Dead Space has changed over the years. Sure, you get the impression that it’s still about “survival” in the sense that you’re scrounging around for supplies and dealing with reanimated corpses bursting through air vents. However, Dead Space 3 is a game that is heavily focused on action (which is admittedly pretty damned fun), and so the thrill of trying to stay alive simply boils down to how well you can handle a firearm and how diligent you are with scavenging for supplies. If you want survival horror, Dead Space 3 is likely not what you’re looking for.
Isaac Clarke, bastard lovechild of sci-fi authors and the galaxy’s leading authority on the Necromorphs, is once again pulled out of retirement to shut down the final Marker signal with the help of a team of Marker experts and EarthGov soldiers. Together, they must race against the Unitologists who are seeking to initiate Convergence through the same Marker. Apparently there is a whole sweeping backstory in the Dead Space universe that includes comics and dramatisations, and while this history isn’t required learning to figure out what’s going on, I was trying to fill in the blanks since the events of Dead Space 2. The bizarre love triangle subplot and overacted cutscenes all feel laboured, and not for the first time I wished that Isaac stayed a silent protagonist.
Dead Space 3 delivers more locations that go beyond generic shadowy bulkheads and urban slums, and they all look quite impressive. Isaac’s travels take him through mine-filled starship graveyards, Necromorph-infested space hulks, and distant moons in the form of icy wastelands. The scene where Isaac is floating through debris-filled space with a star burning in the background feels like it was inspiration for scenes in Gravity.
We’re still shooting aliens over-the-shoulder in Dead Space 3, but there’s a catch with the weapons we’re using to do so. Isaac can scavenge parts and components to create and customise his own tools, which are essentially guns that have bespoke primary and secondary fires. It’s surprisingly fun to craft a weapon that fires acidic sniper rounds and throws out a short range buzzsaw for those close encounters. A list of predefined blueprints are available if you’re short on ideas, and each gun can be upgraded with modules that can boost a weapon’s damage, reload speed, clip size and fire rate. The degree of customisation is fairly impressive, and the ability to essentially hold four guns in two weapons makes for less cumbersome gameplay.
Isaac also has the ability to craft new supplies (such as generic ammunition and health packs) from the components he gathers in the wild. Isaac can use scavenger bots and deploy them at points that are rich in materials to help automate the process, and he can also undertake side missions to locate supply boxes that are filled components, but scavenging for ingredients can be fatiguing.
Dead Space 3 stumbles in another regard, and that is the horror element. Remember “that” scene in Dead Space 2? It all goes downhill from there. Isaac is too familiar with his foes, and he knows their weaknesses and how to defeat them. Stomping corpses to uncover loot doesn’t inspire horror; it is (and always has been) tedious busywork. The only new enemies he needs to face are the human Unitologists, and when the game shows you how to utilise cover, it slides that much further towards being an action shooter.
Dead Space 3 is enjoyable, but it’s not for the reasons I’d come to expect. The boost in action is offset by a lack of atmosphere, and the novelty of building your own weapons is contrasted by the chore of hunting for component parts. The game has its moments, but the overall experience was dulled by its ho-hum storyline and out of control ragdoll physics that sent bodies spinning through the air. I also get the impression that the component system was a set up for a potential microtransaction scheme in future, where players could buy blueprints and additional supplies to survive in future multiplayer modes. Since it looks like Dead Space 4 is no longer on the cards, I guess we’ll never find out.
Not a terrible game, but certainly the weakest of the three.