Review: Dead Space 3 (PS3)
Title: Dead Space 3
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (10.9 GB)
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
ESRB Rating: M
Dead Space 3 is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
The survival horror genre has taken somewhat of a nose dive in recent years. With titles such as Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 6, and Dead Space 2, developers seem to be moving away from slow and methodical horror towards faster-paced, action-oriented gameplay. Dead Space 3 continues this trend by building upon the foundation laid by its predecessors, with human and necromorph enemies, a new outdoor setting, and cooperative gameplay. This puts Dead Space 3 in a perilous situation. This action-oriented direction is sure to alienate some existing fans, but EA and Visceral are betting that this more streamlined approach will bring new fans to the franchise. The addition of co-op has also prompted a mixed fan response, with some claiming that Dead Space 3 has lost its identity as a game. While it fails to fully capture that same creepy ambiance the first Dead Space is famous for, it surprisingly cements itself as one of the most solid action games in recent memory.
You are once again cast in the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer turned terrorism target. After being imprinted with the knowledge of the black markers and its symbols, the Unitoligists are on a hunt for Isaac, claiming that he is a heretic and deserves death. Dragged out of hiding in search of his former girlfriend, Isaac eventually makes his way to Tau Volantis, a forgotten ice ball of a planet on the edge of the galaxy, to find a way to stop the markers once and for all. It’s a story that engages and captivates, always keeping you on your toes. There’s a lot to take in, and the artifacts, audio logs, and art design create levels that feel like living, breathing worlds.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Dead Space 3 is a third person shooter with some unique mechanics. Rather than cluttering up the screen with a heads up display and other information, Visceral has integrated any and all necessary stats into Isaac’s suit. His health and stasis powers (the ability to slow down enemies for a short amount of time) are displayed on his back, and the ammo count is displayed when Isaac’s gun is raised. It’s a great decision that further immerses the player in the world. Without all of these distractions, Dead Space 3 becomes a game about observing the environment and enemies around you in a natural way. It makes it hard to go back to other games with distracting HUDs.
Unlike enemies in most other modern games, necromorphs can’t be defeated with a simple head shot. Strategic dismemberment, a staple for the series at this point, requires Isaac to shoot off the limbs of his enemies to slow their progress and deal the most damage. With standard weapons like rifles and machine guns, it feels difficult and a bit unnatural, but when wielding the series’ signature plasma cutter, you’ll find yourself hacking off limbs left and right. The ability to rotate the shot direction of the plasma cutter (between horizontal and vertical) turns combat into a puzzle as you plan your shots around the orientation of the enemies limbs. It’s satisfying and rewarding, and never grows tiresome. In regards to weapons, Visceral decided to take a page out of Mass Effect 3′s book and unify the ammo system. While this takes away much of the tension and pressure from the previous games, the feeling of freedom from ammo choice encourages the player to experiment more with weapon combinations and gun types.
Dead Space 3 adds a brand new crafting mechanic to the series. Isaac can either pick up spare parts littered around the environment, craft new parts out of resources found on corpses, or use scavenger bots to gather enough material to assemble, modify, and upgrade weapons and benches scattered throughout the levels. It’s a system that is designed to encourage experimenting, but I found myself crafting one or two guns, upgrading them to maximum ability, and sticking with them through most of the game. Players who like to tinker may find more enjoyment from this system, but it’s solid enough to enhance the experience without making the player rely on it too much. Plus, any weapon can be disassembled and reassembled on a whim, eliminating the pressure of permanently screwing up your weapon inventory.
Now, about DLC/Micro-transactions; there’s been a big uproar from the community about the ability to pay for resources and materials in the main campaign in order to create a better gun. While it is feasibly possible to partake in this system to get an advancement on a gun part, it is a completely superfluous system that is not required at all. If you’re familiar with the multiplayer purchases in Mass Effect 3, you’ll know what to expect there. Each of these randomly generated packs can be bought with resources found in the game. There is no big prompt that pops up each time you arrive at a bench encouraging you to spend $1.99 to unlock this gun. It’s merely a quick click of the triangle button away. It’s not obtrusive in the slightest, and I found that it did not detract from the overall experience.
The controls are much improved in this third part of the trilogy, but players expecting an experience similar to other third person games on the market will be left scratching their heads for the first few hours. Slow and methodical is the name of the game. Requiring the hold of a button to run, Dead Space 3 is designed to have players moving through the level at a slower pace, absorbing all of the cues around them. The act of stomping on a corpse never tires, and the motivation to acquire more ammo and parts for crafting makes it worth your time to slow down and decimate every corpse. Isaac lacks the ability to blind fire, requiring players to make a choice whether to melee or aim down the sights. The sensitivity and targeting are significantly tightened from previous entries, making shooting feel more like a core part of the experience than an afterthought. Whether you’re aiming for headshots with Unitologists or severing limbs off of necromorphs, the shooting in Dead Space 3 is satisfying and smooth.
The game throws a few unique combat scenarios to keep the gameplay fresh. Whether it’s gliding around in zero gravity or trying to disassemble a giant drill, Dead Space 3 packs enough unique moments to keep it interesting, but it ultimately feels like retread. The enemy design and set piece moments feel scaled back from its predecessors, leaving a sense of longing for new content or play styles. The whole package gives off a “been there done that” vibe throughout its 19 chapters, but it is extremely solid nonetheless. The weapon upgrading, new game plus, and highly tuned action encourages multiple play-throughs, with or without a buddy.
Running on a modified version of EA’s Godfather Engine, Dead Space 3 runs and looks extremely solid. Character models are well detailed and designed, and facial expressions are adequately animated. At least on the PS3 version, the game was plagued by low textures on certain characters, taking away the realism. Isaac’s suit is well modeled and lit, which is good considering that you’ll spend most of the game looking at his suit. Unfortunately once the suits come off, the real flaws show. Hair, ears, and noses all look a bit off, and any snow texture added to a character looks flat and pixelated.
Thankfully, most of the enemies are designed well. They dismember and morph with convincing animations. Each necromorph maneuvers around the environment in its own unique way, giving each of them a recognizable identity. The way that enemies move and traverse throughout the levels gives cues on how to best handle them. Bosses and larger enemies show off the engine’s animation technology, but most of them look a bit too “samey”. Yes, their animations and attack patterns may very, but most enemies tend to share the same hue of brown, grey, or green. A bit more variety in the color palette of the enemies would have been appreciated.
The environment design is well thought out and carefully crafted. Blood stained scribbles on the wall, various computers and projectors that run in the background, and corpses that are strewn about various laboratories and caves enhance the games creepy atmosphere. Tau Volantis feels like an abandoned, iced over planet that could really exist somewhere in the reaches of space. The spaceship levels, though not as memorable or large as the first two entries, are well made. Every level is designed to minimize backtracking and aimless exploring. While this may be a negative for some fans, it tightens up the flow and has allowed the creators to better pace the enemy encounters.
This game is one of the leaders in audio design for the industry. The subtle cues given off by the environment tell more about your situation than any voice over or dialogue ever could. The screeching of metal as an elevator falls, the shriek of an enemy, and the frantic communication from your teammates all reinforce the perilous situation Isaac is in. Gun sounds impact with a satisfying thud, and music swells and intensifies at appropriate times. This is a game that is meant to be played with a surround sound system, as it’s designed to confuse and mislead the players. Without the audio, the tension would not nearly be as palpable in the final product.
The largest, and perhaps most controversial, addition to the Dead Space formula is the addition of cooperative play. The second player takes on the role of John Carver, a teammate of Isaac’s in the solo campaign. At any point in the campaign, you can invite a friend in to your game to play alongside you, helping you decimate necromorphs and fight off the Unitologists. The co-op is so well integrated that the experience is nearly identical whether you choose to play solo or with a friend. That’s definitely a compliment. Visceral has succeeded in adding a cooperative mode to a game without dumbing down the single player experience. There are a handful of puzzles and differences in cooperative play that you won’t experience playing solo, making it worth it to play the game twice. Other than enemy intensity and a few things that I won’t spoil, the there aren’t any drastic changes between the two modes. I found myself enjoying the game equally in co-op and single player, but I suggest playing by yourself the first time around to proceed at your own pace and discover the full story.
With a wide variety of difficulty levels, a classic mode that prevents weapon upgrade and modifications, and a well-executed combat system, Dead Space 3 is a solid game that provides a lot of fun. Its environment and enemy designs are top notch, but its color palette, human character design, and textures could use some work. The audio design is top notch and eerily convincing, providing some spine tingling moments.
Dead Space 3 is not a game that will revolutionize a genre, it’s a game that takes the best aspects of horror and third person action games from the past generation and blends them into one package. It may be stale and not very inventive at points, but it’s a solid and enjoyable action game that should be played. Fans of the series may feel alienated with this new direction, but Isaac Clarke is here to finish the job and does so with a bang.