Monday, February 29, 2016

Dead Space 3 review

    Dead Space is a series which changed the way horror video games were made. It released three very well-received video games (though not without controversy), a pair of animated movies, many comic books, and quite a bit of merchandise before essentially ceasing to exist as a franchise. That is in large part due to the financial difficulties at Electronic Arts but more particularly due to the mixed reception of this game.

    Dead Space 3 is a big transition from the previous games. There's shooting segments with guns rather than repurposed tools as well as human enemies rather than just Necromorphs. EarthGov, previously an evil fascist state which set most of the horrible events in motion, is re-imagined as a noble ally of Isaac Clarke out to stop the Necromorphs.

    There's cover-based shooting as well as combat rolls. There's numerous bosses which require puzzle techniques to defeat rather than simply expenditure of ammo. There's a tacked-on love triangle between Isaac Clarke, his former partner Ellie, and a psychotic EarthGov military officer which hardly needs to be explained as ending in our hero's favor. Finally, sections of the game are only playable in co-op and there's the option of microtransactions to craft the best weapons.

The starship graveyard is the best part of the game.
    It was controversial (to say the least) with old-school Dead Space fans. Ironically, Dead Space 3 sold roughly twice as many copies as both its predecessors put together. However, Electronic Arts decided this was under-performing and more or less put the kibosh on the series for the indefinite future. It's unfortunate as the series was still quite enjoyable and one not-even-bad-but-just-sort-of-okay game shouldn't put the kibosh on an entire franchise.

    The premise of the game is Isaac Clarke has spent the past three years in hiding on Luna in hopes of escaping EarthGov as well as the Unitologist's insanity. Unfortunately, this is not something Ellie is up for as she's undergone a personality change from the ruthless survival-orientated soldier of Dead Space 2 to a heroic do-gooder who wants to stop the Markers at all costs.

    This resulted in Isaac and Ellie's breakup off-screen, meaning we've never actually seen the two in a relationship save as backstory. Isaac is then kidnapped by the "last battalion of EarthGov" who reveal the Unitologists have overthrown the government (which Isaac seems to have missed) before they unleash a Marker on Luna. Billions of lives are at stake. Which they promptly abandon for another location.

Ellie is made four times as sexy with half the competence.
    Yeah, I get the impression Dead Space 3 went through a lot of rewrites as the next part of the game is a creeptacular starship's graveyard which would have made an excellent setting for the rest of the game but which quickly changed to the rest of the game being set on a Hoth-like ice planet. From there, Isaac struggles to piece together the planet's connection to the Necromorphs and the Markers. Oh, and also deal with the fact he's jealous of Ellie and her jerkass boyfriend.

    The biggest flaw with the game is probably its handling of the characters. Ellie was one of my favorite characters from Dead Space 2, tough and uncompromising wiith a morally dubious set of values chiefly focused on survival. Here, she's unarmed, emotional, idealistic, and mostly helpless with her piloting as well as combat skills having disappeared. Too much of the game is spent on the love triangle between her, Isaac, and Norton despite the fact the latter is little more than a third wheel destined to do something psychotic.

    The combat is quite changed from the original Dead Space and is, in my humble opinion, inferior. Gone is the focus on precision shooting of limbs with a new emphasis on simply filling the Necromorphs with as much lead as possible. The addition of guns versus the use of converted power tools feels like a step backwards honestly. The Necromorphs are also much faster, which does much to detract from the slow building terror of previous games. The addition of human enemies also undermines Isaac Clarke's character a bit as he slaughters his way through numerous Unitologist enemies led by a villain which I charitably believe is one of the worst I've ever seen.

I admit to enjoying the ice world of Tau Volantis, which invokes The Thing.
    There's definitely much to recommend Dead Space 3 and it's certainly fun but the genre shift from horror game to cover-based shooter is irritating. There's a lot of big action movie set pieces like fighting a gigantic Necromorph who swallows you, re-fighting a Necromorph Boss three times, and running down the side of a cliff-face using futuristic mountain-climbing equipment.

    Unfortunately, the action isn't all that great as Isaac handles awkwardly, which was a plus in a horror game but undermines the move to something more akin to Gears of War. There's several genuinely creepy moments in the game, though, as well as an explanation of the series' mythology which elevates a mediocre shooter to above-average but this is damning with faint praise.

This is the villain. Seriously. Scientologist Elton John!
    I should note Dead Space 3 was designed for Co-Op play and if you can get a partner for it, the game is quite frenetic and fun with more story content. I find Co-Op character Carver to be interesting as they seemed to have moved all of Isaac Clarke's "insane antihero" elements to him. I also recommend the DLC Awakened which is a much more traditional horror-based game with disturbing new monsters as well as a genuinely scary atmosphere.

    Unfortunately, Awakened ends on a cliffhanger which may never be resolved thanks to the treatment of the game by Electronic Arts. This is perhaps my biggest disappointment with the game as it answers a ton of questions about the series but generates a thousand more. I will say I regret the chance to not use a planet-cracker on one of the Brethren Moons. Would it be horror? Hell no, but it would be awesome.

I admit, this dude came close to becoming my archenemy in video games.
    In conclusion, I recommend Dead Space fans pick up a copy of Dead Space 3 only if they're completionists. Much like the Alien movies, you're not really missing anything if you only enjoy the first two and decide to skip the rest of the franchise. Despite this, there's nothing particularly wrong with the game aside from some character assassination, a bad villain, and a cop-out pair of endings. It's just underwhelming compared to two really good games.



  1. I recall hearing that EA actually said they put a few features into the game because they thought the original product was too scary. Which is very head-desk worthy.

  2. Oiye, very head-desk worthy there. The funny thing is, I liked Dead Space 2 which I felt was an "action-horror" game. I wouldn't have minded them to continue that sort of thing.