Man, Dead Space 3 sure does have a great HUD. It’s arguably the greatest HUD in the business. Sleek, efficient, unobtrusive and very easy on the eyes. Problem is, it’s exactly the same as in the first Dead Space. While it may seem somewhat harsh to criticise a developer for nailing it on the first attempt, it nonetheless means that by the third iteration, it’s something you naturally take for granted. You expect it. It’s no longer a big deal. And that’s the primary problem with Dead Space 3. No, not the inclusion of a co-op partner, but the sense that everything that is great about Dead Space 3 has already been seen in its largely superior predecessors.
Let’s deal with the big issue first though; the co-op. Is it a game breaker? Does it ruin the atmosphere? Well, yes and no. While a few clever narrative twists, some mind bending mechanic and, perhaps most importantly, the option to play the game largely on your lonesome does keep it from falling into the same trap that ensnared Resident Evil’s more recent iterations, its inclusion has still seen a rather exponential rise in the number of enemies that you face off against. Now, Dead Space has never been afraid of throwing its fair share of Necromorphs your way, but unlike in the case of the first two games in which the experience was all about ammo conservation and picking your fights carefully, now it’s more about dodge rolls, cover mechanics and sadly, human opponents. Sigh.
Yes, Dead Space 3 has you picking off human opponents via headshots from behind cover and yes, it’s not all that exciting. That’s not to say it’s bad though. In fact, I don’t think you could call anything about Dead Space 3 ‘bad’, just, hmmm, what’s the right word? Underwhelming. Yeah, that’s about right. Despite solid mechanics a handful of decent jump scares and some genuinely impressive art design and visual effects, Dead Space 3 never quite grabs you like the first two in the series. A lot of this is down to indecision – does it want to be horror? Does it want to be an action game? Should it be subtle and sinister or brash and overtly loud? Dead Space 3 wants to be all of these things, and the problem is; it kinda succeeds.
In fairness, all that cover based military shooter stuff doesn’t last all that long with the initial Blade Runner inspired colony world and its array of angry Unitologists giving way to the more traditional and certainly more enjoyable, Necromorph threat, but even here, it feels like the game is treading all too familiar ground. Another derelict spaceship has to be traversed with another vast array of technical faults for universal handyman Isaac Clarke to get fixing. Yes, this means that, despite fears over the inclusion of co-op play, the snow world setting and human enemies, a vast amount of Dead Space 3’s more than ample play time is made up of classic Dead Space gameplay, and that, ladies and gentleman, is a double edged sword.
Instead of expanding upon the core Dead Space experience and attempting to push the concept in a new direction, Visceral have instead taken the basic Dead Space template and thrown on a few additional extras to help pad out the experience. Again, despite all the negativity, I would like to stress that this is not necessarily a bad thing – Dead Space has always been great and the third release is largely no different, but by this point, I was kind of hoping for a reinvention of the wheel rather than a shiny new set of rims. What is here is good, it’s just that, snow and humans aside, I feel like I’ve seen it all before.
By continuing its fine tradition of ripping off famed horror and sci-fi franchises, Dead Space 3, what with Isaac being dragged back into combat by a bunch of military types ala ‘Aliens’ to battle upon a snow covered planet with alien life forms that mutate humans ala ‘The Thing’, does have the air of a series perhaps running out of creative steam. It’s not Visceral’s fault of course, it’s just that, well, Dead Space is not the kind of universe that ever required a 3 game series, but hey, sales dictate sequels don’t they. The game is stretched too thin and despite the best efforts of its cast, with particular kudos going to the simultaneously inspiring and creepy head of Unitology, Jacob Danik, the universe is not as interesting or compelling enough to warrant a move onto the larger canvas provided here.
Let’s put this into perspective though – Dead Space 3 is still a very good game; it simply fails to deliver anything particularly new to the series, instead choosing to fall back on action game cliché and a bit of good ol’ co-op to differentiate itself from its forbears. For those happy to take on another slice of extremely familiar but still rather tasty Dead Space action, this third release in the series is actually rather easy to recommend. Despite never quite achieving the highs of the previous two releases, Dead Space 3 is nonetheless home to some fantastic set-pieces and, I guess unsurprisingly given its history, some of the very finest audio and visual design of the generation.
With a major improvement to facial animations and some outstanding weather effects, not to mention an even slicker transition between gameplay and cut-scenes, Dead Space 3 is the best looking game in the series and continues on its fine reputation for industry leading audio designs. The games’ scares are mitigated by the upsurge in moment to moment battle, but get a decent pair of headphones on and Dead Space 3 can still build up tension and atmosphere with the best of them.
The optional, drop in and out co-op too, while hardly revelatory and certainly having a clear effect on the pace, vibe and frequency of combat, certainly doesn’t ruin or overpower the traditional Dead Space experience. In fact, for the most part, it’s actually rather fun. Yes, the scares are lost despite Visceral’s best efforts, but at least the banter between John Carver and Isaac is decent and with each character prone to unique audio and visual experiences, does manage to add a psychological twist to the increased co-op narrative.
Despite the addition of human enemies, a co-op campaign, cover shooting and the new snow covered setting, this still feels every inch the Dead Space experience. The question is – is that a good thing? I for one, despite enjoying the majority of the campaign (it does begin to drag towards the end), was never drawn into the experience in the same way that I was with previous entries. Yes, the increased focus on combat did have something to do with that, but for the most part, it was simply a matter of diminishing returns. Dead Space 3 is a very solid action horror game but despite the additions, feels far too familiar for its own good. If there is to be a Dead Space 4, I fear a complete overhaul will be required.
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