The half-eviscerated zombie of first-person shooters
We’ll add rappelling down the side of a frozen cliff to the list of non-undead-killing things we didn’t expect.
Perhaps if poor Isaac Clarke had been able to switch parts with the late Isaac Hayes, Dead Space 3 might have been a bit less boring. At this point, we’d gladly throw in a few Chef-like wisecracks just to liven up the game a tad—might as well rename this one “Dull Space 3.”
We’re exaggerating a little bit, but not much. The main problem with this third incarnation in the popular, “What the heck is that? Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!” series is that the game lacks gravitas. And if you’ll allow this review to get personal for a moment, it’s just not all that scary—and that’s saying something, as we generally hate those pop-out “gotcha” moments in movies, games, and zombie-inspired television shows.
Perhaps Dead Space has progressed beyond its horror-genre roots; or perhaps developer Visceral Games just hasn’t done enough to shock and awe gamers beyond what’s now become the Dead Space formula. If you’ve been sleeping with the lights on since the original Dead Space’s 2008 release, let’s play a quick game of catch-up.
Dead Space stars you, the poor (former) systems engineer Isaac Clarke, who just can’t get a break from dealing with the aftereffects of humanity’s greed. That comes mainly in the form of humankind’s obsession with devices called Markers—otherworldly gadgets that provide limitless resources and energy with the not-so-subtle side effect of reanimating corpses in all sorts of grotesque and violent ways.
You, the star of the show and Marker-creator-and-destroyer extraordinaire, get conscripted into a (arguably) suicidal mission to find your researcher ex-girlfriend and then Indiana Jones your way to some deus ex machina device that can conceivably turn off every Marker forevermore.
The fundamental issue that bugs us about Dead Space 3 is that we can’t quite tell if it’s supposed to be a scary game or an action shooter—no, splitting the difference isn’t allowed. We recall the original Dead Space being quite freaky and full of unpleasant, chilling moments, the kind of game that you don’t really want to play with headphones on and lights off if you’re the squeamish sort (think Doom 3 effect).
Although the baddies—mostly the Necromorphs—obviously come in a few new varieties in Dead Space 3, there’s just nothing that really stands out to us as being particularly creepy about the game. Part of it is the fact that, by now, you kind of get what’s going on in the series: Gross things will likely jump out at you and you’ll already be primed to blow their limbs clean off. Only, not that much even really jumps out at you. Or rather, it’s done in so expected a fashion as to render the entire scare factor relatively moot—like when one walks around a made-for-Halloween haunted house with a flashlight.
You’ll swear you were playing Star Wars: The Old Republic for a moment in one of the mini games.
If anything, the scariest part of Dead Space 3 ties directly into its action elements, or lack thereof. Your primary enemy in the game isn’t the undead, or the (silly) human factions that worship the undead and want to stop you. You’ll be far more afraid of running low on ammunition than anything else Dead Space 3 has to offer if you’re playing the game on anything beyond its normal difficulty. And if you’re indeed going with the normal Dead Space 3 experience (and you’ve ever played a first-person shooter before), you’ll find that the game’s ample resource drops make it a bit of a walk in the park.
On hard difficulty (or worse), the game is more an exercise in resource management and precision shooting than a fun, undead-killing romp through space. It’s the tried-and-true Dead Space formula of “insta-death boxing matches,” game reloading, and a newfound joy of running for your life—a motif that’s fun when it’s done well, or done for the first time, but one that’s starting to show its age at this point in the series. On normal difficulty, however, you might as well be a walking crucifix in a vampire retirement home—you’ll emerge from your galactic adventures unscathed and unscared.
To Visceral’s credit, Dead Space 3 is infused with a few fun elements that take it beyond your typical “stuck on a map; where’s the end?” FPS questing. The game’s occasional use of quick time events and so-so logic puzzles provide a wholesome reprieve from all the limb-scattering shooting. Although a good chunk of the game makes you feel like you’re taking an exclusive tour of the set for the film Event Horizon, we especially enjoyed flying around in zero-gravity for a few missions. The game’s effective use of transportation does a great job of tying expansive (and occasionally disparate) environments together—so much so, that we’ll forgive Visceral for employing the Mass Effect–style “use elevators as cover for level load times” trick.
Dead Space 3 guns: It’s Weapons Barbie for gamers.
Dead Space 3’s other big sell—weapon customization—provides a fun excuse for those looking to combine creativity with killing. The game takes a while to get resource generation up to speed, especially on the harder difficulties, but we do love the ability to change up our shooting style with a whole assortment of fun modifications. That said, the interface for the weapon modifications bench can be a little clunky, and it’s tricky to tell just what it is your modification is ultimately going to do to your weapon—and just how badass a large suite of changes might be over others.
And, of course, there’s the fear factor—namely, once Dead Space 3 allows you to concoct weapons with terrifyingly destructive capabilities, blowing limbs off baddies just isn’t all that fearsome of a prospect anymore.
We didn’t get a chance to check out the game’s co-op mode, due to a lack of Dead Space 3 enthusiasm among our friends. But don’t worry too much about that. Dead Space 3 is a good enough of a romp with plenty of content that it’s worth spending a few days’ worth of time blasting your way through all sorts of yucky monsters on the single-player side. Just wait for this one to hit the bargain bin (or Origin sale), lest you find yourself bored with some of the more uninspired parts of Necromorph-land.