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Review: Dead Space 3 Redefines the Franchise

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Late last night I completed my initial run through Visceral’s Dead Space 3, and just like the previous two entries I walked away a satisfied gamer.  Dead Space 3 and its changes to the series’ formula may turn off long time fans, but I can assure you that it’s still a must play title, and a gaming experience that you shouldn’t miss in 2013.  It may no longer be a true survival horror game in the strict sense of the definition, but it’s still packed with frightening moments, and high end game design that make it stand out from the pack of 2013 new releases.

 

Dead Space 3

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

(Xbox 360 version used for this review)

The Awesome

  • Visual Masterpiece
  • Superb Sound Design
  • Solid Story
  • Improved Crafting Mechanic
  • Excellent Gameplay

The Not so Awesome

  • Later Level Backtracking
  • Still Uses Odd Control Scheme
  • Technically not Survival Horror (But who’s keeping score)

 

 Story

Dead Space 3 opens with an excellent “Story so Far” segment that serves as a great reminder as to what this franchise has been about since the original.  This 3-minute refresher sets up the events of Dead Space 3 perfectly, and it also helps to clear up any confusion about the Markers, Unitology, and how Isaac Clarke is related to the big picture.

After the opening movie you take control of a SCAF soldier on Tau Volantis nearly 200 years before the actual events in Dead Space 3 take place.  This prologue mission serves as a vehicle to drive home the events that happen 200 years later when Isaac and company make their way to Tau Volantis to end the necromorph plague once and for all.  This prologue serves as a solid tease for the events to come, and it definitely locked me into the story of Dead Space 3.

Once the prologue violently ends we finally get to control everyone’s favorite Marker killing engineer, Isaac Clarke, who is in hiding after his destruction of the Marker on the Titan station.  Clarke is holed up in an apartment on the New Horizons Lunar Colony trying to avoid the forces of EarthGov, who are hunting him for his Marker knowledge and his ability to destroy them.  Through some Hollywood-like events Isaac is unwillingly goaded into hunting for his former girlfriend Ellie, who has continued to seek an end to the Markers even though Isaac has abandoned her quest.

Due to an attack on New Horizons by Jacob Danik, who is the face of the militant Unitoligist faction, and Dead Space 3’s main antagonist, Isaac and his captors make their way to a system where Ellie’s last know coordinates point to, which just so happens to be the space around Tau Volantis.  Isaac’s journey continues both above and eventually on Tau Volantis, and by the time the credits rolled I was left feeling satisfied with another Dead Space game.

Danik is this game’s resident nut job bad guy

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Along the way the story of Dead Space 3 takes a few odd turns and uses an ancient alien race to flesh out some plot points quickly, but overall it’s a solid science fiction video game story, and one of the easier plots to follow in the franchise.  There are a few forced moments where it felt like Visceral was trying too hard to sell a particular emotion (mainly in regards to the Ellie/Isaac love saga), and the Danik character’s motivations just seem ludacris at times, but for the most part I would pay to watch the Dead Space 3 story unfold on the big screen.  It definitely held my attention, and it motivated me to keep playing through the game’s 20-25 hours worth of single player content.

Gameplay

Visceral implemented a host of new changes to the gameplay mechanics of Dead Space 3, and for the most part these changes are welcome.  The most drastic change to the Dead Space formula is the inclusion of co-op.  For the first time in a Dead Space game you can scare the shit out of yourself while playing alongside a friend.  The drop-in, drop-out co-op works pretty well, but it does fundamentally change how Dead Space 3 plays.

Co-op

I completed the game solo, which felt similar to the other two Dead Space games, but I did play a few parts using co-op.  Considering that I had to do so with random gamers on the XBL service (no EB friends were around) my co-op experience wasn’t as fun as it could’ve been.  Dead Space 3 is still fun to play with another person, but I felt like it would’ve been much better if I knew that person intimately.

While playing in co-op the feeling of being alone is obviously absent, which does fundamentally change the Dead Space formula.  To some fans this may be too grievous of a gameplay change, but I applaud Visceral for giving gamers the option to use co-op or not.  Besides, it’s like getting two games in one!

Don’t ask what Carver and Isaac do behind close doors

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The cutscenes and story do unfold differently while playing together versus alone, so Dead Space 3 can provide two unique campaigns depending on how you choose to play it.  Like I said earlier I completed the game alone, which I must admit, is probably the best way to experience Dead Space 3, but I’m just as excited to play through it again with a buddy to learn more about Carver and how he plays into the overall story arc.

Crafting and Ammo

The other two major changes to the Dead Space gameplay experience would be the new crafting system, and multi-purpose item pick-ups.  The fact that you can pick up multiple weapon ammo types in one pickup, versus having to find specific ammo for each gun is a life saver.  Some fans may grumble that this takes a bit of the “Survival” out of the horror, and they’d be right, but at the same time I appreciated being able to use any of the Franken-guns I created without the need to hunt down ammo for them.

Speaking of guns I absolutely loved the new weapon crafting system.  Throughout the game you’ll come across weapon parts, which you can then take to a bench and craft your own weapons out of.  If you’re tired of using your boring old plasma gun you can soup it up by adding a rocket launcher to it.  If that isn’t enough destructive power you can then add modules to make your ammo have additional properties such as electrical, acid, or explosive effects.  The combinations seem endless, and I personally spent a lot of time at work benches trying to configure the best possible weapon for my play style ( I ended up favoring a machine gun with a grenade launcher that had acid filled bullets).

Crafting new weapons can take on a life of its own

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Although, these more powerful weapons definitely take some of the challenge out of Dead Space 3, so if you’re looking to be tested I would recommend setting the difficulty at Hard or higher.  They definitely make Dead Space 3 feel more like an action game, and less like a game about survival, but I honestly didn’t mind feeling like Isaac was a seasoned veteran of necromorph slaughter, because he is at this point!

Core Gameplay

Outside of these new additions the core gameplay in Dead Space 3 remains very similar to what you’ve encountered in the past.  You control Isaac (or Carver if co-op) as he investigates broken down ships, dark caverns, and other frightening locations that he usually has to visit to fix something so the team can move on.  Gunplay remains familiar and you still can’t shoot unless you’re aiming, although Isaac seems much quicker than he used to be during gun battles.  The frantic action is still in place, and at times you’ll feel like a chicken with your head cut off as you try to quell scores of enemies who seem to be appearing from every dark corner of a particular location.

Visceral changed many things in Dead Space 3 in regards to its gameplay, but they did so to a degree without compromising what made this franchise popular in the first place.  The control scheme may feel odd to gamers not used to survival horror (in this case maybe survival action), and you’ll definitely find yourself shooting the wrong guns at the wrong moments because of it, but overall I enjoyed the gameplay changes in Dead Space 3.  Just remember that most of them are optional, so if you want to go at it like the first two games you are more than capable of doing so.

Don’t worry things still get very hectic

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If you really want the game to feel old school Visceral has packed in a ton of replayability modes that can offer the classic Dead Space experience, so I think there’s a great deal of compromise available to fans who feel jaded by what they perceive as sacrilegious changes to the Dead Space franchise.

Graphics

Dead Space 3’s visuals are definitely to be considered top-notch.  It’s CG cut scenes lack the realness imparted by a game like Halo 4, but the actual game engine is impressive.  Each and every environment is beautifully and meticulously crafted to invoke emotions in gamers, and through Visceral’s excellent lighting effects; Dead Space 3 managed to get me to stop and enjoy the scenery on more than a few occasions.  In fact, I was so impressed with these effects that I created a YouTube video to show just how stellar they look (see below), because visuals these crisp need to be seen and not read about.

The Beauty of Dead Space 3: Video Game Lighting Perfected [HD]

I also loved how Visceral took Dead Space 3 in a direction that would allow them to introduce some new environments to the franchise.  The Tau Volantis setting and its snowy climate provide a new look for the Dead Space franchise, and they provide a great contrast to the usual dark and dank space settings featured in the first two games.  Some of the later sections mix in alien architecture to give Dead Space 3 yet another unique visual aesthetic, and definitely help it to be the most ambitious looking Dead Space game to date.

Sound

If you asked me what is my favorite aspect of Dead Space 3 I would immediately say the sound design.  Without a doubt the sounds of Dead Space 3 enhance its scare effect by a factor of 10.  From the awesome soundtrack, to the subtle Foley noises heard in each level, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were walking alongside Isaac as he attempted to save the day once again.  Each and every frantic battle is made even more so by the fast paced and at times psychotic music that accompanies it.

Long dark walks through each level became even more frightening due to the sounds I may, or may have not heard coming out of my sound system.  Intense melees with necromorphs get amplified by the the combination of the game’s score, sound effects, and the blood curdling screams coming from the necromorph forces.  Without sound to supplement the other great gameplay designs of Dead Space 3 I don’t feel like it would have had such an impact on my senses, which resulted in a better gaming experience.

Just like this game’s visuals I was so impressed by its sound design that I created a YouTube video to show off its merits.  While playing I couldn’t help but hear some Alien (the films) themes in the score, which obviously helped to paint the picture of a space survival action setting.  Check it out to see how amazing this game sounds even at its most basic moments.

The Beauty of Dead Space 3: This Game Sounds like the Alien Movies [HD]

 

Final Thoughts

Visceral Games shocked the world when they first introduced the fact that Dead Space 3 would have co-op, but I can tell you to not let that fact hinder you from playing this game.  The co-op mode is optional, so that’s not a good excuse to not play this game.  Besides, it basically adds a whole new campaign, so its replay value is worth the price of admission.  Tau Volantis may be the game’s ultimate setting, but don’t think that means that you’ll be trudging through wide open spaces for the entire game; versus the claustrophobic locales of the first two games.  You spend plenty of time in space and in dark tight corridors, so Dead Space 3 is true to its roots.

The awesome weapon and item crafting mechanic tends to make Dead Space 3 less of a battle with resource management, and more of a battle against your enemies, but that’s OK with me.  I think you’ll feel the same way.  Besides, if you really want to struggle Visceral has added a few New Game+ modes that will surely test your patience and skills (Classic and Pure Survival) if you don’t like the gameplay changes.

Make sure to try out co-op for a whole new experience

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In the end Dead Space 3’s amazing graphics, superb sound design, and solid science fiction story make it a winner in my book.  I give it an EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas, and can recommend it to both new and long time fans.  If you’ve been holding off on picking this game up I urge you to reconsider.  It’s another solid entry in the franchise, and a great start 2013’s lineup of triple-A games.  Don’t let it pass you by!

 

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Tags : Dead Space 3Game Review
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.