There is a certain stigma surrounding sequels, not to mention trilogies. Sequels have an expectation to live up to their predecessor(s) and evolve without changing too much. Dead Space 3 is no stranger to the skepticism that surrounds these titles. With the addition of co-op, weapon crafting, and optional missions, some feared that Dead Space 3 was straying too far from its roots. While it may have grown beyond its humble survival-horror beginnings, Visceral has hit the mark with how to naturally evolve a series.
Is Dead Space 3 still a scary game? Yes and no. While the jumpy scares were ever-present, with Necromorphs bursting from hiding places when you least expect it, the game’s psychological scares that play with your mind have been dismembered. This is largely due to the story for the third entry being more proactive than reactive. The first two games placed you in ‘wrong place, wrong time’ situations in which you were simply trying to survive. Dead Space 3’s story, on the other hand, follows a mission to save mankind, rather than that simple story of one man’s survival. Isaac is not scared to die anymore, and he’s taken on quite an aggressive attitude in the process.
The psychological scares have been replaced with more terror through tension. There are countless extraordinarily tense moments throughout the game. There are the scripted moments like getting sucked into a vacuum without your helmet on and piloting a derelict vessel on a crash course to Tau Volantis, and the happenstance situations, like being stuck in a corner with no health and Feeders pouring in from every direction. You can rely on those tense moments constantly throughout the game, but don’t count on seeing hallucinations of Isaac’s dead girlfriend. Isaac pretty much purged his dementia by the end of the last game.
The story is arguably the biggest of the trilogy. From Isaac’s newly acquired ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude, to the deep and rich history of the Sovereign Colonies and Tau Volantis, to the expendable cast of characters that take part in the mission to Tau Volantis. The story is fairly straightforward but is not so cliche that I wasn’t satisfied once the credits rolled. On the contrary, I felt that the game was very naturally paced and had all the right beats in all the right place, however it is a very impersonal story about the bigger picture of the infection. This style of story works because focusing on Isaac’s internal mysteries would have felt redundant to the last two games and things have moved on to a much grander scale.
The game looks and feels like you would expect a Dead Space game to. The visuals have not taken much of a leap over Dead Space 2, which is not terribly surprising this late into the console generation, though slightly disappointing when looking at the graphical capabilities of a game like The Last of Us. Some of the lighting and textures have been improved, but most people will be hard pressed to notice significant graphical differences between Dead Space 2 and 3.
Veterans of Dead Space will be able to jump in without any sort of learning curve and new players will have no problem picking it up. The controls feel completely natural and the additional action elements that have been added do little to take away from the Dead Space feel. The rolling and crouching moves never need to be used. I played through the game twice while hardly ever using them myself.
The new enemies that have been added are hit and miss. The new Necromorphs are a great addition. The humanoid Wasters and Feeders add a more traditional zombie feel. Wasters will react unpredictably as you dismember them, with some sprouting tentacles from a severed pair of legs, and others that will continue to crawl towards you without a head or legs. Feeders have been locked underground for hundreds of years and come at you in hordes when they sense your presence. A couple of other new Necromorphs that make an appearance are a great supplement to the classic Slashers, Pukers, Lurkers and variety of returning favorites.
The other new enemies are the series’ first living human opposition. This is one addition to Dead Space 3 that fell flat. The Unitologist extremists are predictable cannon fodder that have the unfair ability to shoot you without any kind of hit detection on your part. I found numerous occasions in which I died with no prior warning because there is no feedback while being shot by the Unitologists’ assault rifles. I could stand there while their terrible AI fed round after round into me and my controller would not vibrate nor would Isaac react on screen until falling to a bloody mess on the ground. Fortunately, the areas with human enemies are few and far between so this is not something that is a game breaker, but rather ends up being a minor annoyance.
The new weapon crafting system can be a bit daunting and overwhelming when compared to the old method of upgrading your gear, but you can quickly become enraptured in playing with the vast variety of weapon combinations, especially as you progress through the game and pick up additional weapon parts and mods. The game provides a weapon crafting arena in the main menu where you can play with the customization and then take on a few Necromorphs to see what you like without affecting your story progress. Your inventory is then saved and the newly crafted weapon will be ready to go when you get back into the story.
In fact, your inventory is completely universal across an individual save file. Gone are the days of being stuck at a specific point due to poor planning. If you find yourself with terrible weapons and no medpacks, you can use chapter select to go to a previous section of the game, or hop into co-op, acquire additional items and weapons, and continue from the point that you were stuck at with all of your additional inventory intact which is very liberating.
When jumping into co-op I didn’t have to readjust to a lower level rig or to less powerful weapons. Whether hosting the game as Isaac or joining a friend’s game as Carver, I was met with my full inventory, weapons, and upgrades that I had acquired on that save file. The differences in co-op are minute, but do lend to an extremely fun experience that does not detract from the overall feel of the game. The enemies will attack you slightly differently and puzzle solutions will vary, which works to make one of the best online cooperative experiences in recent memory. I am not much of an online multiplayer kind of person, but I significantly enjoyed my time sharing the Dead Space experience with a friend, almost more so than just playing through the game solo.
Even with Dead Space 3’s minor faults such as the psychological, personal terror being nowhere in sight, the human enemies being a terribly executed addition, and the graphics not making a huge leap, the game is simply fun. If you are more focused on how psychologically scary the game is going to be over how much fun it is to play, you may want to knock a point or two off of the score. Additionally, if you weren’t a fan of the first two games, then Dead Space 3 isn’t going to change your mind about the series.
Otherwise it’s great fun to step back into Isaac’s rig for all of the dismembering, tense edge-of-your-seat moments, and jumpy scares, as well as teaming up in co-op, without many things detracting from the overall fun factor of the game. The solo campaign on normal difficulty ran me in excess of 15 hours and the co-op missions added a couple of hours onto that, so the variety of New Game + options for replayability will ensure that you’ll be dismembering Necromorph limbs for a long time. I have already put over 25 hours into the game and had a hard time putting it down to actually write this review. Now I can finally get back to it.