Very few games have polarised gamers as much as the first Dead Space managed to when it was released back in 2008. Despite receiving mostly praise from critics, Dead Space had the unfortunate timing of being released in the middle of one of the most disappointing eras for horror gaming, as the genre mutated from orthodox survival horror into a more action-oriented jump-fest. The series’ first instalment managed to successfully retain the all-important atmosphere from golden age survival horror games while introducing a far more action-packed combat system than the genre was known for, however came under significant criticism for being mundane and repetitive in every aspect.
Following Dead Space was my personal favourite in the series, the rails shooter Dead Space: Extraction. The franchise never matched the frantic nature of attempting to constantly refill your limited ammunition supply than it did in this initially Wii exclusive title. Then came Dead Space 2, and with it a noticeable focus on becoming an action series. Despite this, the sophomore entry successfully managed to provide an enjoyable genre blend without alienating fans of either side of the spectrum.
And now we have Dead Space 3, likely the revered franchise’s final numbered instalment. Why are producers so afraid of releasing a game numbered past 3? Regardless, Dead Space 3 represented a chance for Visceral Games to fully embrace the thousands of horror fans screaming for a revival of their favourite genre. Instead of that, however, the end result of approximately eighteen months of development is a title that is not quite horror, but not quite action–Dead Space 3 resides floundering in the brown, murky waters of mediocrity.
Given that this is the third entry in a series heavily steeped in lore and backstory, it goes without saying that getting into Dead Space 3 without having played (or at least knowing the plots of) the previous two numbered instalments would be a tough task. After a brief alarmingly militaristic prologue on the ice-planet Tau Volantis, you will again take control of engineer Isaac Clarke three years and a relationship after the conclusion of Dead Space 2. Then something happens, then something else happens–I’m not saying this to avoid giving you any spoilers, I genuinely can’t remember what happened. The entire plot becomes very convoluted very quickly. One thing I do know for certain is that people in the world of Dead Space are extremely keen on wistfully looking at and stroking photographs of their loved ones.
Not long after this, Isaac and some NPCs (and co-op partner John Carver, if you’re playing with a pal) find themselves on Tau Volantis after tracing a signal from something. The ice-planet makes for a great, original location for the action, as limited vision enhances the feeling of suspense that Dead Soace 3 is otherwise lacking. There’s a large amount of uninteresting inter-personal drama going on regarding Isaac and Ellie’s broken relationship, which feels alarmingly out of place in a franchise that made a name for itself on the pure isolation of the protagonist. Isaac wasn’t an interesting character in the previous two games in the series, and he’s still not interesting. At all.
That said, the one thing that I was ready to criticise Dead Space 3 for prior to even playing it was its inclusion of a co-operative mode. No way, I thought, horror simply can’t work in co-op. As far as I was concerned, the lack of isolation would result in a serious lack of atmosphere. I was delighted to be proven wrong. In Dead Space 3, the co-op campaign far outshines the drab single-player mode, only really held back by the lack of a drop-in/drop-out feature (what is this, 2004?)
For what might be the very first time in a game not focussed specifically on co-op play, the two-player campaign is an amazing addition to the title without seeming tacked on or significantly detracting from the single player campaign. Impressively, the horror is even enhanced when compared to the solo outing–it may not be as tense or suspenseful, but the atmosphere has more of an effect when there’s someone to share it with. As was heavily promoted when the feature was first announced, the player taking the role of Carver will occasionally encounter objects that are non-existent from Clarke’s point of view. Unfortunately, this means that you won’t encounter the full depth of story if you don’t play with a friend, which is a shame for those people who, like me, prefer to focus on the single-player campaign.
Trampling in the path of the footsteps of its predecessors, Dead Space 3 has ensured that the Dead Space label will be forever synonymous with repetitive, mundane gameplay full of backtracking and overcomplicated storylines. Despite being quite a lengthy campaign, you’ll only feel like you’ve actually played about three or four hours of unique gameplay, with the remainder being stale drivel. Even the Necromorphs are far less interesting this time around, as they are only truly threatening in swarms which is also when they are the least scary. In previous Dead Space games, Necromorphs were deadly even just one-on-one, particularly if one had taken you by surprise and you struggled lining up shots to cut off their limbs. This time around you’ll likely end up shoving hordes of the spindly monsters off of you before mowing them down.
Where Dead Space 1 and 2 both brought something new to the franchise, Dead Space 3 falls flat, relying on the success of its predecessors. The main campaign of this lacklustre instalment is truly not worth playing at all, as even the sense of closure that it was supposed to bring to the overarching story is disappointingly absent. The co-op mode is somewhat enjoyable, and provides a little extra information plot-wise, but it’s hardly worth picking up the game solely for what is essentially a little-more-than-mediocre third-person shooter and not really a Dead Space game. If there’s one feature that Dead Space 3 can be proud of, it’s the fantastically open weapon customisation, and yet, regardless of how much fun it is to create your own plasma cutter, it’s just another of the factors that have moved Dead Space 3 almost completely away from the horror genre. And let’s not even start on the micro-transactions.
Dead Space 3 is the weakest game in the franchise, by miles. Even passionate fans won’t be able to avoid feeling a bit let down by this one. What begun life as a terrifying survival horror series has been the most recent victim in the latest line of EA’s bastardised niche-into-triple-A franchises. Unless you’re in the mood for a mediocre third-person shooter, you will probably want to give this one a miss.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Dead Space 3 by EA Games.