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.

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13 Comments on Dead Space 3 Review: Good, But More Shooty Than Scary

Dwigt

On February 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm

So far, I’m loving it. The story and the mood are no match for the first game, but they delivered something interesting anyway, and they were able to address EA’s requests without compromising the main game.

I agree it’s no longer a pure survival horror. At least, they’re aware it shouldn’t be a remake of the previous games. They just kept some elements from them and they’re pushing the plot and the gameplay into fresher (if a little generic) directions. The art direction is still great anyway.

And a big yes to the story getting hammy. I’m still in the early part of the game, but (SPOILER ALERT) Ellie and her new boyfriend with their public display of affection just in front of Isaac’s nose is a stupid element. They need the guy to be on their side, she dated him for a while and yet, they chose the worst time to make the reveal. If you want to have an adult game and get some character development for Isaac, don’t have the supporting characters behaving like a caricature straight out of a Resident Evil game.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

@Dwigt

Pretty much agreed on all fronts. There are some changes and compromises, but overall the game is definitely a lot of fun.

MPSewell

On February 8, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Everything you’ve said is really just why I won’t be buying this. The original Dead Space was a game I followed through development and relished upon release. The opening sequence was fantastic was everything I had hoped the game would be: mysterious, dark, oppressive, horrifying and reliant largely on the tension of the unknown.

While this game may be fun, it isn’t why I play Dead Space. I do not care one whit about how good of a shooting mechanic, co-op system, etc. it has. There are a dozen other games that pull off combat to a high extent, but what I am seeking is a game that oppresses me to a level like what Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the original Dead Space did. I would honestly be more happy if I had nothing but a pistol and 6 bullets for the entirety of the game than to have the best shooter mechanics in any game in history.

So while everything I’ve read about DS3 says it’s a good shooter, it’s still nothing I want to play.

Hellblazer

On February 8, 2013 at 11:15 pm

As usual MP is still negative on everything.

Dead Space 3 is epic and deserve its place in the series. End of the line.

ZephyrTuvai

On February 8, 2013 at 11:17 pm

@MPSewell

Play Eternal Darkness. Might be hard to find as its a gamecune game, but as long as you can tolerate the dated graphics, its an amazingly oppressive experience.

The story might be conveyed in a kinda cheesy way at times, but it is excellent nonetheless. Also, its ability to mess with you, not just the character you play, is outstanding.

Wesker1984

On February 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm

You have some scary moments in Dead Space 3, not as scary as the first one but still some stresing parts. Play it MP before judging like this.

I hated Borderlands 1 and i was sure to hate Borderlands and after playing it i realised i liked it a lot.

Wesker1984

On February 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I wanted to say Borderlands 2.

Tiagonal

On February 9, 2013 at 5:58 am

@MPSewell Perhaps we’re in the same wave: the over-hype I had for the game even got my sister crying in happiness when me and all my family went buying it. Yet, they’ve killed the franchise following Isaac’s and Necros’ storyline, it’s something that HAS to end up somewhere, all with the same mechanics, enemies we’ve come to expect, a character we’ve been force to care about, with huge risk to loosing focus on the way… And now any change to any of that would be a great deal of a risk. When I realised how inmensely greater the series would be with all new unexpected horrors each sequel, I couldn’t stand any of these anymore. …So any other good survival-horror around? No? Gotta wait for The Last of us? uh.. ok. It’s not in space tho’ :( ….(And, no Colonial Marines No. It’s another shooter, not Newt’s survival.. so, hmm.. no)

Tiagonal

On February 9, 2013 at 6:01 am

I wanted to say ‘the over-hype for the First Dead Space’.

TheDog

On February 9, 2013 at 11:14 am

Anyone noticing a disturbing trend here? EA seems to be ruining some very good franchises, all in the name of trying to appeal to the broader masses. They’ve taken great rpg’s and turned them into shooters. Now they take a survival horror and turn it into a shooter. EA seems to like shooters. I hear there turning Dragon Age 3 into a shooter. No rest for the wicked. What’s really sad is some gaming mags are supporting them. Game Informer named them the second best publisher last year, as they named Mass Effect 3 rpg of the year. It’s not an rpg, at least no more than Borderlands 2, which runs off the same mechanics. Level up, adjust your skill tree. That does not make a rpg. EA kills all it touches.

Greenmantle

On February 10, 2013 at 3:16 am

This is my review of DS3:

Dead Space 3 is a Gears of War mod in which you play a depressive, egotistic maniac/psychopath called Isaac Clarke. Isaac is really sad because his girlfriend traded him for some space hunk. Isaac stopped shaving and goes on a killing spree, murdering anything that gets in his way. I liked the fact that Isaac went from being just a common engineer in the first game to the most important person in the galaxy and humanity’s last hope. It just makes more sense to have the main character of be important rather than just a regular lowly engineer. One other aspect that I really liked were the levels, instead of being stranded in a single ship like in the first game (which got boring very quick, everything was brown and dark), you get to travel all over space and see different environments. You even get to play a mission in Hoth which was pretty cool since everyone loves Star Trek. This game gets a 9.5/10 because of the awesome turret sections, ship-piloting/debris-shooting set pieces and the implementation of a cover system (which was apparently missing from the first 2 games). It is great to see how much better a series with every iteration. I can’t wait for the DLC!

Swcloud99

On April 9, 2013 at 8:13 pm

The game has horrible crashes on the PS3. They still have gone unpatched. Seriously, the game is nearly unplayable.
That should take away from it’s score.

Phil Hornshaw

On April 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm

@SWCloud

Really? I played on PS3 with no issues. Sorry, that’s gotta suck like crazy.