The lights are on
Dead Space feels like a game with an identity crisis. Like many horror titles such as Resident Evil, Dead Space seems to be trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator with a heavier action focus. Necromorphs still pop out of vents, hide behind corners, and crawl out of the dark, but everything you see feels like it has been done before. Not everything is a disappointment, like the refined gunplay and memorable environments, but the lack of suspense and tension hold it back from becoming anything more than an average game.
Dead Space isn’t really scary anymore. Yes, Dead Space, the game that established itself on delivering eerie atmospheres and surprising trills just doesn’t deliver the sheer terror that previous entries did. Sure, Dead Space 3 certainly has its creepy moments and jump scares, but rarely did I feel sweaty palmed or genuinely nervous to trudge forward. I think frustration can be attributed to a growing sense of familiarity in the series. Dead Space fans are already with previous enemy types, and with few new ones introduced, encounters begin to get stale towards later acts.
One of the most polarizing changes made to the Dead Space series was its transition to a snowy, more open environment. While many bemoaned this decision, I enjoyed my time in Tau Volantis, as I felt a greater motivation to explore. Taking the road less traveled would often uncover hidden resources and side quests which was something I took advantage of during my playthrough. Tau Volantis is also home to some stunning backdrops, sporting some of the best wind and snow effects I’ve seen. Disappointingly, trekking through Tau Volantis doesn’t evoke the same creepy tension Dead Space fans are so used to experiencing. The game tries to hide necromorphs inside vents, and behind corners, but after you know what to expect, it loses its luster. That doesn’t mean Tau Volantis is a bad setting. While it isn’t terrifying, it delivers some breathtaking set pieces and environments. Floating in space like an astronaut, experiencing an intense shipwreck, being eaten by a large alien monstrosity, and exploring the planet’s surface are astounding in their own right, and are among the most memorable sections from the game. As impressive as Tau Volantis may be, horror fans will find exploration unsatisfying without varied scares.
With less of a focus on horror, Dead Space 3 needed something to separate itself from other shooters on the market. Dead Space certainly does so with its new and refined crafting system. Instead of buying weapons like the previous games, Dead Space 3 allows players to customize, retool, and experiment, thanks to its extremely flexible crafting mechanic. Isaac Clarke’s engineering roots begin to show, as items like tungsten and scrap metal are used to craft various weapons, attachments, and other items like health kits. With the ability to retool, recreate, or completely disassemble weapons it is easier than ever to experiment with weapons, something I did very often. Throughout my first playthrough, I used a plasma cutter/flamethrower hybrid, a shotgun with a rocket launcher under barrel, and a weapon that shoot electrified ripper blades. Dead Space constantly throws new resources for you to toy with, and I found myself constantly swapping attachments, circuits, and weapon tips. Dead Space even lets you share blueprints and resources with a co-op buddy something that is bound to be helpful when resources are running low. Overall, this new concept seems fresh, innovative, and just the thing this series needs.
Gameplay wise, Dead Space 3 isn’t a huge departure, but it is easily more action focused than previous entries. This can be a double edged sword. A new dodge-roll mechanic, similar to Gears of War, makes it easier to dodge incoming necromorphs. A few action heavy sequence weren’t as successful. For the first time, Isaac fights human enemies but unlike the necromorphs, these battles are unsatisfying. Firefights are painfully repetitive, and are not helped by the brainless AI who display little signs of human intelligence. Most battles consist of Isaac stumbling into a group of soldiers, and lighting them up as they stumble around trying to fire their weapons. Lucky these occurrences are rare, as Necromorphs are Isaac’s primary threat. Necromorphs are creepy from the onset, but as enemy types are repeated and more and more are thrown on screen, enemy encounters turn from frightening to mind-numbing.
For the first time, Dead Space is playable with a friend. Player two assumes the role of Carver, a military grunt with family issues. Players controlling Carver will experience twisted hallucinations and flashbacks, giving players an incentive to play through the game twice. A handful of side missions are only playable with a co-op partner, which is disappointing for people who would rather play alone. However, missing out on these missions won’t deny players anything critical.
Dead Space 3 is the final chapter in the the Dead Space saga, and while it stumbles in certain sections, the story is a conclusive end to the series. Dead Space has never had an extremely compelling fiction, and three is not a far cry in that regard. Most of the story is comprised Clarke trying to activate an ancient machine to stop the moon crashing into earth. Yes, you heard me right. The games plot is sometimes convoluted, if not forced, and a few weeks after beating it I had difficulty remembering most major plot points.
Dead Space 3 may not ever be scary again, but a stellar crafting system softens the pain. While the new action sequences are hit and miss, the gorgeous environments and innovative crafting system are welcome changes to the series. Although Dead Space 3 is a decent game, I can’t help but imagine what heights it could soar to had it stuck true to the series.