I originally wanted to title this "Dashing through the snow with a one-armed plasma cutter", but that was kinda long and silly. That, or "So long, space miner".
Dead Space 3 is a good game. It’s not as good as the first two, and has some questionable business practices with microtransactions, but it’s a fine game. A 3/5 stars, if you will. That’s a shame to me, as the first two are some of my favorite games this generation.
However, I was frankly disappointed with the enemy encounter design and handling of weapons in Dead Space 3. Dead Space 1 and 2 had huge varieties of enemies and tons of great weapons, allowing you to tackle enemies in numerous ways. In the first two games, you could carry 4 weapons, each with a specialized type of fire and use in combat. Weapons like the Line Gun, the pulse rifle, the Ripper, the Force Gun, and the quintessential Plasma Cutter made for exceptionally fun combat. Combined with the freakish horrors of the Necromorphs, Dead Space 1 and 2 crafted memorable experiences of creeping through derelict mining ships and blasting enemies in Zero-G.
For one thing, the enemy AI always seems to just barrel straight towards you faster than ever before, and with little variety in the enemy mix up. I think I saw the Pregnant twice in the whole game, along with the Divider and the Wheezer, of all enemies. Most encounters go as follows: Slashers, a Puker or two, maybe an Exploder, the little Swarmer guys occasionally, and the dead scientists, in various combos and amounts. That’s about it. It really felt like just a meat grinder of the same enemies, and same strategies to kill them, throughout the game. The human enemies aren't very good, and in my opinion do not belong in a Dead Space game.
In DS 1 & 2, the Leapers were more terrifying before due to their speed and agility. Now that almost every other enemy is faster, it removes some of the uniqueness and scariness from that particular enemy, reducing the tension of fights with it a little compared to before. The lack of mixing up enemies is also disappointing. It’s mostly just the regular Necromorphs and those dead scientists that morph depending on how their limbs are removed. That didn't freshen up combat like I’d hope they would, since you fall into a pattern of effectively dealing with them by taking off the head and two of the tentacles that sprout from the torso. By finding a strategy that worked, it was like reducing the enemy variety since that was the way I killed those enemies, causing them to respond the same way each time.
It’s not my job to create new combat scenarios for myself, that’s the game’s job.
Finally, I was most disappointed, and actually really sad about how the Stalker encounters play in Dead Space 3. In 2, the two sections they were in were high points for me and many people, because of their behavior. By not just running at you, by peeking around corners and scampering behind you, coupled with the fast and frantic charge left me shaken fighting them. They were unpredictable, and that scared me; it stands as a uniquely “Dead Space” moment for the franchise, and I was looking forward to the same high-tension scenarios in 3. However, in DS3, they just peek out from their boxes and charge in sequences. I think you fight them 3-4 times in DS3, and each time they would all run at me one after the other, with absolutely no pausing for effect, or scurrying off and letting me get lost in the maze trying to hunt them. Why do that when they literally throw themselves at me? It reduced the most terrifying enemy from Dead Space 2 into the blandest for me.
Now for the weapons. For the most part, I though the crafting system was fun and never required me to buy any microtransactions at all. However, I felt that the decision to limit players to 2 weapons and having universal ammo was a massive design flaw, and is my chief complaint with the game. I feel that it limits the player in how they approach combat, and removes some of the creativity by having fewer weapons and some of the tension that resulted from ammo management.
“…You only get two weapon slots this time but each weapon can have two sets of engine and tip combos. So effectively you have 4 weapons.”Dino Ignacio, UI Lead
But that’s untrue from my point of view. In Dead Space 3, the different alternative fires from guns in the previous games can also be we. So, comparing the two games, I was using the Plasma Cutter (Because it’s Dead Space and that’s the proper way to play) and a crafted Line Gun in Dead Space 3. So that’s 2 weapons in total, compared to the Plasma Cutter, Ripper, Javelin Gun and Contact Beam I was using in Dead Space 2, all with useful and fun alternate fire modes that complimented the weapons perfectly.
By that logic, I was using 8 weapons in the previous two games, and I really liked that ability to diversify and try new weapons without feeling like I got stuck with one I didn't like until I found another Bench. That happened to me several times in Dead Space 3, where I decided I needed to change up my load out, but was so far from a Bench or trapped that I was forced to use my crafted gun when I no longer found it fun to use. To me, that is a much bitterer pill to swallow than optional microtransactions or lack of environmental diversity.
Dead Space was always about giving the player fun, unique weapons to combat myriad types of enemies that actually required strategy to fight them. In Dead Space 3, the lack of weapon options and homogeneity of enemy types, behavior, and encounters were truly disappointing, and left me baffled as to how such wonderful gameplay, demonstrated to be fun and effective at inspiring horror in two previous games was watered down for the third. By reducing the amount of weapons to two, the game effectively cuts the number of tools you have to handle enemies in half compared to the previous games. It really feels like one step forward and two steps back by giving you so much choice in picking weapon combinations, but then letting you only use two at a time.
Despite the fact that it was fun to play, Dead Space 3 really was a disappointment to me. It never reaches the gameplay highs of 2 or the truly creepy atmosphere of 1, and instead feels like a weird mash of both that doesn't hold up, letting you shoot dudes with a shotgun and SMG like a standard TPS, but also trying to unnerve you with enemies and spooky locales that aren't all that scary in comparison to DS1 or 2. Maybe instead of trying to have its cake and eat it too, Isaac should just sit on it instead. After all, that’s at least an entertaining story.