Dead Space 3 Review: Good, But More Shooty Than Scary
And so there are hours of Dead Space 3 I can say are great. The optional side missions, for example, are largely self-contained stories about the various happenings that took place on the fleet and led to its destruction, and they’re a great momentary diversion from the overall storyline, which stumbles on a few occasions and isn’t quite as satisfying. These smaller missions remind me a lot more of the different minor stories that unfolded on the USG Ishimura back in Dead Space, however — stories in the form of audio journals and text logs about characters going insane, fighting one another, dealing with the events on the planet, and so on. They’re the best bits of the game and it’s a shame there aren’t more of them.
Early in the game, Dead Space 3 hits on the classic horror notes, too, although it rarely explores new territory. Regenerating enemies and moments of desperately fleeing certain death are among the best, and once or twice you might only escape by the skin of your teeth. Sometimes the game brings in a high degree of atmosphere and tension, such as when sneaking past the new Feeder enemy type, which is only alerted by noise or your flashlight but whom attack in droves when triggered. There is the Dead Space we know and love at the core of this game, and at times, it breaks through to the surface in full force.
Other times, however, that core is buried under some questionable decisions. Pretty much gone is even a passing notion that you’ll have to deal with resource management, so plentiful are ammunition and health packs (unless you play one of the unlockable modes that offer more survival-horror-oriented elements). I played the game on Hard mode, and even then it was often frustratingly easy. This is compounded by the weapon crafting system, which is robust and a lot of fun in its way, but detracts from some of the horror elements we’ve come to expect from Dead Space. Making an uber-cool death machine is fun, but it sort of limits how threatening the monsters end up being when you feel equipped to take on all comers.
So there’s a general understanding in Dead Space 3 that what horror there is — and there’s really not much, unfortunately — has taken a deep back seat to action. Visceral still manages a few of the things it’s good at, like phenomenal audio design and atmospheric levels, but mostly your scares will be of the jump variety and you won’t feel any of the creeping dread about what’s around the next corner, except in a few specific instances. (The arrival on Tau Volantis, for example, is an exceptional sequence in which Isaac has to fight off freezing to death; the demo did not do it justice.) That may be a make-or-break situation for many players: Personally, I can enjoy the action of Dead Space 3 even if any serious attempt at horror has faded from the series. As mentioned, it’s still supremely fun.
As to the changes to the formula, some work and some don’t. The crafting system, while detracting from many scares, gives players a lot of freedom to make the weapons they want to play with. You only get two weapons slots this time out, but the ability to bolt two guns together to make one super-gun more than makes up for it. And while there are seemingly a ton of different resources to scavenge, the game mostly dispenses them with intelligence; somatic gel is for healing, transducers are for stasis, semiconductors are for electricity, scrap metal is for components. You don’t need all of them to do everything, and you’ll be able to find whatever you need, eventually. Dead Space 3 also does a great job of ramping up your abilities and upgrades over time if you’re willing to scavenge, and while micro-transactions have triggered an emotional knee-jerk in many people, they’re wholly unnecessary to achieving enjoyment in the game or building the best equipment. All they do is speed up your resource-gathering grind, and I was able to ignore them altogether.
While the weapons might be a little on the uber-powerful side, in single-player, you’ll at least be in enough tense scenarios that they’re not game-breaking. I can’t say the same about co-op, though, which feels like an exercise in a series of stand-and-shoot face-offs with enemies. The repetition in the second half of Dead Space 3 is one of its key failings — it relies heavily on battles in big-ish rooms with enemies pouring in, and less on smart strategy or intelligent deployment of those enemies — and with a second person, it’s just an exercise is finding the right corner to hole up in and covering the other guy’s blind spot. Higher difficulty settings are a must.
Co-op has a few really cool moments in the optional side missions that are locked if you don’t have a second player. Here the game starts to give us a look into the backstory of Carver, and it borders on being among the more captivating content. But those scenarios mostly are peripheral, as is co-op in general. It can be a fun diversion because the core of Dead Space 3 is strong, and jumping into the action with a friend, especially at high difficulties, is a good time. But it’s really no replacement for the core game, and it weakens the presentation of Dead Space 3 at a lot of key moments. In single-player, Carver’s nobody, just some fool on the team who’s tagging along. In a horror movie, he’d be one of the people in line to get eaten, and it’s weird when he pops up in cutscenes as if he’s supposed to be more relevant than he is. It’s weirder still when you’re playing co-op and he pops up in cutscenes, only to feel somewhat irrelevant, as this is obviously Isaac’s story. It’s a hard balance to strike, and Visceral just doesn’t hit it, try as it might.