Dead Space 3
Ever since its arrival in 2008, EA seems to be hell-bent on turning Dead Space into another fit-for-purpose media megastar to rival the likes of Capcom’s Resident Evil and as a result the series has travelled down some winding roads, from claustrophobic horror to Nathan Drake’s mixtape sequel. This is not forgetting offshoots like the lightgun-inspired Extraction, forgettable downloadable titles and so-so anime features. As such, Dead Space 3 monkeys with the series formula but, unfortunately, doesn’t often succeed in doing so.
With the Earth’s government in poor shape, fanatical Unitologist group meddling with those deadly Marker artifacts, and series hero Isaac Clarke doing his best impression of a stereotypical down-out-and-outer by drinking alone in a darkly-lit flat, it’s fair to say things start off in a bad way. In more ways than one, actually; one of the first tastes of action pits Isaac against a score of human enemies and prompts you to take cover in some rather lived-in city streets and alleyways. It’s a weird but interesting opening for the game, providing good context for the series’ mythos but failing to make those new encounters all that fun to play. Human encounters occasionally crop up throughout, but it’s not too long after this introduction that Isaac’s back on board an infested vessel in space and floating passed debris to reach desolate substations. At its core, these are still the best parts unique to Dead Space, and immersing yourself in these far-out surroundings is as enjoyable and visually impressive as it’s ever been.
As you’d hope, this means a lot of the combat really revolves around the Necromorph, the likes of which are mostly remoulded from previous games with little change in behaviour. The series’ trademark of ‘strategic dismemberment’ still applies here, although the methods used to despatch the leagues of bugged-out freaks has changed in some fairly profound ways. Unlike before, Dead Space 3 limits you to holster two weapons at any time instead of the familiar four. To counterbalance any lack of suitable firepower this might otherwise bring about, a decently-tooled crafting system allows you to create and modify any two types of weapons you want with a variety of useful buffs and upgrades. Tweaking different sets of weapons and exchanging them at designated crafting benches scattered around the place lets you make use of multiple combat benefits with each gun. If you want to slow down a Necromorph’s movement speed before it rushes you, for instance, you can stick on specialised statis rounds to a fast-firing shotgun — or whatever — to do just that. It’s a fun system that evolves over time by letting you experiment with different margins of firepower to suit your own playstyle.
Resourcing the crafting system involves picking up various bits and bobs like semiconductors and transducers, and you’re also able to sent out scavenger bots at chosen locations to roll off and net materials to later be recovered at a crafting bench. If you really wanted to, you could always throw some real-world resources (i.e. actual money) in the direction of EA in order to instantly gain such materials at the point of purchase, but that’s something you just have to decide for yourself. Initially, crafting doesn’t come easy as there’s not often a lot of resources to make use of, but eventually you’ll find yourself brimming with more goods to craft than you might know what to do with, rendering all that real-world spending rather moot.
While the action side of Dead Space 3 remains dutifully fun and engaging, it fails to secure a sense of character for itself, and does so largely at the expense of a rather laborious pace to boot. It often feels like it’s straddling the line between the original’s more confined sense of place with the more balls-out flailings of its sequel. The problem is that neither of these elements are treated with the right due — the ice planet setting becomes increasingly more plain as the story progresses, and none of the cinematic trapdoors Isaac finds himself tumbling down are worthy of Dead Space 2’s glorious spectacle. Plus, the recurring ‘monster closet’ nature of the series is only exacerbated in 3, practically to the point where you can set your watch to the moment when a Necromorph will pounce from the shadows as if it was never expecting you to know it was coming. It’s not always a mood killer though, as blasting away a slasher’s legs and stomping its fleshy face into mush tends to offset any lack of real tension or surprise with slushy parades of sheer violence.
Alongside reams of collectible audio logs and the like, optional side missions can be taken on from time to time. However, they’re hardly worth-while, offering little more than some resource pittance in exchange for padded-out filler and dull combat scenarios. Online co-operative play also features (replacing the previous game’s adversarial multiplayer), allowing the second party to play as new addition Carver, whose motivations appear entirely one-note unless you delve into some co-op only missions to get some backstory on the guy. Seeing as how it allows you to swap resources and weapons with a partner, making ends meat with a buddy isn’t necessarily a bad way to experience the game, but it’s certainly not essential by any means.
Misfires and all, it’s at least commendable that Dead Space 3 makes an effort to exhibit some fresh experimentation into what has become a truly bloated media franchise; plus the combat still shines for the most part. Sadly though, better elements like the crafting system are lamentably set against a mundane and lifeless backdrop that rarely excites, let alone spooks, on the grand level of previous games in the series.
This review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy provided by EA.
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