Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Video game review: It’s scary how well Dead Space 3 follows up its predecessors
As a sum of its parts, it may be the most solid entry in the series.
Note: This review is based primarily on the single-player experience in Dead Space 3. While the entirety of the game can be played in co-op, that’s not how I experienced the story this first time around.
The original Dead Space out Resident Evil’d the newer Resident Evils. It was scary, the story was interesting, the atmosphere was perfectly creepy, and most of all it was a joy to play. Easily one of the best survival horror games of this generation of consoles.
The sequel, while not as scary and a bit more action-focused, was still pretty amazing. The environments were new and often more epic in scope, the story delved deeper in to the not-Scientology antagonistic, fictitious (and super creepy) Unitology religion, and making the formerly silent protagonist Isaac Clarke speak wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be.
Pre-release marketing hasn’t done Dead Space 3 many favors. By drumming up the idea of more action, human enemies, more guns, a co-op mode, and more, they’ve made many big Dead Space fans (myself included) yawn at the idea of a third game. In truth, I almost forgot it was coming out until its release was right around the corner, even though I remained cautiously optimistic about it after E3.
I shouldn’t have underestimated Visceral Games. I should have trusted that they knew what they were doing with their acclaimed franchise. Because let me tell you: Dead Space 3 is a pretty freakin’ great game, well-deserving of its name. Yes, there is a little more action here and maybe fewer scares, but the experience that’s delivered is still top-notch.
Like its predecessors, Dead Space 3 is a survival-horror/3rd person shooter set in a sci-fi future. Your primary enemies, necromorphs, are reanimated and mutated corpses, which will pursue you relentlessly even as you cut them to bits. Unlike your typical zombie/video game far, you don’t actually want to shoot these enemies in the head – they’re going to keep coming at you with or without that bit of their body. The key to success, then, is “strategic dismemberment” – cutting off the limbs of the monsters does more damage than anything else (and as a word of advice, cutting off the legs first tends to be a viable strategy for slowing them way down).
Even though this game is much more action-heavy than the original Dead Space, and even though there are quite a few high-octane set pieces, this is not really a game about running and gunning. Your default speed is walking, and it often behooves you to take things slow. Besides, that’s the best way to soak in the atmosphere, which is appropriately creepy and unsettling.
The primary new addition to Dead Space 3 is co-op, with which you can invite a friend to join in the action as a new character, Carver, at any time. I barely had a chance to touch co-op myself before writing this review, so while I can’t speak to the entire cooperative experience, I will say this: I very rarely felt the need to have a partner with me.
The developers have actually done a great job of separating the solo and co-op experiences, even though you can switch between them at any moment. While playing alone (as I think survival horror games are best played) I never felt like there was supposed to be someone else there. There is thankfully no computer-controlled partner with you every second (looking at you, Resident Evil 6), which helped me feel isolated and alone – exactly what I wanted from my first experience through the game.
There are a few co-op exclusive missions that require a second player, and it’s a shame that certain weapon parts and collectibles are hidden behind such doors, but I fully intend to play through the game again with a buddy anyway, so in my case it’s not the end of the world.
Speaking of weapon parts, another addition is the ability to craft new weapons (including variations on classic Dead Space weapons) by collecting parts and/or constructing them from pieces you collect from enemies. While this is an interesting system that I’ll probably mess with a lot more in subsequent playthroughs, it’s not something I touched too much the first time around. I stuck with my trusty Plasma Cutter through the entire game, though I did upgrade it quite a bit with pieces I found lying around.
There’s been a lot of worry (which, in my opinion, is fair) about the existence of microtransations in the game, letting you pay real money to obtain new weapons and more resources, a la all those horrible iPhone games that people keep playing. Thankfully, I don’t think you need to worry about that at all. I never once felt like I needed anything that’s being offered to buy, and regardless, you can buy those some items with an in-game currency, Ration Seals, that you collect from Scavenger Bots throughout the campaign. So I don’t think microtransations, gross as they appear, are that big of a deal.
Another major worry was that much of the game would be spent fighting human enemies as opposed to necromorphs, as that seemed to be a focus of the game’s first E3 demo. Encounters with human enemies, thankfully, are few and far between. I say “thankfully” because they’re not nearly as exciting as fighting necromorphs. In fact, if the entire game was based around these enemies, I’m not sure I would have been compelled to finish it. The Unitology-brainwashed human soldiers are an interesting enemy from a narrative standpoint, but there’s not really anything compelling about fighting them from a gameplay point of view. Still, these encounters aren’t really frustrating or broken, they’re just not as exciting as the rest of the game.
For those new to the series, there’s a “Previously on Dead Space” video that can get you up to speed before this new one starts, but I would recommend playing the original two games anyway. Both of them hold up extremely well.
Dead Space 3 is a bit long (some will probably argue it might be too long), especially if you complete all of the optional side objectives, but it makes good use of your time. It’s a testament to the game’s quality that as soon as I finished the journey, I wanted to jump back in and do it again, especially since you unlock new modes, including the fully-expected New Game + as well as a Classic mode (solo-only, more like the original), Survival mode (enemies don’t drop health or ammo, meaning you have to make everything yourself), and a hardcore mode that must be completed without dying.
At the end of the day, I think Dead Space 3 absolutely stands up to the other games in the series. It may not have all the same scares as the original, and I may prefer Dead Space 2′s story beats overall (and I think certain environments were more memorable than this game’s icy planet), but I’m very happy with the series’ third entry, and am ready to play it another time. As a sum of its parts, it may be the most solid entry in the series yet.