Games in the survival horror genre have found difficulty in capturing enough interest from gamers to achieve great commercial success this generation. For this reason, this console cycle did not see many new games or franchises in the genre. Titles in existing survival horror franchises began to change in order to appeal to a wider audience, often becoming more of an action game as is the case with the past two entries in Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise. However, fans itching for scares found solace in Visceral Games’ Dead Space in 2008 and the 2011 sequel. The third and potentially last chapter for the series is here, but will it continue to take the high road and resist compromising its integrity?
Sadly, that is not the case. Many elements of Dead Space 3 are catered to providing a more action-adventure experience, including the story. Months after the events of the second game, we find our engineer protagonist Isaac Clarke in hiding from the government, sad and alone in his Lunar Colony apartment. His relationship with Dead Space 2’s Ellie Langford ended and she is off on an expedition. Isaac’s depressing life is interrupted when EarthGov Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver burst into his apartment and force him to come with them to find a missing Ellie and investigate a way to stop the human-zombie Necromorphs and the Marker structures that create them. On top of that, the team must race to find the solution against the radical Unitologist religious army which believes in activating the Markers and their leader Danik.
What ensues is a largely uninteresting save-the-world tale. My intrigue in Dead Space 3’s plot did not pick up until the last four to five chapters (out of nineteen) when a twist is unveiled. Beyond that point, the game abandons any attempt at terrorizing me to become an almost Uncharted-like adventure. The game’s story peaks too late, though the ending provides significant closure.
Most times to attempt scaring players result in very predictable jump scares. When you enter an area where Necromorph enemies are located, over-the-top bombastic horror music starts playing even when you haven’t seen them. Killing them as I heard that music playing and Necromorphs’ screeching and other monstrous sounds just ended up being exhausting. Fighting Unitologist soldiers was no better since they acted like how you expected generic military enemies to. The huge set piece moments offer some of the most exciting experiences in Dead Space 3. Visceral was hoping this would create “roller coaster pacing” to make all other moments scarier, but instead set piece moments became what I looked forward to.
Players have been misled by the marketing into thinking the game completely takes place on the frozen planet Tau Volantis. The icy and snowy landscapes have been featured in trailers, screenshots, and even the boxart. In actuality, the first half takes place on a ship very much like setting of the first two games. To me, it was retreading the older games as I made my way through familiar looking corridors, making combat against enemies too similar to past experiences. Throughout the whole game, players are required to do a lot of annoying backtracking and fetch quests. A particular Necromorph boss is even recycled three times and each time it’s defeated in the same manner. All these elements feel like cop-out ways for Visceral to achieve Dead Space 3’s longer runtime.
Meanwhile, the art direction and graphics in Dead Space 3 are about average. There is not anything here that you haven’t seen in other games or mediums. The Lunar Colony which Isaac and company escape from looks straight out of Mass Effect. The metal, dull colored hallways on the game’s spaceships are very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Traversing snowy Tau Volantis was a welcome change of scenery, though it just reminded me of how beautiful Uncharted 2 was. Necromorphs are blandly textured and human characters have a slight cartoony look to them.
Dead Space 3 could have used some more polishing. Several times during my playthrough, I ran into various glitches. Enemy Necromorphs would experience path-finding failure and remain running straight into a wall or rock. Once when I was rappelling up a snowy cliff, my rope actually got caught on a rock jutting on the side, thus preventing me from reaching the top and forcing me to reload my save. More than once, enemies did not have different animations and would actually be synchronized. Occurrences like these that made for some jarring moments.
One of Dead Space 3’s biggest strengths comes from the newly added weapon crafting. Players can customize many aspects of the two weapons they are allowed to carry during the game. You start with a frame that may allow you to have one or two different guns called “Tools” on the weapon. Each of the Upper and Lower Tools has its own tip that affects rate of fire, power, accuracy, range, spread, and the type of projectiles. Similarly, you select perks called “Circuits” for each Tool that adjust some of the same factors as the tips and different ones as well. All the components to construct weapons are found throughout the game. This time around, Isaac Clarke has Scavenger Bots that can find parts to make some weapon components, other items (Med Packs, Stasis Modules, etc.), and upgrades to your suit. A lot of Dead Space 3’s fun came from experimenting with all the dozens of combinations and how they influenced combat. From floating saws and electrifying lasers to burning flames and traditional bullets, the weapon crafting provided a great way for me to cater how I fought and change it whenever combat felt stale.
The other major addition is the drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, which covers the full game and more. The second player takes the role of Sergeant John Carver who has a full backstory of his own and experience throughout the game. Carver mourns the death of his wife and son and experiences dementia during the course of the game. As a result, Carver’s player will see different things and play different experiences than Isaac’s player, adding an additional storyline to the game. The drop-in and drop-out feature is especially useful if you just need someone to help you on a boss or area of enemies. Co-op includes new cutscenes, dialogue, and additional side missions. Visceral clearly thought this mode through and it’s a great way to play the game.
Near the end of the game, Isaac Clarke tells John Carver, “Good men mean well. We just don’t always end up doing well.” Ironically, the statement is exactly how I feel about Visceral Games’ work on Dead Space 3. The elements they chose to add were in hopes to attract a larger audience yet in a questionable direction. What’s left is a game that is mildly fun, but filled with flaws.