"Dead Space 3" Starts & Ends with a Whimper & Not With a Bang Review

Dead Space has always understood the concept of a memorable opening.  The first with the helplessness of watching your crewmates die before fleeing for your own life.  The second with a psych ward descending into chaos while Isaac is bound in a strait-jacket.  Maybe that's why I should've been more worried when Dead Space 3 opens with such a whimper.

The opening displays the general problem with Dead Space 3.  The plot and writing is just horrid.  I'm lost in where to begin with how poorly told the narrative is.  I loathed when Isaac's helmet came off, because it meant I had to hear people speak.  Every character is forgettable.  Every decision they make is senseless.  Every word they utter is juvenile.  There is not a likable person in this game.

One scene in particular is was when Isaac meets back up with his new generic pals. His ex-girlfriend Ellie is excited to see him and rushes over to hug him while the new boyfriend- who happens to be commander of the mission- rolls his eyes behind her. Clichéd jock boyfriend voices his concern over Ellie being too happy to see Isaac. Wow, really Dead Space?  After fighting for life at every turn with evil face-eating monsters surrounding them on a sub-zero wasteland of a planet and barely surviving a crash, we’re having this tired conversation that all love triangles just have to have?

Yes, a love triangle is the most involving character arc in a game that had previously been questioning the main characters sanity. Where's the blurb on the back of the box warning players that Isaac is about to tackle the worse thing he's ever been up against? "Look out, because in Dead Space 3, Isaac has girlfriend problems!" That's got to be scarier than a mountain sized necromorph trying to eat him whole. I would normally say that I'd be spoiling by saying this, but does it come as a surprise that this personal melodrama causes the generic captain to leave Isaac stranded when the two are left alone together?

I'm not going to say that the first two were winners in this regard but the first game worked because information was given in sparse moments but never fully explained.  It didn't matter; all that mattered was surviving the ship and the creatures that hunted you.  Dead Space 3 seems keen on answering all those lingering questions.  As is the case with most mysteries, once there's an explanation, so is what made it interesting.  The Church of Unitology gets more focus, being represented by a brand new character with terrible fashion choices.  While this might seem to be the main point of the story, the arc disappears from the game after the first hour and only comes back in the last portion of the game.  Narratively speaking, this game has no reason to exist.

This is a game, though, right?  If you wanted a compelling narrative, read a book.  I play games for fun.  I don't care as long as Dead Space 3 is fun.  Well, the gameplay does fare better, but not by much.  Playing is still fun overall and is well made.  Encounters are heavily populated and they consistently attack from every side to force constant awareness of the surroundings.  Biggest problem is that there are sequences early on and late in the game were you're battling human characters that shoot back.  There's a cover system and it's terrible. Thankfully, it's not used much.  This didn't stop the developers from having one of the short segments be the first chapter of the game though.

Yet, it doesn't shake the feeling that something is off.  It took a good portion of the game until I realized that the terror was gone.  I was just going through the paces.  There's rarely the introduction of a new necromoprh, a big difference from the new and disturbing creatures that were in the sequel.  I'll never forget the introduction of the raptor-esque creatures the first time their heads peaked around a corner.  Now it's just same old same old.  The same boss is repeated three times!  Side missions end up using the exact same rooms in the same order!  It's just lazy.  There's no new tricks, no new tactics.  Whenever a necromorph shows up there should be a voice-over like in an old sitcom.  "Look out Isaac; it's the one that regenerates! Remember how much you hate that one?"  By the time something new finally comes along, it's too little too late.

Everything you need in the game is governed by resources. At first, there's not much to go around and there's a quality to feeling strapped for decisions. Is it worth creating an upgrade chip for a gun or should that be used to increase your air supply? Then you find the scavenger bot and that all goes away. A single bot hands out an abundance of resources on its own, just wait until three of those little trinkets are working together. Should you want to build new weapons from scraps, it's never about sacrifice. It's only about patience to wait for the bots to return with the goods. Where's the suspense in resource management when you just have to wait ten minutes for your robots to return from the store with candy? 

The one that has gotten the most press is the new combination system.  Isaac can access benches to combine two different weapon types together with other enhancements like causing more explosive damaged or adding caustic acid to each shot.  Finding the right crazy combination that hit the perfect sweet spot for me had me fiddling for hours.  It's an excellent system that is easy to use.

There is also a new co-op mode that's been heavily advertised.  I would like to comment on it, but seeing as EA hid it behind an online-code pay wall, I was unable to access it.  My thought on EA’s current stance on forcing players to pay additional money for access to their full game is negative but doesn't belong in this review.

I'm coming off as extremely negative.  A lot of this game really hit the mark for my taste but one thing that managed to really entice me was the look.  I love the visual design of this series, it's so amazing.  The best visuals are the quiet ones.  Isaac floating alone in a quiet yet sinister space junkyard, the green slots of his visor providing little light as a door slowly opens into a pitch black abyss of a room.  No set pieces or boss encounters come close to ever topping these serene moments.  They tell a better story than any word uttered.  If Dead Space 3 may be remembered for anything, this would be it.  It's a gorgeous game.

Some have speculated that this is what happens when a horror game makes the transition to action, but that isn't entirely true.  Dead Space 3 represents what happens when a game franchise becomes too popular and needs to meet a yearly quota.  It's rushed in the way that keeps new and fresh ideas out.  Every piece is slapped together in a way that works just well enough, but not what works best.  The finished product is mediocre at best and boring at worst.  When the terror of space aliens is replaced with the most clichéd of love triangles, there's no reason to remain interested in anyone's survival.  Dead Space 3 is a meh action game.  Is it fun?  Yes, it's still fun to blast and stomp alien terrors.  Is it memorable?  Not in the slightest.

"Dead Space 3" is on sale February 5, 2013 and is not rated. Shooter. Developed by Visceral Games. Published by Electronic Arts.

Feb
28
2013

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