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Versus Mode – Debating Dead Space 3

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features executive editor Andrew Reiner debating Dead Space 3 with senior associate editor Tim Turi.

Tim: Reiner, I can confidently say that I think Dead Space 3 will be one of those games that people look back on and are surprised by how poor of a reception it got. I'm thinking similar to how Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker played out. Lukewarm to negative fan response at first, then the controversy sort of dies down and people appreciate it in hindsight.

Reiner: I don't think so. At least that goes for me. I didn't enjoy the game. I was frustrated by it, and kept wanting it to turn into the Dead Space experience that I enjoyed in the previous two games. It felt different. The combat wasn't as intense, even though the necromorphs moved faster. It was repetitive and uninteresting. I mostly remember it as a series of doors, elevators, and ladders.

Tim: Alright, so let's start with what you said about it not being the Dead Space experience you remember loving. What was it about the first two games that made you fall in love with them?

Reiner: The first two games scared me. The tension never really died down. I was fearful of every corner. In Dead Space 3, the atmosphere didn't grip me in the same way. Enemy encounters seemed more random - popping out of snow around Isaac Clarke and lining up like fodder as I backed away.

Tim: Well, in terms of atmosphere and tension, I thought Isaac's free-floating spacewalks were some of the coolest parts of the game. They took that disquieting feeling of being in an airless vacuum we experienced in the first two games, and extended it into a more involved ordeal. I feel like that brought something new to the table, and also delivered on a sci-fi fantasy gamers have wanted for a long time.

Reiner: The spacewalks were the best part of the game, easy. But that suffocating sensation that the other two Dead Space games delivered so effectively rarely popped up in Dead Space 3. I think a lot of that was lost in two ways. First, by adding cooperative play, and secondly by implementing standard gunfights with human encounters. On paper, both ideas sound great, but in execution I don't think they fit into the Dead Space mold.

Tim: I'd argue that the co-op mode is entirely optional, and that the single-player experience is absolutely untarnished without a co-op buddy. Compare that to something like Resident Evil 5, where you have A.I. Sheva running around like an idiot if you don't have a buddy to play with. That essentially forces you to play with a buddy. However, Dead Space 3 is a top-notch single-player experience that stands well on its own.

Reiner: Again, I go back to the encounters, which I didn't enjoy. The thrill of shooting necromorphs just wasn't the same for me. Part of that has to do with the crafted weapons. Initially, I thought I would like being able to make my own weapons, but I ended up finding that I kept using the same weapon throughout most of the game. One of my favorite parts of Dead Space was the variety in the armaments. Maybe I just played it differently than most people, but I went with the weapon that delivered the most damage and best fit the situations. I didn't feel the need to change too often this time.

Tim: I agree that I tended to stick with the same arsenal throughout most of the game. However, there was this great moment a few hours in where my crafted weapons just weren't cutting it, so I had to dismantle everything and rebuild from the ground up. It forced me to really wrap my head around the intricacies of the crafting system and make the best guns possible. It ended being a pretty brutal plasma cutter, and I was mopping up necromorphs after that. From that point on it was about incremental improvements and modifications. It reminded me a bit of the fun of Resident Evil 4's upgrade system, like leveling up the Red 9 pistol and obliterating zombies. In fact, I feel like the more mobile necromorphs and more liberally upgradeable weapons made Dead Space 3 feel like the Resident Evil 4 of the series. The enemies were faster, but so was I. That, and my weapons were better than ever.

Reiner: I do agree that a super powerful weapon brought some cackle-worthy dominance from time to time. I hate to keep coming down on the game, but I also didn't like the story. I thought the first two games, while somewhat confusing in describing what the Markers were, did great things with Isaac. His hallucinations in Dead Space 2 created a gripping story arc that left me wondering what could come next for him. The pay off just wasn't there in three. I thought it was rather pedestrian for this series.

Tim: You're right, Isaac broke free of the Marker's influence in Dead Space 2. However, I think that Visceral did an awesome job integrating Marker-controlled hallucinations into Carver, the co-op partner. Carver would see things that weren't there, and players controlling Isaac would just see him interacting with nothingness or battling things in his mind. It reminded me of a refinement of the awesome hallucinatory co-op in Kane & Lynch. A super clever way to bring it back even though storywise Isaac's brain is safe from its effects. Did you get a chance to play as Carver on a co-op mission?

Reiner: I did. I didn't finish the game with him, but saw some of the mind-games that Visceral played with him. He was a more interesting character than the lead, and yet this was Isaac's last dance. He deserved better.

Tim: Hah, well we didn't know if it was going to be Isaac's last dance at the time. But now, considering Dead Space 3 sold so poorly it might have been his last hurrah in retrospect. Man, I know that this latest sequel didn't do it for everyone, but I really hope we see more of this series. It's too much fun to die. Any final thoughts?

Reiner: When the series is clicking the way it should - a la Dead Space 1 and 2 - I think it has a lot of life left in it. Like I said, I think the team had the right idea and found interesting ways to expand upon this series' experience. The execution just didn't match the vision. I was left wanting something different.

Tim: Well, I suppose I'll point to my handful of playthroughs as evidence that we'll have to agree to disagree. At least one point we can side with one another on is that we want more from that series. Hopefully Dead Space 3 doesn't mark the end.

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