Review of Dead Space 3
Release Date: 7th February 2013
More Enjoyable Than: The Thing
Not as Enjoyable as: Dead Space 2
-Beautiful graphics and environments
-Incredibly dark and atmospheric
-Amazing weapon customisations and combos
-Enjoyable co-op experience
-Story and characters require further development
-Limited enemy AI
-New aspects don’t necessarily have consistent ‘Dead Space’ feel
NOTE: Please excuse my laziness if I sometimes use shorthand – DS3 stands for Dead Space 3!
Dead Space 3 continues a few months after the events of the second game. Earth Gov forces are on the verge of complete eradication by the Unitoligists, the religious fascists who worship the unholy Markers that spawn the hellish alien menace which has plagued our hero, Isaac Clarke, since the beginning of the series. Joining him on this mission is a team, consisting of Dead Space 2 heroine Ellie Langford, and newcomer Robert Carter, along with an assortment of others.
Carter’s significance in the story is pertinent; for it is he that another player will take control over whilst in co-operative play. For a man who still has a beating heart within his chest, his character has about as much life in him as a piece of broken glass, and often he and Isaac find themselves clashing heads in both the single player campaign, and in co-operative play, which I will discuss later.
The first seven chapters of the game are set in outer space, and provide the same feel as the previous games did when on the USS Ishimura in the original, and on Titan Station in the sequel. From chapter eight onwards, you experience the game on the alien world of Tau Volantis. Once presided over by small groups of humans during the wars, the planet has many rundown buildings which are in need of power, which adds to the overall feel of the aged environment. The decadent skeletal remains of fearsome beats that once roamed the land makes the past of such a world even more disturbing, but not so much as the fact that this is the planet where the horrifying Markers were conceived; and thus, in theory, can be the planet where the disaster can be concluded.
For those who have not played the previous titles, you needn’t worry, for a ‘previously on DS3’ begins to play the moment you select your difficulty, and can be viewed again in the ‘extras’ menu. However, whether you have played the prior games is basically irrelevant for the game can often feel considerably different when in contrast with its predecessors, especially when in comparison with its story.
The game plays more like the original Dead Space rather than the sequel. Like the first game, you often repeat certain sections on a frequent basis as you make your way through them again and again as to complete objectives scattered all about the environment, unlike in the second game.
The story in itself furthermore whilst on the subject, is actually quite peculiar. From the beginning, Visceral shows its audience that after the second game, Isaac and fellow character Ellie Langford began a relationship together. At the beginning of DS3 though, the relationship has officially collapsed, and as Isaac puts it; people are often attracted to those who are broken because they believe they can fix them; in his case, he is irreparably damaged and is beyond help.
Isaac is quickly revealed to still have strong feelings for Ellie, even though they are no longer romantically involved, and it is later found that he is unfortunately caught in a heinous love triangle with Ellie and another character. With the almost immediate announcement of this occurrence in the early stages of the game, one would have assumed that this could have been easily built upon over the course of the campaign.
However, for the most part, the game plays as though there are no romantic attachments whatsoever. Unlike in the previous two instalments where Isaac was haunted by the ghostly aspiration of his then girlfriend Nicole, which heightened the emotive and terrifying realities of the story, DS3 appears to more often than not pretend that no emotion connections are taking place over the course of the story at all. On many an occasion when Ellie and Isaac are communing over radio or in person, there is plenty an opportunity for romanticised ideologies to be discussed, but more often than not Isaac appears to attack Ellie judging by the way he verbally conveys his sentences. A great example of this appears at the end of the seventh chapter.
On the rare occasion when emotions are briefly discussed, they are thrown in as though Viscreal entertainment felt that they were literally forced to put them into the conversation, rather than wishing to convey such emotional, passionate dialogue to its audience. Long story short – nothing ever really flows. This ultimately makes the relationships, at best, feel odd – if not fake, and even when that rare occasion does occur, the dialogue is clumsy and stumbles pathetically across the subject as though with child gloves.
Another example of this is of course the crew that joins Isaac on this horrifying adventure. With the introduction of so many new faces, you might imagine that somewhere within the story you might find out a little about them? Wrong! Apart from catching their names near the start, any personal history fails to be brought to life, and the only thing you, the player will come to conclude is that most of the crew inexplicably hates your rotten guts – and you never exactly learn why. Funnily enough, the only person who seems to care about Isaac is his ex, and judging by the previous paragraphs you get the gist of my opinion on that relationship.
In fact, the only person you learn anything about with the exception of the lead protagonist and heroine is Robert Carver. At the beginning of the game it is mentioned that his wife and son were killed by the Unitoligists, and apart from that one mention, it is never brought up again fro the duration of the game. If Visceral decided to open the door about a certain character’s past, would it not have proven effective to discuss it later in full?
Basically, it just seems odd that Visceral open the door for relationships and past lives to be discussed, and yet fail to openly discuss them, and thus are left with a wasted opportunity to further enrich the development of the central characters.
As per previous Dead Space titles, the third game in the franchise utilises marvellously terrifying sounds impeccably, with the roars of monsters and the grunting of mechanics blasting through the walls around you. The sound of a ventilation shaft exploding open puts you on edge as you look through the darkness in the hopes of spotting your enemy before it discovers you. The sound of enemies coming towards you is as gruesome as ever, causing endless shivers to run down your spine. Even the sound instigated by the sudden activation of a pinball machine of all things caused me to jump several feet out from my chair from the raucous noise it produced, my head slamming into the ceiling above me.
There are of course some new changes to the game, the first of which being the saving process – the game has an auto-save function, and half the time you are more likely not to notice the saving icon in the corner than you are to have your attention drawn to it. In this sense if you ever happen to perish, more often than not you will find yourself shuffling your feet and biting your nails as you attempt to fathom where you might reload from, because in DS3 the game has full control over where it decides to save your progress. This is very different from the previous titles, where you could save the game whenever you liked – as long as you found a save station located within the maps. With this method at your disposal, you could kill a room full of bad guys without taking any damage, proudly save your progress and continue forwards. In DS3, this availability is no longer an option to you.
Additionally, not all missions that take place across the game are mandatory, with optional missions for you to complete as you progress, which can have advantageous beneficiations if you choose to take them.
Moreover there is a new assortment of bad guys for you to pulverise. One new enemy in particular, who happens to be the first enemy you encounter, is the Shambler, who is much unlike the monster in the original Quake with the same name. This particular bad guy is more like a conventional zombie with yellow eyes, who will shamble towards you (hence the name) with any weapon they can find at their disposal, from axes to machineguns, in an attempt to inflict pain. A unique aspect of this particular bad guy is that by cutting off either the top most portion or lower most part of its extremities, they will immediately be replaced b y three tendrils. It really is quite a sight the first time you see a pair of legs running about with a spinal cord, accompanied with two other tendrils on either side waving about in the air in an attempt to slap you with.
Like Gears of War 3 and Resident Evil 6, there is always the chance of having something else eject itself out from the body to replace what you hacked off, with several enemies going through a number of stages before being officially rendered dead – again, since all Necromorphs are literally undead hordes.
Another new monster is the feeder, and you will have to find out for yourself why this terrifying pack hunter gets its name, and of course, there is the gargantuan snow behemoth that you are hunted by for a considerable portion of the game before engaging in open battle with.
Moreover, the moth creatures from the games predecessors which spread the seed of decay by injecting their evil into the heads of their vessels are no longer a part of the franchise. Instead, small bugs will often appear, and these burrow into the brains of the deceased and take them over at an alarming rate, before on occasion jumping out from the body whilst it is been pulverised, only to infect others.
Apart from the expected monsters, the religious Unitoligists themselves have additionally taken up arms and make those terrifying Jehovah’s Witnesses look like a collection of choir performers. These new additions to the long list of enemies are hunting Isaac Clarke down, believing him to be the primary antagonist against their religion. Funnily enough, although they have dedicated themselves to praying to the Markers and the Necromorphs they spawn, this has not made them immune to the attacks of the undead, and on occasion it can be easier to simply let the two sides fight it out, and in the end just take out the stragglers that managed to survive.
The use of gun toting enemies adds a new flavour to the fight in DS3, and thus, due to this, Isaac has now been allowed the ability to crouch behind cover to avoid incoming fire, before returning it in kind.
Enemies will on top of this happily throw grenades in your direction, which you can toss back in theirs with the use of your telekinetic rig. Another addendum with regards to their grenades is the fact that they are by no means against taking their own lives, and much like the Grunt suicide squads in the Halo games, these guys will arm their explosive ordinance and then chase after you with a smile before detonating themselves when in close proximity.
Of course, just because the newly conceived human opponents throw grenades, flank your position and take cover does not necessarily mean they are endowed with an over abundance of brain power. As with the Necromorphs, the humans will have a proclivity to charge, which makes them easy opponents to dispatch, and the fact that the armour around their neck is not exactly impenetrable, means that decapitating them is more often than not a fun way of getting rid of these pesky cultists. Of course, this is adjunctively made easier by the fact that the top portion of the Unitoligist soldiers heads are always visible when behind cover, which makes them that much easier to terminate.
Enemies are not the only thing one needs to be wary of, with a number of sequences occurring over the course of the story where you need to hit the appropriate key or quickly move your character from left to right as to avoid imminent death. There is one particular moment where you must pilot a space craft through a whole horde of debris down towards the alien planet whilst at the same time blasting pieces of metal that are headed for your ship as to keep your crew alive. Moments like these are usually not that difficult to pass through, but will more often than not result in a number of cheap deaths.
Another part of the game which has completely changed is the undying need for minerals, which are scattered throughout the environments. Money is no longer a concern and does not appear in this particular title. No longer do you purchase items, but instead you create them from the range of minerals that you acquire. It does not matter if you are developing a new weapon to add to your arsenal, or are conceiving medical packs; everything requires a certain number of parts and pieces.
Minerals range from scrap metal, to tungsten and semiotic gel, just to name a few, and appear to be more difficult to recover than credits ever did.
In previous titles, the ability to find hard earned cash came as easy as breathing, however, when it comes to the minerals, you will often find that you on occasion discover a terrific amount of one particular variety, and a very sparse amount of another, which will inevitably cause you to continuously think carefully about what you want to create.
This task is however made easier by scavenger bots, which over the course of the game you have the luxury of collecting. These cute little guys automatically begin collecting samples of minerals upon deployment, and upon meeting their quota will terminate at a bench where you can collect their fill.
The use of sound efficaciously aids you in this task; an ominous beeping noise alerting you to particular stockpiles of minerals which will add considerable amounts to your tally and up build your supply unbelievably faster than you ever feasibly could.
Of course, the rarest mineral, and the most sought after would have to be tungsten, which is something you are physically unable to acquire until the first optional mission near the conclusion of the fourth chapter. Almost everything requires tungsten at either one stage of the developmental process, or all of them entirely, which means the discovery of it is unbelievably precious.
Another particular aspect of the game which has been altered is the ammunition. In previous Dead Space games, every gun ran on its own form of ammo, which meant that you would more often than not find plentiful amounts of one kind of ammunition, and lesser amounts of others, which could limit the number of weapons you inevitably used. In the third game, there is one unanimous ammo crate which can be collected, and this refills every weapon in your possession.
One thing you will never need to worry about in that sense is ammo. For a great portion of the game every weapon will have an ammo count of well in excess of three figures, giving you more leverage to shoot with little concern. The same could be said for health packs as well, with a sizeable amount of medium packs being a frequent delicacy through a majority of the game which can consequentially keep you alive for longer periods.
On the subject of ammunition, your weapons have also changed considerably, and not just in the ways that EA has frequently mentioned in their presentations on the game. In DS3, you can only hold two weapons at any given time rather than four like with previous instalments. However, since you can upgrade your weapons to basically become two separate tools of destruction in one, this addendum is barely worth mentioning.
With regards to the construction of your weaponry, this is an incredible improvement from the previous games in the series because you have a lot more room to do what you want rather than to do what the game wants you to. As long as you have the minerals, you can develop a line gun with an attached carbine; an incendiary grenade launcher with a force gun/shotgun; or if you are a fan of the plasma cutter, place an additional plasma cutter beneath your original; the options are yours and they are as limited as your imagination. If you can think it (and you have the parts) you can most certainly build it.
One issue with the development of weaponry however is that it is not quite as easy as the DS3 demo made it out to be. Those who either watched the demo online or participated in it personally would have noticed how unbelievably easy it was to discover parts and pieces for your weapons. This is not the case in reality, with parts been secretly hidden across the environment, and if this is not enough, the difficulty is made more so by the fact that the parts and pieces are incredibly limited and may on occasion take an extraordinary long duration to eventually find the one blueprint you were after all along.
On top of this, you can basically choose the way you intend to fight throughout the game. With the expansion of more engineering equipment and additional militarised weaponry, you can either wage war with military hardware or go at it the way you would have in the previous two instalments. At the beginning of the game Isaac is handed an SMG to accompany is plasma cutter, and you may choose to disregard whichever weapon you do not wish to have in your arsenal later on in exchange for what you believe will be your primary weapon. Some people will feel safer with a cutting tool, and others may feel safer with roar firepower – it is ultimately up to the prerogative of the gamer.
In previous games in the franchise moreover, the titles were all about surviving the Necromorph outbreak, but in DS3, the game is basically all about guns, guns and more guns, and your general lust to conceive as many as possible. For gamers such as myself, you may have originally believed that you would own a fabulously powerful weapon come the end of Chapter Five, and have the capacity to kill Lucifer, Iblis or whatever name your anti-god chooses to go by without so much as a bead of sweat dribbling across your forehead. As with the paragraph before, this is unfortunately not the case, and delivers quite the negative blow. By the time you make your way to a bench for the sixth or so time and still do not have in your possession the necessary minerals or parts to complete your dream weapon, if you are anything like me you may begin to feel just a little bit hopeless.
In regards to the graphics on another note, well, what can I say? Graphically, DS3 is flawless, and captivates you visually with its stunning environments; in space, aboard cruisers or on the icy planet itself, DS3 is graphically perfect from the very beginning.
Enemies appear greasy, with what looks to be bodily liquid coating every inch of their gory bodies. Smoke rises out from the sides of ships as the room pressurises and reacts to the dull thuds of the internal processors. The silky soft snow on the planet’s surface crunches beneath your feet, and you watch as pieces of fluffy snow coat your entire armoured suit, with footprints left in your wake from where you have stepped. The gorgeous coloration of the flashing computers and technological devices draws you further into the futuristic environment. The faces of characters are marvellously in-depth and captures more facial movements than ever before. The explosions which take place are gorgeous to comprehend, and the rising sun makes the environment seem even spookier with the blood red sky looking down on you like a demonic figurehead.
However, on that note, occasionally, especially when on the planet Tau Volantis, the environments can seem a little too large. In space, the corridors are thin and you frequently have little room to manoeuvre, which causes your enemies to press down on you, punishing you every time you get caught in a corner with barbaric attacks. On the ice planet though, you are granted a terrific amount of room, and sometimes the biggest fear is not that of the creatures, but that of getting lost. The snow pounds across the screen, and coats everything in a beautiful white foam, which fails to scream ‘evil’ the way the depths of space does.
With such a large portion of space available to you, you will often spot enemies coming, and before they can bridge the gap between them and you, their cadavers are lying upon the ground from the punishment you bestowed upon them.
On the subject of killing, the co-op mode that has been attached to the game is incredibly fun. One player is able to draw attention away from the other, which allows them to then get in those crucial shots to take the monsters out. Weapons are able to be traded to other players by sending them blueprints of the amazing pieces of hardware that you have created, and you never need to worry about health or items within the game either. Additional upgrades to weaponry can allow a health pack used by one character to miraculously heal the other, at no expense, and different items from the bodies of the dead show up on player’s screens so that never is there a confrontation on who gets what.
Additionally, with a character by his side, Isaac becomes incredibly more loquacious, as he and Carter share in their wins and talk about what is happening around them. More often than not they bump heads due to their conflicting personalities; Isaac being a veteran of knowledge in regards to the monsters and being basically a scientific engineer; whereas Robert is a full-fledged marine who frequently believes that more militarised actions need to be taken to ensure mission success.
On another note, the co-op is not a permanent fixture, unlike Firefight mode in Halo 3 ODST, in which if one player decides to drop out of the game, it immediately comes to a head. In DS3, if a player is having trouble getting past an area for instance, another player can drop in, help them out, and then drop out, the original player continuing onwards unimpaired.
The drawback of playing co-operatively is that the terror of the game is lessened due to the garrulous nature of the characters, which inevitably drowns out the terrifying sounds and heightened music which plays throughout the game. On top of this, since you are no longer alone, you never feel as though you might spontaneously lose because you always have back up to accommodate you in every situation, with the game automatically adjusting to configure itself to the co-op style game play.
In conclusion, Dead Space 3 does indeed bring back much of what made the original games so popular, but at the expense of story and characterisation. On occasion, the game may feel as though Visceral entertainment is trying desperately to fit in as much as possible into the game, which will take anywhere between 12 to 18 hours to complete. However, even with this said, the intense action sequences, weapon medications and spooky atmospheric conditions will no doubt provide you with plenty of enjoyment.