Dead Space 3 suffers, among a few other things, from an identity crisis. Amid another squadron of Necromorphs on the freezing (but gorgeous) surface of Tau Volantis, I found myself asking questions not unlike those pondered in the halls of a philosophy building–why are we here, where are we going, what is our ultimate purpose, and so on.
That isn’t to say Dead Space 3 fails at being entertaining or falls short of furthering the mysterious lore of the Markers. Quite the opposite, DS3 is riddled with intense moments of firefights and some great exploratory elements that previous entries were desperately lacking. But at it’s core, Dead Space 3 tries to emulate its horror-born roots while highlighting its more modern action-shooter form, and in doing so it doesn’t quite succeed at either.
Series protagonist Isaac Clarke returns to us bitter and broken, seemingly exhausted with trying to convince humanity the twisted truth of their fabled Markers. Unfortunately, Isaac is forced back into his trusty RIG suit when his former girlfriend, Ellie, is in a tough spot and sends a team to bring him in and help out. Together and with the help of co-op partner John Carver, they uncover evidence that may lead them to the source of the Markers and to the salvation of all humanity.
Throughout most of the game, Dead Space 3’s greatest weakness is its story. Convoluted and forced with awkward emotional elements, Dead Space 3 never seems to find a good pace to unfold plot points and give them enough explanation. This leads to a lot of errand-running and item-grabbing without much understanding as to why. The final several chapters are very lore-heavy and comes at you rushed and feels a bit sloppy. For those hoping to figure out where these Markers originated, I highly encourage turning on the subtitles so you don’t miss anything, but it still won’t be enough to get real answers.
Also frustrating is the poorly written love triangle between Isaac, Ellie and her new love interest. From eye-rolling one liners to increasingly ridiculous decision-making, the whole attempt at adding some level of emotional connection between the characters comes off laughable and actually detracts from the rest of the story. With the fate of humanity at stake, you’d think a few adults could put aside petty issues of jealousy and remorse, yet they almost manage to cripple the entire mission because of their feelings. While not out of the realm of possibility, it is very difficult to empathize, let alone believe in any of the characters.
Surprisingly, DS3’s best character is Carver, whom also brings the co-op genre to the table for the first time in Dead Space’s franchise. Overall the co-op portions are well done and provide far more entertainment than surviving Tau Volantis alone. It also where Dead Space 3 hits a genre-splitting fork in the road: Should you go it solo, the elements of horror and isolation are retained and keep you more immersed in the frantic survival experience. Choose to play with a partner controlling Carver, and the general feeling of unease and suspense all but disappear and are replaced with themes closer related to an action shooter. Both paths have their own merits, but given how the Dead Space franchise has already been moving from survival-horror and into the action realm, the co-op option proved more satisfying.
Peppered throughout the game are optional missions that, while aimed at fleshing out the story, end up being repetitive and bland. The only notable ones were those that delved into Carver’s tragic history and helped give better perspective on Carver’s unwillingness to be vulnerable. The rewards at the end of each aren’t very unique or difficult to attain elsewhere in the game, leaving me relatively disappointed after completing each one.
Thankfully, Dead Space 3 does excel with its combat system and overall presentation. Dismemberment is still the key to surviving the Necromorph onslaught, and Visceral’s overhaul of the weapon system is robust and a lot of fun–once you figure it out. Being able to build and customize your weapons is a detailed and varied process that requires a little time and attention to get the gist of, but once you do the possibilities are endless. Ammunition has also been simplified into a single generic type, meaning you’ll never have to worry about running low on a particular type (or worry about running low at all, because you’ll be overflowing with it). One-handed weapons are obviously faster, but I found more gratification in the heavier and more lethal two-handed weapons.
Dead Space 3 was designed with Visceral’s Godfather engine in mind, and the detail is simply stunning. Floating through the infinite abyss of space littered with debris and corpses of fallen Necrospawn, it is obvious Visceral spent great care in achieving a high level of detail that helped manifest the emotions behind it. The frozen wastelands and claustrophobic hallways on Tau Volantis are rendered beautifully and maintain a constant presence of fear and death long since gone, but never forgotten.
At the end of the day, Dead Space 3 is another entry in a series overflowing with potential that just hasn’t quite been realized yet. Gorgeous and entertaining on a technical level, yet bland and unimpressive on a personal one, I continue rooting for the series to find it’s place and be able to fully blossom into a frightening and engrossing adventure leading to the truth of the Markers. Dead Space 3 makes great steps toward that goal, even if it fumbles a few things along the way.
See you in the next level,