Review: Who put Gears of War in my Dead Space 3?!
When I started playing Gears of Dead Space – er, I mean Dead Space 3 – I figured that the game would be more like the second iteration than the first. While the first game was eerie and had a truly haunting atmosphere, the second game favored action. Dead Space 2 was as scary as the original at times, though. I enjoyed the game quite a bit, and I thought to myself, wow, if they can split the difference between these two games, I’ll be delighted. Is that what they did? Nope, Chuck Testa.
First, it’s important to note that Dead Space 3 is functionally sound and is definitely a decent game mechanically, but it’s not what I wanted from Dead Space. Dead Space 3 plays more like Gears of War in the Dead Space universe. If that’s something you’re interested in, by all means, I welcome you to enjoy the game with all your heart. But for those of us who really wanted a scary game that made us feel like survivors, this may not be the game we were hoping for.
Dead Space 3 stars Isaac Clarke of the previous games. Once a lowly engineer, Isaac is apparently a soldier now. In the previous games, Isaac was tossed into hostile situations that would prove lethal for nearly anyone, but through the will to survive, ingenuity and a ton of good luck, Isaac lives. Really, he just barely survives. Oh, and it’s horrific, hence SURVIVAL HORROR. Yet in Dead Space 3, Isaac is recruited by a battalion to essentially be a soldier on a rescue mission. I was scratching my head a bit as this unfolded, and I suspect many will do the same.
To be fair, Isaac has nothing to lose anyway. His good gal is gone, his other gal may gone be too, and he’s behind on rent. And I’m not kidding about that last part. The game’s narrative escalates very quickly, tossing the over-stressed, gray-haired Issac into the mix. Isaac has nothing to lose, but as a player, it’s hard to feel like there’s much to gain as the beginning stumbles in its brisk sprint.
The first enemies you fight as Isaac are humans. Better yet, they’re militarized unitologists, which are like scientologists in space. I’m not certain why these religious fanatics are soldiers, but if Isaac the engineer can be a soldier, I suppose they can be, too. There’s even a cover button, making the game feel more like a cover shooter than monster game. The game makes no apologies in trading in your trade tools for a sub machine gun. I guess a spade really is a spade anyway, and these hostile Tom Cruisers need to stop jumping on the couch and get taken down a peg.
Necromorphs are the main attraction, though. They’re definitely still around, along with a new mix of undead space baddies. This time around, they’re much, much faster. They’re no longer scary so much as they are overwhelming. I suppose it can be kind of thrilling to have a bunch of speeding beasts chase you down when you’re reloading your plasma cutter, but it’s more often frustrating and disenchanting. The best part of being terrified is knowing you’re in trouble but not knowing where the trouble is coming from, and Dead Space 3 often misses that mark.
Before I get too far into dismantling the efforts of EA’s Visceral Studios, I will say that the gunplay is technically tight and responsive. Ripping off necromorph’s limbs is one of the few returns to glory that truly delivers. Exploring the vastly expanded gun system is mostly rewarding and fairly fresh. The first and secondary fire of each weapon feels unique, especially with the new weapon modding.
Dead Space 3 features a weapon creation system loosely akin Dead Rising; if the weapons are available, and you can imagine a sick combination, it can be made. Creating combinations like a line tool with a plasma cutter is not exactly advantageous, but feeling out smarter combinations is interesting and mostly enjoyable. Enhancing attachments also help the weapons to be more effective. Upgrading weapons is still done with nodes, but this time around, specific stats require specific nodes -- a surprisingly restrictive change for an otherwise open system.
The new creation weapon system is immersive and mostly well-executed, but not without its frustrations. The interface for upgrades takes some deep exploring to truly understand. Extra parts can be made with found materials, but without being able to deliberately harvest materials, it’s more often that players will stumble upon upgrades rather than work towards them. It also means that many players will likely hold on to resources and punish themselves, though I encourage experimentation, because the game will punish you far less. All in all, the system allows for a very customizable experience.
Oddly enough, ammo works on all weapons. Each weapon has its own conversion rate, but they all share the same ammunition, meaning that players won’t have to adapt to different ammo drops like in previous games. I suppose this is to serve the player and let them master their custom weapons of choice, but again, that really seems to detract from the survival aspect. Ammo is easy to come by, so long as the player stomps every corpse it drops. Essentially, the tension is gone. Even when ammo is low, carrying an upgraded weapon means shots rip through enemies anyhow.
As the story progresses, the game gets wackier and wackier. For all intents and purposes, the delivery is seamless with not even a single beat missed. It’s full throttle all the way, for better or worse. The narrative repeats certain themes seen throughout the series, including dementia, betrayal and Isaac Clarke being EA’s sad clown. While it’s meant to serve as a common, binding thread, the game’s story is often predictable when it’s not overly convoluted. And the repeated points may seem poetic and serve the theme, but sometimes it feels a bit like rehashing and beating bits over our heads.
Along Isaac’s journey, he is joined by John Carver. If you grab a buddy to experience the game with you online, they’ll take the role of Carver. This guy is a part of the group of soldiers that basically blackmail Isaac into helping them out. He’s largely unlikable, despite Visceral’s best efforts to explore his character beyond his archetype. He bullies Isaac around like someone may do to a rookie, despite ISAAC NOT ACTUALLY BEING A SOLDIER. But whatever, I guess he is now.
Carver experiences the story slightly differently than Isaac does. While he’s not really around all that much in the single player campaign, having him around for co-op explores the dementia bit more thoroughly and provides a different perspective. Assuming you enjoy the campaign as a single player event, it’s likely that playing co-op will provide an extended value to the game. It doesn’t toss everything on its head, but it is new enough to be worth exploring. I will say that depending on who you’re playing with, it can cut or raise the terror considerably – hopefully the former, if you’re lucky.
After a dozen and some hours, Isaac’s wacky adventure comes to an end in a disappointing, flat sort of way. When I beat the game, I sighed, “Of course,” and I walked away with no desire of playing it again. Unfortunately, I had to play it again. Again, it’s not that it sucks, but having a middling experience can be the hardest to cope with. The game was well made with high production value and a lot of care, but it didn’t grab me like the previous games had.
So here we are. Isaac is no longer an engineer but a bona fide badass and spiritual member of the Gears of War COG crew. I have no idea whether or not he was able to pay his rent in the end, but honestly, it’s the only thing that does terrify me in this game. Or maybe I’m more scared that Visceral has lost its intentions with the series – I’m not sure. All I know is that while Dead Space 3 is a decent game, it’s not of the same caliber as the second game or certainly the original. Yet though I’m left deflated and disinterested, I expect some people will truly love this game and have a blast. To them, I say congratulations. But for me, I’m done with Dead Space until further notice.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]