It Doesn’t Take Much To Become A Space Marine Anymore
Dead Space is a series I’ve grown quite fond of in recent months, as I finally got the chance to play through the first two games in their entirety not long ago. What I love about those games is that they understand survival horror; they realize that what makes a video game scary is the sense of dread caused when your character feels underpowered. In an era where gaming is constantly evolving to make players feel more and more powerful, Dead Space brought us back to a time when scavenging every dark corner and constantly counting and recounting your bullets actually meant something. And I will always love that. So, having played through Dead Space 3, can I honestly say that it preserves that special horror sauce I crave? Well, the short answer is not really.
Now, I played the first section of the game about a month ago, and there were a couple things that irked me about it back then. If you want the detailed report, you can read that here , but the short version goes something like this: Dead Space 3 just isn’t a horror game. It’s not scary. That sense of feeling underpowered is gone, as Isaac Clarke has been transformed from a lowly engineer to an all-out badass who mows down space marines as if they were mere dandelions on his proverbial lawn.
Part of this is that you’re given absurd amounts of ammo. I’m not joking here: At one point, I had over 2,000 rounds in one of my guns. That eliminates the scavenger element that was a hallmark of the first two games.
Here’s an example: Do you remember that scene in Dead Space 2 where you were in a storage warehouse filled with crates and Stalkers (the fast-moving, hidey, jumpy Necromorphs)? Because your ammo supply was so low, that scene was terrifying. Dead Space 3 has a scene that replicates that almost exactly, only this time you’ve got so much ammo that you’ve been going around shooting cans and computer monitors willy-nilly, just for the hell of it. Even though Dead Space 3’s version of this scenario is almost exactly the same as Dead Space 2’s, 3’s isn’t the slightest bit scary because you can run in and stasis the things, then blast them away with your godly piles of bullets.
On top of it all, Visceral Games has created this incredible environment with the ice planet of Tau Volantis, and then has done very little with it. Even with the survival horror elements amputated, this was a phenomenal chance for the game to exploit the frozen weather for a different type of horror. Sure, there’s a scene early on where you are fighting against the cold, having to watch your body temperature the same way you had to constantly watch your air gauge in the outer space sections of the first Dead Space, but you’ll get a suit shortly thereafter that protects you against the cold. I just can’t help but feel like there were several missed opportunities here. How about avalanches caused by the sound of your weapons, or ice patches where your footing is unstable, or frozen lakes where you can fall through the ice, etc.? The environment presented so many opportunities for pants-wetting survival moments, yet the game hardly uses any of those.
Instead, we’re presented with a story that includes space marines. Well, they’re technically Unitology soldiers here, but no matter what they prefer to be called, beefy military dudes in space suits are just space marines in my book. And the crazy thing about these guys is that their aim is worse than the Storm Troopers in the original Star Wars trilogy. You’d think that professionally trained soldiers would have no problem taking out a half-insane engineer. They shouldn’t even break a sweat, yet they’re easier to kill than any of the necromorphs.
Of course, the presence of actual human enemies allows for a few interesting things. First, you can use Kinesis to throw their grenades back at them, which is awesome. Second, you can judge each enemy’s health by the glowy spinal indicator on his back, which is also pretty awesome. And third, Dead Space now has headshots in it, which is going to be controversial. Personally, I find strategic dismemberment to be far more interesting than headshotting military dudes, since we’ve done the latter so many times. In fact, there’s practically an entire genre built around doing just that.
Another complaint I have, as trivial as this may be, is that the Trophy system is bugged. (I played the PS3 version for this review.) The game actually keeps detailed tallies when necessary (you can see how many of the 500 limb dismemberments you’ve actually done, for example), but you’ll find those numbers don’t really seem to add up. In one case, I was supposed to kill 30 enemies with an electrified Ripper blade. I checked my tally and it said I was at 27. I killed three more necromorphs, expecting to earn my Trophy, but no dice. When I checked my tally again, it had reset back to 3. Sure, Trophy bugs aren’t deal breakers, but they’re frustrating nonetheless. Especially for OCD Trophy hunters like myself.
And I should probably talk about microtransactions for a moment, because Dead Space 3 has those. Here’s an example: You can spend five of your hard-earned, real-world dollars on what’s essentially a personality core for your scavenger drones. Yes, that’s five smackers to essentially give your drones the ability to talk smack to you. How is that even a thing?
Now, I know people are pointing out that micotransactions aren’t new to the Dead Space series, but that doesn’t make them any more acceptable. I mean, say someone broke into your house and stole your TV. Would you find that person any less reprehensible if they tried to claim that you shouldn’t feel bad about it because they had stolen your last TV two years ago? Of course not. You’d probably tell that person to go to Hell.
Now, at this point, it’s starting to sound like I completely hated Dead Space 3, and that’s not true at all. I actually found myself quite impressed with a good deal of the game.
For example, there are optional side missions now. These play out as non-essential objectives that send you exploring sections of the game you’d otherwise ignore. And these are pretty massive. In fact, most of the side missions are about as long as a full game chapter, which means that if you try to tackle every side mission, you’re essentially adding a half dozen or so hours to your game experience.
And this isn’t a short game, by any means. Those who complained that Dead Space 2 was too short are going to be prancing around their living rooms like unicorns of happiness, because Dead Space 3 is almost twice as long. There’s just a ton of content here.
And all of that content can be explored with a friend in a remarkably well-put-together co-op mode (which is the exact same story as the single-player campaign, only with a buddy tagging along). The second player takes on the role of military bad dude John Carver, who’s admittedly not a very likeable character, though he does have his own personal demons to wrestle with that manifest themselves as toy soldiers. So he’s at least moderately interesting. He even has his own set of side missions that can only be accessed in co-op game sessions.
And don’t worry about fighting with your friends over ammo; each player’s ammo drops are completely separate. That’s right, even though you are playing together, the ammo that’s available to you will only show up on your screen. Go ahead and pick up everything you see; you’re not going to be yelled at for being a loot hog.
Oh, and even though the sound design is less geared toward building a scary atmosphere, it still has moments of brilliance, like when the sound of your gunfire echoes off icy cliffsides. Trust me, it sounds amazing.
All things considered, Dead Space 3 just isn’t made for those of us craving another horror experience. It’s far less scary and far more shooter-y than the previous games in the series. But for fans of set piece-based action games, Dead Space 3 has a pretty healthy buffet of amazing content. Just don’t spend any money on the microtransactions; EA needs to know that we’re not going to tolerate that sort of crap.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Tau Volantis is far more interesting because it’s been presented to us through the lens of Dead Space’s unique visual design. 4.0 Control
No complaints here. Think of this as classic Dead Space, only with a couple modern tweaks. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Though it’s not as terrifying as previous Dead Space games, there are still moments of utter brilliance. 3.0 Play Value
Though the game is about twice as long as Dead Space 2, and the side missions extend play time even further, there are far too many clichéd moments and personal nitpicks for it to be up to par with its Dead Space brethren. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best