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Top 50 Challenge – Dead Space 3

Ever since Dead Space 3 was released, Tim has been championing its merits to anyone who will listen to him. While he clearly loved the game, the reception around the rest of the office has been decidedly mixed. Tim tried to get me to play Dead Space 3 on a couple of occasions, but I told him I wasn't interested, having never finished the first installment. When it came time for him to challenge another co-worker to play it, I knew I was destined to be his guinea pig. Like it or not, it was time to step back into Isaac's space boots.

I heard Dead Space 3 was more action-oriented than the first two games in the series, but when I started playing, it still felt a lot like Dead Space. I spent the better part of a day exploring desolated spaceships, dismembering grotesque necromorphs, and jumping every time an enemy broke out of a vent directly behind me (which is still a cheap scare tactic, in my opinion). Granted, Dead Space 3 didn't come close to filling me with the same sense of dread as the original did, so that aspect of the series is definitely missing. But even though the latest installment might not be as scary, Visceral's love of horror sci-fi still shines through, and I found myself frequently stopping to appreciate the designs of the game's retro-inspired spaceships and godforsaken locations.

Dead Space 3 did take some time to get used to, however. For starters, the plasma cutter is underpowered when you first get it, taking a few shots to sever the limbs of enemies. Between that and my penchant for overlooking my stasis abilities during fights, combat took a while to warm up to. The weapon-crafting system was also poorly explained, requiring a quick coaching from Tim before I got a sense of what I was doing.

Once I got the hang of the game mechanics, however, I had a lot of fun. After a few upgrades, my plasma cutter was slicing off necromorph limbs with ease, and finishing off foes with a cold, bloody stomp is as satisfying as it's ever been. It's clear Visceral was earnestly trying to tell a good story, and although it might not live up to something like The Last of Us, it was still better than a lot of shooters. Some of the gameplay scenarios were annoying, as were a few boss fights, but I didn't come across anything that made me want to stop playing.

Later in the day, Tim hopped online to play some of the co-op with me. To my surprise (and to the detriment of Tim's own argument), I actually enjoyed it less. Dead Space 3 is a fine co-op game, but the atmospheric tension and sense of agency I felt over the story was instantly gone. Telling a compelling story in a multiplayer setting is hard, and it's clear to me that Visceral Games failed to crack that nut. Story and atmosphere are big components of the Dead Space series, so if someone only played the game in co-op, I could see how they might walk away with a very different impression of Dead Space 3.

My Vote
I managed to finish about half of the game during our day-long challenge. It's not my favorite game of 2013, but it seems like a perfectly respectable action game, and I enjoyed my time with it. How strongly I advocate for it making the list will ultimately come down to what other games are on the edge. Based on my gut, however, it would be weird for us not to include it. Triple-A action games get a disproportionate amount of grief from players; they may not tell the most compelling stories or feature the most innovative gameplay, but they tend to be polished, enjoyable experiences from beginning to end. Dead Space 3 seems to fit that bill, and I hope there's room for it on the list.

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