When Dead Space 3 was first announced at E3 last year, it was met with a chorus of skepticism. With the addition of co-op and a revamped combat system, this formerly slow-paced horror game looked more like a Gears of War knock-off. Although Visceral games has said repeatedly that Dead Space 3 will still adhere to the series’ roots, developers are known to embellish a little.
The final act of a trilogy carries a lot of expectations, especially when the people making them add a bunch of new features and try to rework tried and true conventions. How does Dead Space 3 fare under the microscope?
An unknown amount of time has passed since the incident on Titan Station in Dead Space 2; Isaac Clarke is slumming it up in a crappy apartment on the Moon when he’s visited by representatives of EarthGov’s “last battalion”. Somehow, the formerly shadowy Unitologist church has militarized, transforming from a creepy cult to a terror organization, activating Markers on human colonies and basically dismantling Earth’s government and military presence. How this happens is never actually explained, and after the amazing opening we were treated to last time, being thrown in the middle of a muddled story doesn’t exactly float.
Placing a human figure at the front of the Unitologist church to humanize them doesn’t work well either. At one point this guy is on the ice planet of Tau Volantis, the supposed Marker homeworld, watching the horrors of the Marker occur first hand and he still wants to go through with his plan. You can explain some of that away by bringing up the insanity-inducing effects of the Marker, but at a certain point even the most indoctrinated person would see that not everything with their religion is up to snuff.
Dead Space 3 tries to shine a light on Isaac’s relationship with fellow Titan Station survivor Ellie, but this formerly self-reliant woman has been redesigned to sport a low cut top with a giant rack and a damsel in distress attitude to match. While this might not be a big deal for everyone, watching a believable female character get “video game-ized” is a little depressing. Indeed, making her the center of a frankly out of place love triangle seems weird, especially when her new male pursuer does some questionable thing to take Isaac out of the equation. More important things are happening here, buddy.
That said, Dead Space 3 does answer a lot of questions about the Markers and manages to tie a bow on the whole thing in a way that isn’t completely ridiculous. After several big name trilogies fell flat with their endings, it’s refreshing to see a series wrap up in a somewhat satisfying manner.
Combat in Dead Space 3 is faster and more intense, as a certain sci-fi director would say. Gone are the days of ammo conservation and relying on your wits to make it through tight encounters. On the base difficulty ammunition (which is now universal) and medpacks are bountiful and if you ever run out you can always craft more at the workbenches using materials found throughout the game.
Just because Dead Space 3 has purged the “survival” aspect of survival horror from its veins, that doesn’t mean it suffers for it. Rather, the quicker pace of the combat makes for some satisfying firefights, especially with the increased number of necromorphs being thrown at you now that the mechanics have been adjusted to compensate for that.
A lot of what makes fighting work comes from the workbench where you can craft and customize your own weapons from the ground up. A plasma cutter with a flamethrower underneath that casts stasis on foes sounds crazy, but you can make it, a long with a whole plethora of other options. The workbench is the crux of Dead Space 3 around which a carnival of carnage rotates. This is especially true in co-op where there’s a sort of one-upsmanship that comes with trying to make new tools of destruction.
Speaking of co-op, Dead Space 3 actually integrates having a second player really well. There are co-op centric puzzles and John Carver, as your second banana is called, has his own unique side missions. Since John is new to this whole Marker thing, he’s experiencing the same mental breakdown that Isaac did. The person playing Carver will see and hear things that the player controller Isaac won’t, and often times Carver will have to fight hallucinations while Isaac fights real-life foes. These mission are exclusive to co-op and the ways that they play with teamwork and perception make it worth looking into.
Besides the co-op side missions, Dead Space 3 gives players the ability to tackle quests off the beaten path by giving them access to a skip during the opening sections on the derelict flotilla and a tram system once they get to the planet’s surface. While a break from linearity is neat, the side missions suffer from repeated environments and set pieces. If you’ve seen one elevator get stuck while blaring alarms draw hordes of necromorphs, you’ve seen them all.
While some may be bothered by Dead Space 3 leaving its roots behind, there are reasons to check this game out. Co-op is great fun, as is toying around with building and modifying your own weapons. While the game is hampered by a questionable story as well as some presentation issues like the aforementioned side missions and some weird audio bugs during cutscenes, Dead Space 3 is worth a run-through, much more so if you have a dedicated co-op buddy.
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