''F*** This Planet.'' - John Carver, 2013.
The recurring comparisons between the Dead Space series and the Aliens franchise have fitted perfectly with one another. The original Dead Space, with its slow, plodding pacing packed within some incredible atmosphere, marred successfully with the original Alien movie. Dead Space 2 picked up things, including the pace, and expanded upon the variety and the amount of enemy encounters very much akin to the transition between Alien to Aliens. The series' hero was also propelled from a silent protagonist, characterised solely by his screams of terror and his mundane occupation as an engineer, into a much more confident and capable--while also somewhat unstable--Isaac Clarke. With Dead Space 3 I believe the comparison still stands, only I would perhaps link it closer to Alien: Resurrection moreso than Alien 3. Like Resurrection, Dead Space 3 is far from a bad game, but it is still a significant step down from its predecessors which are the kings of their respective genres and styles.
One thing you can't fault it for is trying something a little different, though. After trading in its Left4Dead-ish multiplayer offerings for a cooperative campaign, introducing side-missions packed within a significantly longer campaign, while also featuring a whole new crafting mechanic, Dead Space 3 already begins to look like a rather different game. However, it's because of the execution surrounding such changes as to what makes Dead Space 3 such an inferior game when put against its predecessors
The length is perhaps the biggest detractor. Whereas the first two games were tightly paced 6-8 hour runs, Dead Space 3 extends that average to a 15-20 hour skirmish. Where Dead Space 2 in particular was consistently introducing new environments, enemies, and set-pieces, Dead Space 3 often tends to linger a little too long in one particular aesthetic, all the while relying on the same couple of tropes from across the series -- tropes that are inflated enough to become downright tiresome. Yes, necromorphs jumping out of vents is old hat and practically a staple of the series, but Dead Space 3 takes it such a pitiful extreme that it ends up making a sizeable portion of the game feel monotonous and dull.
Then there's the side missions, too. While there are some exceptions (more on that soon), the majority play out almost like dungeons out of an action-RPG. Most simply have you heading through environments that have already been repeated ad-nauseum, with little in the way of a narrative push, and will always end in what feels like endless wave combat that eventually rewards you with some supplies from a crate. They primarily act merely as unnecessary padding, and while the general combat is good in Dead Space and continues to be in Dead Space 3, I've never found that it suits repetitive wave combat quite as well as something like Gears of War for example.
Even without the side missions, though, the main game often forces you to do a surprising amount of backtracking. Which in itself I wouldn't consider a problem, so as long as there was something new to discover along the way. But unfortunately Dead Space is a series that is apparently outta tricks; far too much does it rely on simply rehashing the same sort of set-ups from previous games. Enter room; solve puzzle/locate key item; necromorph 'ambush' from vents. This notable retread also carries over into the necromorphs themselves. Whereas Dead Space 2 doubled the amount of different necromorph broods, Dead Space 3 introduces but only one truly new enemy, and that's left to the final few hours of the game. Even the standard fair are given little time to shine, and you'll spend a large majority of the game fighting against the same small handful of regular necromorphs, with but an occasional cameo from the other variants here and there.
However, with all that said, the crafting mechanic is here to weigh things up a little. Now instead of simply finding and/or buying new weapons, you find parts which you can piece together to create an all manner of weaponry. On the surface it's mostly all about combining the many primary/alt fires of the Dead Space armaments together into one, so you could have a line gun's primary fire combined with the a flamethrower. Which is actually what it is mostly all about, but there's also additional attachments that can increase the gun's stats, add a fire/electric/stasis elemental percentage with every shot, and there are some new toys you can manufacture in here that have never been seen in the series before. Plus there's also circuits that you add as well, which will increase your weapon's overall stats even further.
There's a great deal of customisation available, which then makes it all the more unfortunate that your combatants are often just the regular fodder enemies you've possibly already dealt with and now very much know how to deal with due to your experience from previous games. HINT: aim for the limbs. You can also now only carry two weapons at a time at that, which can discourage experimentation since you'll want to stick to the two if not the one gun you're comfortable with.
For an entire playthrough I mostly just stuck with an Assault Rifle w/ Rocket Launcher attachment, and a shotgun w/ a shockwave alt fire (veterans would recognise as the alt-fire from a Contact Beam). They're kinda generic and not especially creative, but they worked--exceptionally well even--and I was always hesitant to switch them out for that kooky flame-thrower cross ripper gun. Fortunately there's actually a mode that allows you to create your toys and then test them out with no consequences, but given the increase in weapon variety, it's a shame that the game has to constrict you to utilising just two at once. Especially given the increased action-focus of the game.
I guess it should be noted that Dead Space 3 is a really poor horror game, though there's always beeen a contention between fans about whether the first game was even that scary to begin with. Regardless of whether you considered the first to be a genuinely effective horror game or not, however, Dead Space 3 is unquestionably far and away from that style of Dead Spacin'. If the complete recycling of tired, old jump ''scares'' wasn't enough, supplies are plentiful even when compared to Dead Space 2. I started the game straight from Hard mode (in coop mind) and, besides nearing the end, I was never once short on ammunition nor healing supplies and it was actually somewhat irritating that the game thought to constantly keep dropping me more stuff when my inventory was already about to burst. Most of the musical themes you'll hear across the game compliment a more Christopher Nolan style of atmosphere than the sci-fi horror of old, and overall much like Dead Space 2 before it, Dead Space 3 is a horror game for people who typically don't enjoy horror games.
Of course that's also why cooperative play is an option. Unfortunately, while Visceral Games' attempts at offering both a classic, single-player Dead Space experience and a cooperative actioned-up experience is a welcome gesture, what it does in the process is inflict both with a notable oddity. That oddity being John Carver, supporting story character and second-player character for coop.
From both a single-player and cooperative perspective, John Carver feels out of place. When playing on your own, there'll be puzzles and panels that are very clearly set-up for a second player to stand there alongside you, and from a narrative perspective, Carver will seemingly appear at the strangest times out of the blue. However, when you're playing in coop, it's even more peculiar. Yes, Carver is now there at your side to help out with those puzzles and his random appearances are better justified. But he barely ever fits into the story; in fact for a lot of the game Carver will barely even speak, and in certain cutscenes there were times where Carver would quite literally just walk out of frame so as to not get in the way of what was clearly a cutscene designed for single-player.
Key moments happen all over the story where Carver won't utter a word, or where the supporting cast will thank Isaac--and only Isaac--for saving their lives despite Carver being there alongside the whole time. There was many a time during the game where the focus is so very clearly centred on Isaac throughout during certain set-pieces and simple QTE's, which makes it all the more awkward when the camera inevitably pans out at the end of it all to reveal that ''Oh yeah, Carver's here too you guys!''. Only until the very end does Carver suddenly start seriously taking an interest in what the Hell is going on, and that's only because he does the exact same thing in the single-player as a distant NPC. That is besides the cooperative-only side-missions, however.
Just about the most creative and engaging aspect of the entire game goes to Carver's little 'arc' during a trio of side-stories. Because Carver's completely new and fresh-faced when it comes to all of this necromorph-makin' Marker malarkey, he begins to hallucinate about his past (dead family; it's all very tragic..). The best part of it all, though, is how your partner doesn't see any of it. It can be rather hilarious to be wandering around the environments surrounded by creepy, life-sized nutcrackers and birthday presents and such, when all your partner sees is just another dank corridor filled with rust, grime and an inconspicuous amount of vents. You'll begin to hear voices, too -- and eventually Carver will go through a seizure where you quite literally control him battling his demons in his own sub-conscience. It's fantastic stuff and it's the sort of concept that isn't explored very often in cooperative gameplay. The only other such example that springs to mind would be the unique perspective of Lynch in Kane and Lynch: Dead Men.
For something so inventive and intriguing, it baffles me why they had to delegate such a concept to side-missions. To be quite frank, I think they should have switched the roles around altogether; have Carver as the leading character and centred the story on him fighting back the Marker's influence. Sure, it would basically be a retreading of Dead Space 2's narrative, but it'd be a Hell of a lot more engaging that what we got instead.
The Dead Space series has never flaunted its narrative front and centre, and that's exactly why it worked so well in the first two games. It offered a premise, an intriguing conspiracy, some backstory for those interested -- it surrounded itself with a lot of mystery. But for Dead Space 3 the narrative takes a hold and attempts to add some emotional oompth while also explaining pretty much everything you didn't want to know. Or at least not like this. So okay, the story's bad, but it's the limp attempts at creating some human drama that really flushes it all down the shitter.
The writing is downright appalling, and the character development makes these insane jumps between two characters suddenly hating each other to then loving one another without any logical reason. The occasional ''buddy cop banter'' between Carver and Isaac in particular has no rhyme or reason; Carver hates Isaac despite all of the Hell they go through together, because he's a 'tough military guy', but then at the very end when Carver suddenly adopts a more talkative personality, they're total bro's and are back-and-forthing with the best of them. OK, not the best, but they at least try.
The character of Ellie is also reduced to a boring shirt-full of cleavage as well who serves little but to be the catalyst of a completely unnecessary love-triangle sub-plot. Her new voice actress doesn't help, either, who delivers the rubbish writing with an equally tepid performance. The Australian accent also apparently had to be sacrificed amidst the transition, too. So there's that. The now complete badasserification of Isaac in particular just adds the icing to the cake, with all of his bravado and an utterly generic persona; it's hard to envision necromorphs as more than just household monsters when your character is so completely comfortable in slaughtering a path through them. Basically to put it short, consider this: I would go as far as to say that Resident Evil 6 done character interactions and emotions better than Dead Space 3.
Gosh, what else is there that I can rag on about? Y'know what, no. I believe I've already invested enough words into whining about Dead Space 3. Why? Because despite all of my complaints, I still had a fun time with the game -- more or less. The gameplay is still as tightly tuned as it ever was, even if Dead Space 3 may go down in history for having one of the most useless evasive roles -- full stop. The shooting still features that same satisfying amount of impact, thanks in part to the superb sound effects across the board. The lighting and the graphics in general are also fantastic, and Dead Space 3 is without a doubt one of the best looking multi-platform games you can find on current-gen consoles. Plus, for a game to look as good as Dead Space 3 while still keeping a perfectly consistent 30fps in 2013? Now that deserves the highest of praise as far as I'm concerned.
A relatively serviceable Dead Space game does a pretty good action game it still make. My three star score is completely in earnest and there are elements of Dead Space 3 that could have easily elevated it to four if there weren't so many caveats to contend with. It's unfortunate that the parts the game truly gets right are what was the bare minimum of the first two games, but the bare minimum was still enough for me to already put well over 20 hours into this thing already with more on their way. And that's more than I can say for many other games out there.