I didn’t go into Dead Space 3 with very high hopes. I was pretty upset with how little Dead Space 2 scared me, so I wasn’t expecting anything better with the new one. The game’s focus had been moved from being survival horror in space to appealing to the broadest fanbase it could possibly hit. While they’d had the good sense to toss multiplayer in favor of co-op, I still shook at the idea of making its appeal more universal. After all, that’s what Resident Evil 6 had been trying to do a couple of months ago, and we all remember how well that went. Well, Dead Space 3 is still not very scary, but I am happy to admit that it’s an excellent third person action game, one that sucked up a lot of my time. If you’re looking for some bang for your buck, you will get a lot of play for your money with Dead Space 3.
You might not feel that way once you start playing the game. Dead Space 3 is guilty of the same crap that Skyrim was: the opening is really, really boring. It’s boring in an odd way, though. The game has added some human cultists into the mix in order to toss some gunplay into the game along with your creepy aliens. They use these guys in interesting ways later, making you fight monsters and cultists at the same time (all while hoping the two groups fight each other instead of you), but right at the start you just fight cultists on their own. You have some soldiers backing you up at the same time, and there are reams of chest-high walls all around you in case you need them. I think it was supposed to be exciting, but all I could think about was that the developers had lost their minds and turned the game into a bad Gears of War. I really didn’t enjoy that first bit and it almost put me off the game, but no big deal. If you feel the same way at first, just keep on pushing through. It gets better in under an hour.
Once you get the cultist crap out of the way it’s back to familiar territory from the original game. You get to explore all through several different derelict ships, working your way through tight tunnels and past heavy machinery. I can’t help but love the look and feel of these machines. Most sci-fi machinery and ships look so clean, with lots of pure white halls and shimmering steel platforms. The stuff in Dead Space 3 all looks like it was designed with existing human technology. It’s heavy and bulky, and almost every moving part slams into place with such a horrific noise you’d swear that everything in the game weighed at least a few tons. The backgrounds in these areas all have this overwhelming presence to them, giving me a sense that I’m a very small life form in a very dangerous machine, always one misstep away from being devoured by the ship’s huge mechanisms. It really made the whole world feel like it was against me.
The snowy planet did just as good of a job. I was happy to see that the developers had included a temperature meter on your suit during this section of the game, as the world was actually out to get me at this point. If they hadn’t, I would have been surprised to think that anyone could survive out in the cold on this planet. The wind was constantly howling, blowing snow obscured my every step, and enemies that were crusted over with broken ice would rip their way out from under the snow all across the landscape. Footsteps made these bone-crunching sounds as I plodded along, watching for the slightest hint of a place I could hide to find warmth. Visceral Games did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was in danger even when no enemies were around, and I loved this aspect of the game.
Everything else goes out the window when bad guys show up, though. If you’ve never played one of these games before, the monsters in Dead Space don’t die from headshots, but rather need to take a set amount of damage before going down. This is best achieved by cutting off limbs, as this either slows the enemies down or takes away their means for attack. Taking the head off usually just results in the enemy attacking at random. It still feels as natural as ever to shoot at enemy legs instead of the head, and it works well since the enemies all tend to rush at the player anyway. This resulted in me either taking them out on the way to me or managing to lop off a limb in the chaos after they’d jumped on top of me.
The drag is that there isn’t a whole lot of enemy variety. Dead Space 2 managed to create a handful of new monsters, but Dead Space 3 only had a few new creatures and a couple of variants on old ones. Even some of the more interesting creatures from the earlier games, like the wall spitters, barely ever show up. Yes, those gangly monsters that rush in huge hordes are pretty cool, but they’re really just the regular enemies made smaller and faster. It felt like combat could have been made more interesting just by using stuff the developers had already invented in previous titles, but instead they mostly played it safe with similar fights in every spot. The frantic nature of the monsters they put in kept those fights interesting every time, but I just felt like more could have been done with more monster designs.
It does feel like the enemy speed has been increased in this game. I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination, but enemies seemed to be right up in my face a lot faster than I remember. I’m guessing this because I was using my stasis weapon a whole lot more in this game. In the previous games I never much bothered with it, often forgetting it completely. How do you forget that you can temporarily freeze enemies in groups? Well, I never much found I needed it up until I played Dead Space 3. It seems like the monsters have been sped up to keep me more mentally involved in the combat, using the basic monsters with more speed to make things harder. It works, and it is really addictive and fun, but again I wish there was more in the way of monster variety.
More of this focus seemed to go into creating a huge supply of weapons you could build for yourself. Instead of giving you schematics for a couple of weapons to carry over the course of the game, you can find parts to put together to make your own weapons. Got a stock and a tesla coil? Well, sit down at a bench and see what you can make with it. Want to plow through he game with with abandon? Plunk some weapon parts down and build yourself a shotgun. Hopefully you’ve found the parts for the weapon you want, though, as you don’t always know what sort of gun you’ll end up with once you start sticking pieces together. There are quite a few interesting weapons you can make, but you might not always come away from the bench with what you set out to build..
The reason for that is that you can put together weapons without meaning to. The game has some schematics in it for building weapons, but you can try to put stuff together on your own without knowing what will happen. The drag is that once you put a gun piece onto the bench and proceed a single step further into the process you can’t back out. Once you agree on your gun base you can’t back out and are forced to create a weapon. This means that you can’t see what would happen if you put certain pieces together, so you’re just forced to accept whatever gun you accidentally make. It’s a bit of a stupid system that made me a lot of guns I didn’t actually want, so I wish there had been a way of just looking at what my results could be so I could choose what guns I wanted. I don’t know of many engineers who just stick gun parts together without knowing what will happen. Do you?
It annoyed me to the point where I just stuck with the reliable old plasma cutter. I could work with that, though, as there are lots of little weapon upgrades you can equip. Instead of having power nodes that you stick on a weapon to unlock set upgrades, Dead Space 3 has chips that give certain buffs when stuck in a gun. Instead of only having certain upgrades pre-attached to a weapon, now you can stick on whatever you want. This allowed me to find one weapon I was comfortable with and then stack damage on it like crazy, giving me an absurdly overpowered weapon that I clung to like it was the One Ring. (Precioussssssssssssss.)
Don’t have the chips you want? Well, you can use the game’s new crafting system to build whatever you like. The game uses a couple of different pickups in order to build new armor upgrades, weapon chips, and items as you see fit. It gave me a lot of freedom to bolster my character the way I wanted, letting me go straight for armor and HP upgrades where someone else might have wanted better stasis shots. Just the same, this system means you’ll be doing a lot of poking around for items, spending your time kicking bodies and opening boxes when you would rather be fighting monsters. If you want the best equipment you really do need to spend a lot of time poking around, so if you’re not a big fan of collecting things in action games then it might put you off. I’m pretty obsessive compulsive in games with pickups and I hate missing things, so this system got a little annoying at times with how much work I had to put into collecting stuff. There are little robots you can get to collect items for you while roaming around, but you still personally need to do a lot of searching if you want good equipment.
I would much rather be following along with the game’s storyline, though. It’s not going to win any writing prizes from anybody, but the developers did find a way to trickle bits of story to the player without taking control away for long periods of time. I’m still intrigued by the idea of the Markers and how they’re creating the monsters, and the game just keeps up a steady information drip every once in a while. Having other characters talk to you through your suit while you move is still genius, and the story still manages to be interesting and mysterious even into the third game. I felt that Dead Space 2‘s story was the one that faltered and spun its tires, but this one felt like it was heading toward an actual conclusion. I was actually interested to hear the characters tell me something, and I can’t say that about a lot of action games.
It may not be frightening, but the game really is quite addictive. Through its steady stream of item drops and storyline, it kept me wanting to push forward to do just one more thing well into the night. There’s a whole lot of it to do, too, as the game carefully manages itself for a good long time. With optional sidequests to do, this is easily one of the longest shooters I’ve ever played and liked continually. Most long shooters tend to fall apart after the first eight hours, but this one manages to maintain its momentum all the way through. It’s just a fun action game that kept my interest well beyond when it should have been able to, and I was always excited to start it up again after a long day of work. It may not be the horror game that I hoped for, but it is still a good game based on its own merits. Besides, I could always set the difficulty to Hardcore if I wanted to genuinely feel fear every time any enemy crept by.
Some images courtesy of GameFAQs.com.