resource caches. So the game offers a myriad of ways to gather the resources without paying a cent. There are also new weapons and RIGs to buy, but there are a lot of those in the game already.
One of the big new additions to Dead Space 3 is cooperative play. To help battle the seemingly endless hordes of necromorphs, you and a friend can buddy up. As I played the game solo, I can say that it didn’t appear to have any bearing on the story one way or the other, save a quirky little niggle. The co-op character, Carver, is missing for most of the single-player game, but will show up now and then during cutscenes, lending a “where’d you come from?” vibe. Though the game can be played just fine solo, there are a handful of missions that can only be completed with a partner and help to flesh out Carver’s backstory.
One concession made to fit co-op into Dead Space 3 is altering how save games function. In the previous titles, save points were found periodically that, when used, would create a hard save the player would load when they die. In Dead Space 3, saving happens periodically, keeping track of your inventory and your general story progress. While this generally means less progress lost upon death, sometimes saving and quitting the game leads to loading back into a random spot and having to retread ground. There are some downsides to checkpoints, too, like waltzing unknowingly into a boss-fight, short on health and ammo. That’s always an enjoyable experience.
The boss fights themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. There are only a handful of them in the game, and they all boil down to shooting the glowing bits, or listening to Carver on the radio telling you specifically what to do. Visually, they’re all fairly splendid to look at, and a couple are awe-inspiringly massive. But having simply to aim for the glowing parts saps some fun out.
Shortly before Dead Space 3 hit shelves, Visceral admitted that the PC version of the game would be barebones. True, to an extent, but ultimately it’s still a great looking game with a swath of graphical options available to switch on or off. Since the previous two games were of a similar vein, it was doubtful that Dead Space 3 would have HD textures, or DirectX 11 features, or anything of that sort. And while the textures resolution is fairly disappointing, the rest of the game, which looks damn-near phenomenal, covers up this shortcoming quite well. Slick reflections, moody lighting, and well-implemented bloom (high praise in an age of overused bloom) all help to make Dead Space 3 shine. But those textures… they’ll suck you right out of the experience every now and then.
During Dead Space 3’s 15 to 20 hour story, which is pretty lengthy for a game of this nature, expect to explore some pretty fantastic locations, but perhaps it’s still a little bloated. Combat-wise, Dead Space 3 is a one-trick pony. Nine times out of ten, room will appear empty at first, but the second you enter, necromorphs will burst through the air vents. Either the first two games did a better job of revealing enemies, or by the third game, I knew what to expect. Also, along the lines of this repetition, is the fact that Isaac is always alone, and he is definitely not the only character in this story. So frequently Dead Space 3 will separate Isaac from the main group through contrived means. During one section of the story, down on Tau Volantis, this becomes comically noticeable. So while I didn’t necessarily find the game to be too long, I did think more care should’ve been taken to keep the repetition down.
The game also marks the end of the Dead Space trilogy, wrapping up the overall plot quite nicely. While I was pleased with the ending, and the general plot points leading up to it, some of the interpersonal melodrama got a little tiresome. Because obviously what Isaac Clarke needs while he’s busy trying to save mankind is a love-triangle. He had an interesting habit of saying “asshole” or “dick” under his breath after interacting with one character specifically. A far cry from the silent engineer of the first game.
Though Dead Space 3 deviated from the horror aspects that helped to make its predecessor’s special, it’s still a worthwhile experience, especially for those invested in the universe and interested in seeing it through. Necromorphs might not be as formidable as they once were, but Isaac Clarke’s probably had enough of their crap by now, anyway. Despite Dead Space 3’s more repetitious aspects, I enjoyed it and found myself compelled to keep going till the end.