By Rorie 61 Comments
Dead Space 3 was nominated on our "most disappointing games of the year" list, so I thought I might take a moment to think back on a game that I actually found shockingly solid, despite my initial trepidation about it. I personally would venture that DS3 was one of my favorite surprises of the year, especially coming after my largely negative experience with Dead Space 2 (which threw game-breakingly powerful items at you at the start of the game, for free, if you got the game of the year edition on Steam) and the fairly worrying announcements that were made about Dead Space 3 leading up to its release.
The biggest, reddest flag for me about Dead Space 3 was the announcement that the whole game could be played in both co-op or singleplayer modes. I was very prepared to simply write off the game entirely at that point, as most games that feature combined co-op and single-player campaigns do so very poorly, with the possible exception of action RPGs like the Diablo games. I've never particularly been all that interested in playing co-op games, so my experiences with stuff like Borderlands have largely come via playing their single-player campaigns.
Action games like Borderlands or Diablo can scale themselves up for multiple players fairly easily, of course, so creating something that works in both modes has never been particularly tough for them. Dead Space has never leant itself well to that style of run-and-gun gameplay. It's a horror game, set in tight corridors, focusing on slow exploration, picking up audio logs, reading journals, and occasional bursts of intense action rather than running and gunning. I didn't see how they could make it work as a co-op game.
EA made a lot of promises to skeptics like me before the game came out, claiming that the co-op integration was going to be seamless and that its development wouldn't affect the single-player campaign, and so on. I loved Resident Evil 4 more than anything else on the GameCube, and got only a couple of hours into Resident Evil 5 before my AI teammate frustrated me so much that I simply gave up, so naturally I was less than ready to believe everything they said. There was plenty of forum chatter going around about their open desire to appeal to new players, the inclusion of an action-roll button that was straight out of Gears of War, having more characters appear, having Isaac speak more than he ever had before, and so on.
When I'm skeptical about something, usually this industry does its best to realize my worst fears, so kudos to EA: virtually none of my worries were actually borne out in the game.
The biggest of these was, as mentioned, the influence of co-op play on the single-player game. I played through the entire game in single-player mode, and was almost never struck with the idea that it was intended or even designed for co-op play. There were some small exceptions, of course; some of the door-unlocking puzzles seemed likely to have been designed for two players, and near the end of the game you start running across the co-op character more often, but it largely felt unchanged from the series' roots in a "one dude exploring creepy places" kind of vibe.
Maybe that meant the co-op felt tacked-on; I played about an hour of it and it felt acceptable. Either way, I'd much prefer to have co-op feel bad than have single-player suck, and most of my experiences in the past have either come with the latter experiences or strictly separate co-op/SP experiences (e.g. Portal 2) than with games that have tried to convert themselves from a single-player franchise to one that includes a bolted-on co-op option. Dead Space 3 threaded the needle in a way that was basically undetectable to me as a primarily single-player person, and Visceral deserves a lot of credit for that.
A lot of the other complaints wound up being relatively minor. I don't remember ever using the combat roll thing, so that wasn't a big deal. I was never harassed by any kind of microtransaction or DLC prompt that I can recall, so those never bothered me at all, either. (Nothing seemed unbalanced about the game without spending extra cash on it, in other words.) The pacing and progression of the gun creation stuff felt fine, and the crafting system wound up leading to some interesting (if overpowered) gun possibilities.
Even the notion of Isaac Clarke and his Merry Gang wound up not affecting the ebb and flow of the creepiness too much. Yes, it was a little weird seeing Isaac interact with real humans in the flesh as often as he did, especially for someone who began the series as a silent protagonist, but you still spent the vast bulk of your time crawling through corridors alone, and it allowed for some great setpieces like the shuttle crash. And they avoided throwing in any escort missions, which alone forces me to give the developers some kudos.
I can't speak as to anyone else's experience with the game; maybe it was a massive letdown for people who care enough about the series to have read the novels and watched the anime, etc. Speaking as someone who liked Dead Space 1 and was let down by the GOTY edition of Dead Space 2 just because of balance issues, though, DS3 was a fine capper to the series and a heck of a good time even as an isolated experience. Having not read any reviews of it (and having not listened to the podcast discussion about it), I don't know why it would be in the running for our most disappointing game of the year, but hey: for what it's worth I really enjoyed it. It'd be a shame if there won't be any more of them.