Dead Space 3 - Review
If The Thing's influence on Dead Space's monsters and tone weren't obvious enough before, then Dead Space 3 makes it blatantly clear . The snow-covered planet of Tau Volantis, where much of the game's story takes place, is almost identical to the Antarctic landscape of John Carpenter's film. Even the game's soundtrack goes to great lengths to replicate Ennio Morricone's ominous score. It's a great way of establishing atmosphere and the game delivers it in bucket loads.
Dead Space 3 is a somewhat different game to its predecessors. Whilst the original game took place in the cramp confines of a ship, and the sequel in a slightly larger space station, this third instalment opens up the world of Dead Space considerably.
The plot itself manages to hop between numerous locations. Whilst the majority of the game takes place on Tau Volantis, before you even get there you'll have travelled across a broken space fleet above the planet, as well as escaped from an attack by Unitologists on Earth's moon. It's an impressive scale, and whilst the core gameplay has suffered in some respects, there's no denying that Visceral Games have really opened up the types of environments on offer.
Perhaps the most problematic new feature is the introduction of a cover system. This already caused consternation by some fans when it was announced, prior to the game's release, that Isaac would also be facing human enemies. While the result doesn't end up being game-breaking, it sums up many of the game's problems: this is a game stretched to its limits and it can't quite cope with all the different things it's being made to do. Rather than being a proper snap-to cover system, instead, all you can do is hit the right stick and crouch behind objects. It looks awkward and feels it too. What's more the human enemies happen to be the least engaging in the game (who'd have thought?), since all they do is stand in place burning through clips of ammo and occasionally lobbing a grenade.
It's not the only thing to have had something of a radical makeover either. Take, for instance, Ellie, the no-nonsense, surprisingly well written, partner that worked alongside you in Dead Space 2. She's now relegated to helpless damsel status for the vast majority of the story and also happens to now be sporting a plunging neckline for a good portion of the game. It's yet another hint that a lot of Dead Space 3's changes were born not out of improving on the previous titles, but as an attempt to bring in more money and appeal to more casual shooter fans.
Speaking of the story, Dead Space 3 sees Isaac attempt to end the Necromorph threat once and for all. Tau Volantis is thought to be the home world of the Necromorphs and is believed to house some device capable of killing them off. It starts off well and has a good sense of pacing, but about half way through the game's constant attempt to pad out the runtime (which already wasn't exactly short) slows everything to a crawl and makes several sections become nothing more than a dull trudge to perform fetch-and-carry objectives. The addition of side quests was an interesting one but, like the main game, the quality starts of pretty well and then descends into tedious repetition. Some of the later side quests literally copy and paste environments that you've already been to as if the developer's simply got bored with the idea altogether.
Side quests aren't the only RPGish element included in Dead Space 3; there's also the addition of weapon's crafting. This happens to be one of the best new elements added to the game, partly because it feels it should have been something that was in the series from the beginning. Isaac is an engineer after all, and by having you craft your own jerry-rigged shotgun only goes to reinforce this idea.
There's a good deal of depth to the system too; weapons are comprised of around eight different parts which all result in the end appearance, and function, of the weapon. For example, fitting a plasma core to a two-handed frame will give you basic force gun, swap the default tip for a precision tip however, and you'll have made yourself a contact beam. The previous method of using power cores to upgrade your weapons performance has also been done away with. Instead, this has been built into the new weapon crafting system. Circuits can be acquired or crafted, which grant various bonuses (i.e. +1 Damage), and can be swapped around to your heart's content.
Despite being one of the best additions to the series, it still has its problems. Firstly, it's difficult to figure out how powerful a weapon is going to be, just by looking at its stats. Early on I built a shotgun with max damage according to the stat screen, only to find it took around three to four shots to take down an enemy at close range. Later on, I built a javelin pistol that someone had advised me to use, which was capable of one-shotting pretty much everything I encountered. As a result, some weapon combinations end up looking cool but being essentially useless and it's a shame considering that the system as a whole wants to encourage you to tinker around and experiment with it.
What the crafting system has unfortunately led to though, is a reduced emphasis on strategic dismemberment. It was at the heart of the first two games, and is the bedrock of what makes them so entertaining. Here, shooting a limb causes "critical damage", and whilst enemies still do get dismembered it has a lot less strategy to it. There's less emphasis on actually working out the best place to injure each enemy and, because of this, Dead Space 3 is robbed of yet another element of its gameplay that made it unique.
Enemy attacks, likewise, are more about fast reactions than they are slow and deliberate precision shots. The game has an annoying knack as well, to have several enemies appear in front of you and stick one behind you. It happens a lot, it wasn't fun in Doom 3, by far the biggest offender of this trick, and it's not fun here. Dead Space's controls aren't built for 180 degree turns and it smacks once again of laziness. The game never builds on its encounters in any meaningful way and so the whole process begins to feel routine. It wasn't something that cropped up a lot in the first two games so it's disappointing that it's been utilized so much here.
Dead Space 3 is game with a lot of ideas thrown at it, and only some of those manage to stick. The feature creep has resulted in a game that dilutes what once made it so good and will make you yearn for the simplicity of the first instalment. Both the story and gameplay suffer from a game stretched too thin and feeling unfocused, and some stupid writing decisions made later on in the game. A tighter, ten hour campaign would have been preferable to the twenty hour slog that we've been given.
Dead Space 3 was released in February for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.
This review is based on the Playstation 3 version.
© 2013 LudoLogic