Review – Dead Space 3
For many, Dead Space was the survival horror game they had been longing for. It was tense, suspenseful and could literally have you squirming in or jumping out of your seat. Then came Dead Space 2. While it may have pushed the survival horror aspect aside a little in order to make room for some action, Dead Space 2 still maintained the overall feel and atmosphere of the original. Now comes Dead Space 3 to finish things off, but has it stayed faithful to the series?
Platforms: X360 (reviewed), PS3 and PC
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA Games
As a fan of Visceral Games Dead Space series, I was looking forward to playing the final instalment in what I believe to be an interesting and compelling story. I expected there to be some changes and additions, as you get with all new games, but I still expected the core of the game to be inline with the survival horror spirit of the first two games. Instead, what I found was a third person shooter action game dressed up to look like Dead Space.
Naturally, I was disappointed by this. I had played the demo and while I was aware that the game was going to incorporate a more action focus in order to make it more ‘broadly appealing’, especially with the incorporation of co-op, I had believed EA President, Frank Gibeau, when he said it would be done without alienating current fans of the series. He was wrong.
From the opening cut scene that gave you a detailed retelling of the events of the previous two games, it was clear that there was a focus on making the game open to new players. I didn’t mind this as I think it makes sense to open up later instalments of franchises to new players. However, the unfortunate extent to which Visceral Games focused on making Dead Space 3 interesting to new players instead of current fans soon became apparent.
One of the most compelling aspects of the first two games is the atmosphere and environment. You’re alone, it’s dark, the rooms shows signs of violence, you hear noises – some mechanical, others organic – which you can’t locate the source for, the low, subtle background music builds your unease, you’re hesitant to walk through the next door unsure of what you’ll find. By the time an actual necromorph attacks you you’re already so worked up that the sudden appearance of an enemy is enough to make you jump in your seat or swear aloud. Then, while you’re attacking the necromorph in front of you, you register movement elsewhere in the room, you hear a slight noise from behind, where did that come from?, suddenly you’re being attacked from both sides. The experience is intense and desperate.
However, in Dead Space 3 it was more a matter of casually walking through rooms that showed some damage, often hearing a necromorph screeching or moving around in the ceiling, before one would appear accompanied by the sound of an orchestra being knocked over. The music, which hardly exists outside of the fight scenes, would be loud and fast until you killed the last necromorph before disappearing again until the next fight. There was no subtle use of music to build tension or suspense in this game. It was all loud bangs and crashing sounds. How are you supposed to build a sense of dread, apprehension or suspense when you know that the music will tell you when enemies are and aren’t around in such an obvious (and lazy) manner? Not once was I attacked unsuspectingly. Not once did a necromorph silently approach or attack me. I had my own personal radar called ‘the musical score’ to alert me to any and all enemies approaching, every time.
Also affecting the atmosphere of the game was the fact that the enemies attacked in waves. This felt acceptable when fighting Danick’s men as they tended to behave as you would suspect mercenaries to do. However, when it comes to the necromorphs, it felt like someone at Visceral Games decided that ‘You know what would be scarier than having to face two or three hard-to-kill creatures at once, in a room with limited movement and lighting? Having larger rooms, with better lighting and wave after wave of necromorphs that the player can easily shoot down before they reach them.’ And some fool seconded the notion.
At first, I was a fan of the Weapon Crafting system they implemented in DS3. The ability to customise and create my own guns is something I love to do. What could be bad about that? Well, for starters, the scaling of the guns in DS3 is horrendous. By the time I was halfway through the game I’d created a shotgun with a rocket launcher that ensured I was never attacked up-close. At one point, I actively made a weapon that had poor stats just to try and create a feeling of challenge in the game. Ammo was far too plentiful, as were resources and medi-packs.
I know a lot of people were unhappy with the introduction of micro-transactions but honestly, they didn’t affect the game at all. There’s more than enough resources in-game and the more scavenger-bots you find, the more ridiculous the amounts become. Putting the option there for people willing to pay money for in-game resources is neither here nor there. Had it been difficult to otherwise acquire those resources then it would have felt like they had purposefully handicapped the game in order to make some extra cash, but they didn’t.
The most annoying inclusion in Dead Space 3 is the new Save Function. When I first looked at the save/load function I thought it was brilliant. Being able to load from your last save or from the last story point/chapter point you played was inspired in my opinion. Then I actually used it. Turns out, that you can’t actually save your game manually – you can only save your current inventory (which only saved half the time, anyway) – as the game works on a check point saving system. This quickly became a massive issue for me, especially in regards to my enjoyment of the game. It meant that I couldn’t play the game for as long as I liked without having to replay aspects every time I loaded my game. Sure, I could have kept playing to the next check point but this had its own problems – firstly, their placement often seemed completely arbitrary and secondly, it quickly made playing the game seem like a chore. Being forced to continue playing when I no longer wished to just so I could reach a check point annoyed me. It actively reduced my desire to return to the game. In effect, I had two options – replay parts of the game I had already completed or continue to play past the point of interest just to ensure a current save point. It was like being forced to choose between walking over shattered glass or walking over LegoTM – neither was appealing.
Then there’s the story.
When it comes to the final installment of a trilogy you tend to expect quality story and character development. This is when everything is revealed and you finally get to complete your character’s journey. Which might have been the case had Isaac Clarke been in the game. Instead, you have some strange doppelganger that claims to be Isaac Clarke, who other people believe to be Isaac Clarke, but in no way behaves like Isaac Clarke. Or maybe this is what Isaac was like before he gradually become more and more mentally unstable in the previous games and by some strange twist of time and fate managed to end up in the final chapter. You might expect that by now Isaac is a complete wreck, or at least, as unhinged as he was in the previous games but instead, he seems to become more sane as the story progresses. The inconsistency of Isaac’s character isn’t the story’s only failing.
Scenes wrought with macho bravado, soap opera dialogue and forced relationships leaves you feeling like the game has reverted in story quality. Not only are the interactions between Isaac, Norton and Ellie better suited to a daytime soap opera but the relationship development between Carver and Isaac is next to non-existent. One moment, Carver has little more than contempt for you, then he shows a little recognition towards the end and then suddenly in the final chapter you guys are like the best of friends. It’s completely forced and comes out of nowhere. Now, some people will say ‘If you’d played the co-op missions then it would’ve made more sense,’ but I didn’t play the co-op missions and forcing an ending on the SP that is influenced by the co-op option is just insulting and lazy.
As a fan of the series, I found very little to like about Dead Space 3. It felt like the developers made a completely separate game and instead of trying to get it published just smacked a Dead Space mod on it and packaged it as a continuation of the franchise. It was extremely disappointing.
Having said that…
Dead Space 3 makes for a fun, enjoyable third person shooter. If you haven’t played the previous games and have no expectations on the story or atmosphere, I can easily see people enjoying this game despite almost all of the above complaints. Visceral Games have definitely made a game that will be broadly appealing to a lot of gamers – just not the ones it was supposed to be made for, which is why I personally feel it only deserves a 4/10 (at most).