When I first saw the promotional materials for Dead Space 3 I was extremely worried. The first game was such a sleeper gem that new copies still sell for sixty dollars online, the second took the “survival horror in space” formula established in the first and ramped up the creepiness factor, essentially turning it into the series I always imagined Resident Evil was destined to become. (Unfortunately Resident Evil became Resident Evil 6, the series no one wanted it to become) I knew they would eventually make a third game but why is it taking place in a snow-filled environment similar to Lost Planet and not in a creaky spaceship infested by necromorphs? The environment and brilliant use of sound design is what made the previous titles so exceptional in the first place! Wait, it’s also going to include a co-op campaign in a game series that has literally made me jump out of my seat on multiple occasions because it is intended to be played in the dark by yourself? Won’t these changes ruin this beloved franchise?
Fortunately no. There are a few issues with the game, but none of them stem from changing the setting or pacing of the series. This is definitely a more action-oriented title however, whereas in previous games I was always struggling with ammo and health management, that was never a worry this time around. You don’t even actually get to the ice planet Tau Volantis until roughly 9 hours into the game, so there’s still plenty of tight corridor and zero gravity outer space action to sink your plasma cutter into. The graphics and especially the lighting are still stunningly gorgeous, and the sound design exudes the same ambient dread that you would expect from the series.
One phenomenal addition is the ability to craft your own weapons from salvageable parts found in the environment. Any weapon you find can be deconstructed into pieces that can be used to craft other and ostensibly better armaments. Want a flamethrower / plasma cutter combo? No problem. Or how about my favorite creation thus far: a shotgun / line gun amalgamation that also stuns necromorphs with electricity? You could literally spend dozens of hours perfecting your ultimate weapon hybrid, and it’s always fun to test them out against puke spewing necromorphs.
The major issue I had with the game is one I didn’t anticipate: the writing. The game starts off strong but during the midpoint I almost started cringing at some of the dialogue and directions the characters are taken in. Without entering into spoiler territory, essentially Ellie, the girl who you risked your ass (and sanity) to save in Dead Space 2 has moved on to another mate who is basically the equivalent of the douchey blonde villain in so many eighties movies. (And unfortunately not voiced by James Spader or William Zabka) When the story turned into Tau Volantis 90210 I mentally checked out, and while I don’t remember the narratives in the previous two titles being anything special, I also don’t remember them being absolutely grating either. Sure, when you can lop off the head of a space marine with an electrified rotating ripper blade it’s easy to forget the story, but like so many Hollywood movies I’ll never understand why the writing is the hardest thing to nail.
The co-op play however is thankfully awesome. While it does wring much of the suspense out of the game it’s still immense fun ravaging aliens with a buddy, sharing blueprints of uniquely crafted weaponry, and saving each other’s asses from obligatory surprise attacks. There are also optional missions that can only be tackled in co-op, giving the game some excellent replay value. Co-op play is also of the drop in, drop out variety, so you can recruit a partner at any time to help you tackle some of the game’s tougher challenges. You can also play through the story in Classic mode (similar to Dead Space 1 with only original weapons and no crafting) or Pure Survival mode, where everything, even health packs and ammo, must be painstakingly assembled. These variations will provide a much-needed challenge when compared to the regular campaign, especially when conquered with a partner.
Overall Dead Space 3 doesn’t disappoint. It does sacrifice sheer horror for guns blazing action, but the addition of weapon building and co-op actually helps move the series forward instead of treading some of the same roads. The environment is definitely more John Carpenter’s The Thing than Ridley Scott’s Alien, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Annoying issues with the narrative aside, the game is completely worth the purchase if you are a fan of the series or a well-crafted third person adventure.