Dead Space 3 – Sorta Review
So Dead Space 3 went up for sale a few weeks back, and I got it a little over a week ago and played through it in the following week. I was even so lucky as to win a contest that gave me two full sets of DLC codes, so I played with everything unlocked. So my experience might have been a little different from the average player. (It should be noted that the sarcastic voice pack for the scavenger bots is pretty amazing.)
The third game in the Dead Space series was again developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts. You can get it on XBox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, which is the version I played. I’ve also only played the single-player so far, but I have plans to do the co-op later, and might do a small post on that if it’s warranted.
Let us start by talking about the PC port, shall we? Visceral warned us before launch that it would be a bare-bones port, and that’s not quite the case. I didn’t mess much with the graphical options, but the custom tab has a lot of stuff in it. I would recommend turning V-Sync off, or the game will be locked to 30fps, and you have to actually switch “Graphic Quality” to “Custom” before you can click the “Custom Render Settings” button. I did switch targeting mode to classic and turn on subtitles. I should have probably adjusted mouse sensitivity, since it’s kinda crazy, but I got used to it instead. Just keep in mind that you might want to turn it down several notches.
And of course the port is locked to Origin. And Origin is still a terrible platform. Since I won those DLC codes, I tried to check which I had activated or not on the game info page, but no such information was offered. Instead it was filled with links to buy the DLC, even for the stuff I had already activated. Origin didn’t bother to do even this minor check. I had to actually start up the game to make sure the DLC codes had been activated properly. At the very least it starts up a bit faster than Steam games tend to, but if Origin is serious about being a Steam competitor, they really need to get their shit in order.
After a short prologue where you play as some schmuck I can’t recall the name of, you are once again placed in the shoes of Isaac Clarke as he’s sent on a mad quest to a world that’s the source of the Marker Signal, as they call it. This time you’re also battling human foes occasionally as Isaac is being pursued by crazed Unitologists who have somehow become a large military operation rather than just a bunch of deranged cultists. It’s a bit ridiculous, and doesn’t really add much, but I guess it helps to drive the plot. To go with the mad cultists there’s a very basic cover system implemented that’s there no point in using on normal difficulty. Just walk slowly and aim for the head.
After I adjusted for the weird mouse sensitivity, I had to admit that the game felt pretty good to play. The controls feel responsive, the keys are mapped sensibly (though you are free to remap them as you please) and enemies get de-limbed and die in satisfying ways. The mini-games don’t feel as well done, though. Especially the large-screen hacking thing where you have to move two cursors around, and one is mapped to WASD and the other to the mouse. I never really got used to it, but luckily it’s not that difficult either.
I want to list my two major complaints right here and now. First off they have removed the save stations. The game now relies entirely on auto-saving, and I was never good at noticing when the auto-save symbol was flashing on screen. Sometimes I’d just leave the game on overnight because I didn’t want to lose any progress by quitting. While the there is a “Save and Quit” option, it only saves your inventory. When you load the game up again you’re back at the last checkpoint with all game progress reset to that point. And if you’re on side-missions it only auto-saves at the beginning.
The other major complaint I have are the goddamn regenerating Necromorphs. Seriously. Especially when the game locks you in the room with them and you have to keep them at bay until some elevator or tram car arrives. And there’s never just one. I thought so at first, but then I noticed there were two of them in the room with me, and the game isn’t shy about adding even more. They have always been the least enjoyable part of the Dead Space games for me, and they’re even more bullshit now than they ever were. They really sap all enjoyment and immersion for me. The worst section was a side-mission where I had to do a bypass mini-game with two of the buggers in the room. Just use stasis, cut their limbs, and hope to all the gods that I could get the mini-game done before they got up. It was at that point I paused the game for six hours while I contemplated actually just stopping there because I was so fed up. If you make another one, Visceral, just please leave the fucking regenerators out of it.
Setting aside those bastards, there is quite the range of different Necromorphs this time around. You have the standard blade-limbed ones, and there’s also new more zombie-like ones that have a tendency of exploding into tentacles if they lose their legs or arms. There’s the wall-crawling ones, both the leapers with the tail, and the ones that fling shit at you from afar. There are the spitters and another new type that resembles the Husks from Mass Effect to a high degree. And several other kinds as well.
Speaking of Mass Effect, it seems like Visceral have been lifting ideas from Bioware’s notebook. Including the Husks I can think of four Mass Effect references off the top of my head. In the prologue the guy you play is part of the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces. And he’s looking for the Codex. Finally there are undead Thresher Maws. I’m sure there’s more I simply can’t think of.
While I got the feeling in Dead Space 2 that they were no longer even trying to make the game scary or tense, it seems they were making some attempts towards recapturing the tension this time around. They also kinda self-sabotaged here, but it seems like they were at least trying.
The first part of the game before you go down Tau Volentis is spent on-board different derelict ships and flying around space, and it evokes feelings of Dead Space 1. DS1 wasn’t a super-scary game either, but it had some decent atmosphere and occasionally tense moments. It’s fairly predictable, and uses cheap tricks like a door malfunctioning as you try to open it, and loads of monsters pop in that you have to kill before the door magically works again. This repeats throughout the entire game. I had fun with it though, I can say that with honesty. Exploring this 200-year old mystery was a real treat for me, as I’ve always liked the Dead Space lore.
Once you get down on the planet the game gets even more interesting. This snow-filled waste is full of rough weather and hidden necromorphs, and a recurring boss monster that I dubbed the Yeti Lobster. There are even a few sections where the game seriously messed with my expectations and made me freak out. If the game was more of that, I might even be able to consider it a worthy successor to System Shock, but as it is I can really only call DS3 pretty good. And then there’s the self-sabotage I mentioned in that medkits and ammo are super-plenty. Whenever you open your inventory you can see you’re not really in any danger.
When I was done with the game I looked at my playtime and saw it said 16 hours and 23 minutes, which is pretty good for a AAA title these days. And I enjoyed most of it, because slowly uncovering the scope of the SCAF operation and re-discovering their research is really interesting. The combat works well, but is really not the main draw here. If there was less action, and more suspense and mystery, it would be a much more unique experience.
As I mentioned the combat, I can move onto the weapon-crafting. While you can be cynical and see this as just a way for EA to get more money out of you, you don’t actually need to pay anything to get enough resources and interesting parts to craft some pretty crazy weaponry. I did some experiments and got some pretty crazy results, but in the end I defaulted back to my plasma cutter. I buffed that thing so insanely that before the tougher, dark-skinned necros showed up I could one- or two-shot just about anything that came at me. Replacing parts, adding mods and installing increasingly better upgrade chips gave me a tiny monster.
You can only carry two weapons at a time now though, opposed to four in the previous games. You can also craft weapons to have two vastly different functions, which I guess is supposed to make up for it, even though it’s still annoying. And you can of course still use kinesis for improvised weaponry.
You will never run out of ammo though. They’ve implemented a universal ammunition system this time, so there’s just one type of ammo, and you find it everywhere. I was usually at about 3-400 rounds for my plasma cutter, and when enemies died in 2-3 shots, it meant I was never short. I wasn’t about to turn up the difficulty up though, because I don’t really play for the challenge anyway. But I can see how Normal might be too easy for a lot of people. The only times I died were a few times I wasn’t paying attention, and one time I was zooming along at super-speed and failed to dodge a rock.
I want to say something about the sound-track, but honestly I don’t remember a whole lot about it. It was atmospheric, but not especially memorable. It was just there, and of course there was still the “creepy” string quartet that started up whenever monsters were coming, since you can’t have the monsters actually sneak up on you.
The visuals were a bit more memorable, even though there’s a lot of snowstorms down on Tau Volentis, so a lot of the time you’ll just be seeing white and some vague shapes. When it cleared up and let you see off into the distance it was very pretty though. And the monster designs are still very good, and so are the suit designs for Isaac. My one exception is the N7 Suit I got for playing Mass Effect 3, which looks really out of place, and is just like a poor re-skin of the security suit from DS2.
Dead Space 3 is a game that tries to be great, but has several issues holding it back, so I stand by my verdict of pretty good. The combat works well, the lore is interesting, there is a lot of loot, Isaac has the mightiest boot and there’s a lot of enemy variety. Okay, the lack of save stations is pretty damning, and the story gets fairly dumb towards the end, but I still liked it.
So I guess the final question is whether I would recommend it. The answer has to be a “yes, but…” since I would recommend waiting until it goes on sale. While I only ran into one bug, and it was pretty minor, I still don’t feel like I can recommend anyone getting this game at full price unless they’re really into Dead Space like me.