Dead Space 3 is out and it’s possibly the year’s first disappointment, depending on what critics you read. We found it to be a lot of fun…but still suffering from some of the franchise’s story problems.
#1) The Story: Same As It Ever Was
The Dead Space series has one big story problem, right from the start: The gameplay itself works against it being scary. Oh, I have to backtrack? Come on, any gamer worth his or her salt knows what backtracking means. Oh, there’s a huge arena type area on the map? So we’re supposed to prep for a boss fight, then.
Horror depends on you not knowing what’s coming, and if this were a game where you could choose your own path, and denied you a map, it’d probably work. Instead it’s a tightly-controlled set of dungeons you blast your way through, built around “cinematic” set-pieces that often work against the idea of you being outmatched and outnumbered. Isaac Clarke can headshot religious fanatics with a pistol at 500 yards, and he’s worried about some zombies without guns… why?
Gameplay dictates story in this franchise, and not the other way around, which is a good thing. Still, that means that every moment in this series hinges on everybody from the governmental heads to our hero making the stupidest possible decision at every turn. Fetch quests with idiotic motivations and sudden structural collapses blocking doors or dumping you into a new area are a staple of the franchise, and the third one has plenty of both.
That said, at least it’s an incredibly pretty story: You’ll fight through several different areas, all lovingly rendered and designed down to the last blood smear. Visceral also does a superb job of at least making those various environmental hazards a blast to play through. Fighting zombies in a blizzard makes for some intense gameplay, if not story, moments.
#2) That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Fun To Play
Gameplay-wise, the game is essentially the same, with a few tweaks. The Stasis/Kinesis and zero-gravity sections are great mechanics, well-designed and fun to play. The fact that the game goes aggressively against headshots in favor of dismemberment is a great decision that few games have co-opted (and more ought to) that makes the highly polished combat here a joy to play. The new cover mechanics, it must be said, do not entirely make sense and are a bit clumsily implemented, but then again, you won’t be using them for a fair chunk of the game.
While the story won’t make you care about Isaac, you will find a lot of fun, tense moments to play through. Where it counts, the gameplay, the game delivers a fun, if unoriginal, experience.
#3) The Crafting System Doesn’t Derail The Game
The crafting system is a heck of a lot of fun, which is good since new parts are pretty much the only reason to take on any sidequest. You can spend hours screwing around with it and seeing what works, what you like, and what’s fun, and the franchise dumping credits and nodes for raw materials is a welcome switch as well. Also welcome is the choice to only give you two guns: You’ve got plenty of parts, but you’ll still have to make choices about what to build, especially when bonuses like fire and acid damage are thrown into the mix.
Yes, there are microtransactions, but they’re just a ticket to skip sidequests, if you want to, and the gameplay’s more than enough fun to justify playing them.
While Dead Space 3 is ultimately nothing more than a third-person corridor shooter, Visceral hasn’t been breaking things that don’t need fixing. The controls are intuitive and easy to use, but Visceral just can not seem to get their camera to stop being twitchy.
#4) Co-op Is Where Dead Space 3 Sings
And the game is, 100%, better with a friend. While the single player campaign absolutely is solid, if unoriginal, the co-op gameplay really is where this game shines. The lack of local multiplayer is irritating beyond all belief, but Visceral does an impressive job with bringing co-op to the franchise despite that, and while the writing is still clumsy and papering over gameplay decisions, there are great moments to be had.
Most games, co-op and otherwise, shoehorn in multiplayer: Here, it’s really the meat of the game. Make the time and play with a friend. You won’t regret it.
#5) In The End, It’s a Good, But Flawed, Game
Ultimately, Dead Space 3 is a solid, but not great, game in a solid, but not great, series. This would appear to wrap up the franchise, at least for now, and hopefully EA and Visceral will take it in a different direction, preferable a more open one, when it’s inevitably rebooted.