vermisean's Dead Space 3 (PlayStation 3) review

Microtransactions Versus Necromorphs

I was certain I was going to boycott Visceral Games’ Dead Space 3. I had followed development, read every article regarding the game, posted on numerous angry message boards, and played a seriously lackluster demo. In the end, my love for the series resolved to find me staring at the loading screen on my PS3, all of my previous anger dissipated.

The game is good! Has the relief set in yet?

By no means is DS3 a perfect game, but I can easily say that it held my attention nearly the whole way through, aside from a little bit of backtracking near the end.

The old formula of dismembering enemies to kill them still exists, as does the feeling of isolation that we so crave as fans of the series. The game does have a more action-oriented focus than the previous Dead Space games, but not enough to take away from the great atmosphere that has been so expertly crafted.

Dead Space 3 finds Isaac Clarke hiding from EarthGov on the New Horizons Lunar Colony following the events of DS2. Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver locate Isaac for Ellie Langford (Who has gotten a new eye since the last game – good ol’ sci-fi medicine!) and recruit him to help on a mission regarding the Markers. Isaac is, of course, hesitant until Ellie is mentioned, and finally agrees to go. At the same time, Jacob Danik, the leader of the Inner Circle of Unitology, attacks the colony, hoping to find Isaac and kill him.

Danik activates a Red Marker on the colony, and Isaac escapes with his two new companions to a flotilla above Tau Volantis, a planet that Ellie believes holds the key to solving the Necromorph invasion.

The first six or seven hours of the game find Isaac in space above Tau Volantis, boarding and exploring the ruins of spacecraft and evoking the atmosphere of the first DS game before landing on the planet and attempting to solve the infestation.

Dead Space 3 looks beautiful. The previous games have always had great graphical style but DS3 definitely took it and ran. Debris and ship parts floating in space look amazing, and the amount of detail in the sky-boxes and distance of each scene is staggering. The characters are all animated well, and the necromorphs look as gruesome as ever.

The atmosphere of previous Dead Space titles has always been incredible and DS3 is no exception. The feeling of dread and despair is in full force here, due in particular, to the fantastic sound of the game. The necromorphs have brutal growls and disgusting belches, and when a swarm is attacking Isaac, the music grows to a frightening cacophony. Sound is an integral part to a horror title and DS3 knows this.

Weapon crafting has been introduced and despite my initial concerns, I actually grew to quite like it. This time around, Isaac can only carry two weapons rather than four, but the crafting allows for weapons with two functions, like, for example, a line gun combined with a rocket launcher (Is that not badass?). The customization of each weapon is done by approaching a Bench (essentially a fancy, sci-fi work bench), choosing a frame (one-handed or two-handed – no dual wielding though! Bummer!), adding a tool to the top and/or bottom, and modifying the tip of the tool for different effects. The weapon can then be outfitted with circuits, which allow stat increases to clip size, damage, reload, and rate of fire. You can finally make that ripper/flame thrower you have always dreamed of.

Throughout the game, resources to build weapon parts and upgrade your RIG (upgrades are permanent and not suit-based) can be found in the environments. Optional missions unlock as you progress and these hold tons of goodies for weapon- and item-crafting.

One of my main issues with the game arises in these optional missions. I found that by the last few I had seen many of the same areas and game assets re-used, as in copy-and-pasted directly from previous missions. If a little more polish would have been applied, these could have really shined. There are also co-op optional missions in which we get to see some of John Carver’s character plots explored, and these actually added a lot to the story.

Collectibles abound in Dead Space 3, and the game is truly a completionist’s dream (or nightmare). Several different types of artifacts, as well as weapon parts, text and video logs, and circuits can be found in each mission. All of the collectibles are neatly organized in a start menu option “Progress and Unlockables” for players to browse as they wish and see how many of each item they have missed.

Dead Space 3 struggles near the end with somewhat frustrating backtracking and strange design decisions involving a bizarre flying mechanic. I began to find the swarms of enemies a bit annoying on the final stretch, but the variation in enemy types combated this issue.

One awkward problem that arose from the inclusion of co-op was that in solo play, John Carver would appear in cutscenes and areas that made no sense for him to have gotten to before Isaac. I was glad to see that in solo play there is no AI partner to follow you around and use all of your items (Thanks Resident Evil 5!), but I would’ve preferred if the cinematics addressed Carver’s apparent teleportation abilities, or at least added him coming behind Isaac rather than appearing before him.

Despite some pitfalls, the game feels right – Isaac feels weighty and his weapons carry a significant heaviness to them as well. His new combat roll lands with a thud and was actually very useful when fast enemies approached too quickly.

The story was enjoyable, though a little thin at points. It wrapped up some questions, though created some more – I think we will be seeing a Dead Space 4 in the next couple years, perhaps even from a different character’s viewpoint a la Dead Space Extraction – I would like to see what is happening on other planets while the events of Tau Volantis are occurring, or even something from a Unitologist perspective as in the mobile game.

There is a lot of bad press surrounding Dead Space 3. One of the major players against the title is certainly the “nickel and diming” of Electronic Arts in regards to the game. DS3 offers players micro-transactions to purchase in-game currency (known as resources) with real-world money. This, thankfully, can be completely avoided by simply playing the game. By the halfway point, I had amassed incredible riches without paying a cent (aside from the $60 the game is valued at). Another important point to make is that some of the DLC can be purchased with “ration seals”, which are found in-game through the use of scavenger bots.

One of the other reasons DS3 has players skeptical is the action-oriented trailers and the inclusion of co-op play. I can gladly say that the game maintains the creepiness and isolation of the first two titles in the series, and the co-op play can be entirely avoided – though that isn’t to say it should be.

The only-online co-op (No local split-screen, folks!) actually adds an element of replayability to DS3. It offers players the chance to see the game from another perspective and allows trading of items and custom weapon blueprints. I encourage people to beat the game once solo before attempting the co-op to get the full experience, and I do recommend people try it – The co-op is too well done to ignore.

Even with some of the problems I had with DS3, I still had a really good time playing it. While it isn’t as incredible as DS or DS2 it is still very worthy of your hard-earned dollars to see some more of the roughly 20-hour story through. I recommend this game to anyone who has enjoyed the previous games, though with the caveat that it isn’t quite as good as either of the main entries in the series. Story DLC is planned for release later this month and I look forward to seeing what Visceral brings to us in that. More necromorphs is always a good thing to me.

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