Developer: Visceral Studios
Publisher: EA Games
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Rating: M for Mature
This review is based on the PC version of the game
I really didn't want to write this review. In fact, I was prepared to thrash Dead Space 3 like a Necromorph against a Sprawl citizen. Here was a game that resembled previous entries yet added so many unnecessary features, according to series diehards. Here was a Dead Space game that I was prepared to denounce. After Aliens: Colonial Marines, I was in full "game critic cynic" mode. I expected to tell you that the good in Dead Space 3 was heavily outweighed by the bad design choices.
What I'm going to tell you is far different than what I expected. For all of Dead Space 3's minor (and major) missteps, this third horror traipse in space is a great entry in the storied franchise. Even though it lacks some of the legendary scares of the first two games, Dead Space 3 is an adrenaline-induced, panic-riddled thrill ride that's deserving of your time and money. Read on to find out why Visceral and EA's space epic is 2013's first flawed masterpiece.
Dead Space 3 starts off with a bang, and not in the right way. Series protagonist Isaac Clarke is still fighting the demons of his past, though with noticeably less hallucinations and violent outbursts. He's been hiding from EarthGov of a populous planet, trying to salvage the relationship he broke with ex-girlfriend Ellie. Isaac, however, is quickly found by EarthGov agents and barely escapes from Unitologist militants intent on killing him. In a series first, the game tasks you with shooting humans instead of the undead nightmares. Oh boy....
Before you cry foul, I'll say this much; the combat against humans is at worst an annoyance. It only pops up in a scant few sequences, such as the opening acts. It never intrudes on the intense experience more than a handful of times and doesn't overstay its welcome. In fact, fighting Unitologists can be a welcome change of pace and a reprieve from the stress of dismembering unimaginable nightmares. With all this said, I'm still not in love with the combat mechanics. Dead Space is a survival horror game, not a Call of Duty title. Combat against living organisms is not a good fit for the franchise. Hopefully, Visceral focuses on what made this series great in the next Dead Space entry.
So what of fighting the Necromorphs? Is it as scary and sweat-breaking as Dead Space and Dead Space 2? For the most part, yes. While I never felt under-prepared or truly out of ammo, I was constantly stressed by Necromorphs jumping from vents, crawling on ceilings, and popping out of elevators. It's nothing new but still manages to get your blood pumping in the right way. The Necromorphs are still agile, strong, and require the same dismemberment techniques of past games. When they start pouring out of every crevice and corner, Dead Space 3 really hits its stride. You'll start wondering if you have enough ammo to take on the new enemy variants, as well as the series stand-by terrors.
Unfortunately, Dead Space 3 makes Isaac a little too powerful. I felt as though he was often carrying uncharacteristically high amounts of ammo. It feels a lot less frightening when you're walking around with a clip equivalent of 3,000 bullets for a telemetry-spike Gatling gun. Even though you might feel like you're running low on bullets, you'll almost never run out of ammo to fend off the numerous hordes of baddies. Corpses liberally drop clips and the environment is practically brimming with ammunition to grab.
If you really find yourself strapped for plasma cutter or SMG rounds, you can always craft new clips. In another series first, Dead Space 3 has added workbenches where you can craft new weapons, swap out parts, upgrade various weapon stats, and build usable items. It's likely my favorite addition to the series as it makes you feel like the engineer Isaac truly is. It also allows you to find personal favorite weapon combinations, like my Evangelizer assault rifle coupled with a scope and electric shock rounds. It's a blast (quite literally) to test out the fantastic weapons Dead Space 3 can proffer. All you need are some resources and weapon parts to get going.
In a rather cheeky move, Visceral implemented micro-transactions. These allow you to buy resources and weapon parts with real cash. I'll tell you right off that you'll never need to spend a dollar more to find the most effective weapons. With judicious use of the scavenger bots, you'll find plenty of ration seals, resources, and parts to make all of the gear you'll ever need. While some DLC suits and weapons can only be purchased with cash, I found them entirely trivial to the core experience. The workbench more or less ensures micro-transactions are useless and, at worst, somewhat intrusive on the atmosphere.
I spent about 8 hours mucking around in Dead Space 3's campaign and, for the most part, the narrative is well put together. That is, until you reach the ham-fisted conclusion. While I wasn't expecting a superb revelation or particularly shocking ending, I would have appreciated a smoother close out to one of this generation's finest survival horror franchises. As a whole, the campaign shouldn't be played for the story, but rather for the intense action sequences, great set pieces, and stellar weapon customization.
The addition of co-op should not be viewed as a negative against Dead Space 3. The two-player affair, while largely featuring the same content as the campaign, offers a few interesting side missions and can be great fun with a friend. While there's little to no survival horror element, I still enjoyed the few shots of fun I took with a buddy. They weren't the best experiences, but they were far from the worst either.
Also, the technical design is as strong as ever. While Dead Space 3's visuals aren't the greatest thing I've come across, the art design and breath-taking vistas more than make up for a few shoddy textures here and there. Tau Volantis is positively beautiful and shines in that dead alien planet sort of way. The sound design is also great, with strong atmospheric sound and decent voice-over work. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack is easily the standout audio feature, subtly driving the action forward.
Dead Space 3 is a flawed masterpiece. There are so many things it gets right. Yet I can't overlook the major missteps Visceral took along the path. If there weren't microtransactions and a few niggling problems with the narrative, Dead Space 3 would be an absolute must-play. As it is, it's a great experience but not the perfect end to the trilogy one could hope for.
+ Great audio and visual design
+ Exciting combat and weapons customization
+ Fun co-op that ramps up the action
+ Oodles of side content
- Hammy narrative and plot threads
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Dead Space 3 isn't perfect but it's worthy of your time and money for those who like their horror games action-packed.