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Dead Space 3 PS3 Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3

Image © EA
"Dead Space" and "Dead Space 2" are two of the most riveting games I've ever played (and the franchise recently ranked #1 on About.com's Five Scariest Games of All Time). They both made my top five in their respective years and stand as landmarks in the horror genre of gaming. One of About's Most Anticipated Games of Early 2013, "Dead Space 3" is nowhere near the creative accomplishment of its predecessors and that comedown in quality relative to the franchise is going to nag at you for the first couple hours. I was frustrated and angry for several chapters -- two emotions I never experienced in the entirety of the previous games. Then I changed the way I approached "DS3" as the game also finally hit something of a creative groove at about hour three of its solo-player gameplay. I realized this is not a horror game. There are some neat jump scares and the general tension that accompanies the sound of something humongous and hideous up around the bend but this is an action game through and through. This might help -- Ridley Scott's "Alien" is to "Dead Space" as James Cameron's "Aliens" is to "Dead Space 3." As Scott's film was heavy on atmosphere & suspense compared to Cameron's more action-driven sequel, the developers of "DS3" have largely discarded tension in favor of explosion. There are some very fun action set-pieces and the weaponry is expectedly bad-ass but one hopes that a fourth chapter in this saga either returns the series to its roots or takes it in a completely new direction as opposed to this half-new approach.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Visceral Games
  • ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
  • Release Date: February 5, 2013
  • Genre: Action
  • Website: Dead Space
  • Pros: Non-Stop Action, Kick-Ass Weapons, Cinematic Set-Pieces
  • Cons: Repetitive Enemies, Action Over Atmosphere, Boring Environments

The saga of Isaac Clarke continues as our intrepid hero has returned to Earth just in time to watch it turned into Necromorph (basically, zombie aliens) Hell. Clarke is still tied closely to the intergalactic history of these mutated, deadly creatures and the "Markers" that created them. With the help of a team of fellow space hunters, you escape just in time to trace the back story of Clarke, the Markers, and the monsters that have haunted your dreams since the first game. In fact, you can even play through the entire story in co-op with a fellow hunter named Carver, a more troubled and inexperienced alien killer, who actually has a more interesting arc this time around than Clarke (which is one of the game's problems, narratively). Alone or with a friend, you'll plow through hundreds of enemies through nineteen chapters and about 20 hours of gameplay with all side missions included.

Gameplay

Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3

Image © EA

"Dead Space 3" feels incredibly familiar from minute one. The weapons, the aesthetic, the dialogue -- it borders on DLC for "Dead Space 2." And what's less scary than the familiar? "Dead Space 2" worked so well because of the way it intertwined brand new scares (the school full of baby aliens still haunts my dreams) with what we knew already. As Isaac went back to the Ishimura, the scene of the horror from the first game, the developers of part two didn't just mimic what came before, they built on it.

One never gets that feeling of building on what came before in "Dead Space 3". As Clarke & Carver bust their way through ships of undead killers and roam the icy tundra of Tau Volantis, the main setting of "DS3," the action too often feels routine. You will quickly find your favorite weapons, upgrade and modify them to your tastes, and remember the general rule of "Dead Space" combat -- shoot 'em in the limbs. And then you'll do the same things over and over again. The repetition in "Dead Space 3" is what really drags it down. Too much of the game feels like a series of fetch quests. Find the part your comrades need to progress. Bring it to them. Get separated them. Find another part. And do it all over again. When you do finally get to Volantis, the storytelling improves drastically as you'll finally feel isolated in the blowing snow of a hostile landscape but that's hours into the game.

As disappointing as "Dead Space 3" is in terms of atmosphere and narrative, one cannot deny the action-based elements of the game that truly work. As you upgrade your weapons through parts found in the game (scrap metal, etc.) and even design your own creature killers, the increased power adds a visceral thrill. I'd be lying if I didn't mention the times that I just enjoyed shooting off limbs and then firing them back at bad guys using Clarke's stasis power. As much as this comparison pains me, the game often reminded me of recent "Call of Duty" titles in that as much as one can sit back and point out the weaknesses of those games, sometimes the explosive action overpowers critical thought.

As for co-op, the game alternates between playing through portions that will be familiar to you if you've completed the story (I did single-player first and then went back to co-op) and new branches of the narrative for Carver, a character who I found more interesting than Clarke simply because of his inexperience and the natural fear that comes with that. Clarke is almost too bad-ass at this point, especially given the number of creatures repeated from the last game. He's done this before. He can do it again. Carver has the deeper psychological problems that Clarke had more often in the previous two games. Clarke's arc here feels too pre-scripted. As much as I hate to say it, a fourth game should branch off an entirely new hero and new narrative. I found myself enjoying the side/optional missions more because there was less of a sense that they were scripted, which allows for more room for scares.

Graphics & Sound

"Dead Space 3" looks good but not significantly more than "Dead Space 2." While that game felt fresh and terrifying, this one feels familiar. The creatures look and act in familiar ways. The game becomes more visually interesting when you get to Volantis as the constantly-blowing snow adds a new element to the essential ingredient most missing from this game -- a sense of isolation. The sound design is solid throughout although I found some of the voice work subpar. Over

Overall

Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3

Image © EA
Making a threequel is a tough proposition for any game. How far do you allow yourself to stray from what worked well enough to get you the success to even make the title in the first place? You don't want to be overly familiar but you don't want to fix what ain't broke. "Dead Space 3" makes both mistakes. The co-op play and the fact that Isaac is often at least in communication or trying to save other space travellers eliminates the element of isolated terror that really defined "Dead Space," which might have worked if the developers weren't constantly reminding you of the first two games with the same creatures, backgrounds, and weapons. And yet, only the most cynical critic would deny the well-done action here. It's just that "Dead Space" used to be about more than "well-done action."
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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