Many Dead Space fans feared that Dead Space 3 would mark an end to the series' blend of action horror. In pursuit of bigger sales, would EA ditch the horror elements in favor of delivering a balls-to-the-wall co-op shooter? However, as it turns out, the game didn't sacrifice horror for action. It fails at both.
If you've played the previous Dead Space games, DS3 will feel very familiar. Isaac Clarke is investigating a new Necromorph outbreak on the planet Tau Volantis and trying to find a way to stop these hideous creatures from overrunning the galaxy. In the process, he has to fight hordes of Necromorphs and solve the occasional puzzle. The Necromorphs themselves are sort of puzzles; they're highly resistant to chest shots so the player must figure out their weak points and dismember them.
This same formula worked better in the previous games. Four years after the first Dead Space, though, it's all feeling a little too familiar. Fighting against Necromorphs was once a messy, visceral and gratifying experience but these enemies haven't evolved enough to stay interesting. Shoot the limbs or their shiny spots and stomp them til they stop squirming. Furthermore, the Necromorphs have lost the ability to surprise. They still just pop out of vents and tunnels at random, groan a lot, and swarm you.
It's not just that the gameplay's starting to age. The execution just feels off here. There are just too few enemies in the game. Even in the later chapters of the game, you'll go extended periods of time without seeing a single enemy. It's not like these are tension-filled minutes, either - it's just you walking down a hallway and solving a few puzzles. The same types of puzzle are often repeated over and over, making the game feel like it's been padded out. The occasional fights against human Unitologists reduce the combat to that of a forgettable third-person shooter.
The scares are almost nonexistent. The game has a more epic feel, with more characters to interact with and bigger set pieces. You'll climb icy mountainsides and blast through space with jet boosters. The views are great but the game rarely has that claustrophobic, creepy feeling from the earlier games.
For some reason, Visceral decided to completely break the save system too. Instead of letting the player manually save wherever they want, they now have to rely on checkpoints. These checkpoints are sporadic and unreliable. On a few occasions, I had to replay sections of the game or re-craft weapons because the game doesn't clearly tell you where your last save is.
The new two-player co-op with Sergeant John Carver doesn't elevate the experience. If anything, it has the danger to make things even more dull. The usual trope of the series has been Isaac Clarke being sent on dangerous ends by his companions while they safely sit in a control room. Here, though, the player can be the one sitting on his ass. He can let his co-op partner take point and solve the puzzles or trigger the Necromorph ambushes. Even if both partners are putting in equal effort, the fundamentals are still poor. The poor combat and lack of scares aren't improved by simply having another player with you.
The game has occasional flashes of brilliance, though. There's a segment halfway through the game in which Carver and Isaac are trapped in a room with a massive industrial drill. The drill goes haywire, attracting a pack of Necromorphs. The two need to stop the drill while also fighting off the creatures. It's thrilling and scary whether you're alone or with a friend. It's too bad that more of the game isn't like this.
The other strong point is the new crafting system. Using various parts found throughout the world, players can build hybrid weapons with custom properties. For example, you can build a gun that fires lightning bolts or a spray of metal spikes? The crafting system lets you do it. The game even offers a standalone "arena" where you can freely build new weapons and save them for use in the campaign. While it's fun to build these inventive weapons, I wish there was a entertaining game to use them in.
The Dead Space series was once a smooth mix of action and horror but Dead Space 3 is lackluster on both fronts. Co-op didn't kill the game; it just failed to save it from poor execution and old ideas. This trilogy deserved a better end.
Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts