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Dead Space 3: bearing the burden of its origin

Tuesday, 5 February 2013 14:08 GMT By Stace Harman

As Dead Space 3 launches in the US and review scores begin to hit the web, Stace Harman examines how Visceral Games’ latest stacks-up against its predecessors.

Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3 is developed by Visceral Games (formerly EA’s Redwood Shores Studio) and published by EA. It launches on PC, PS3 and 360 on February 5 in the US, February 7 in Australia and a day later in Europe.

The US live action launch trailer is here and has a curious Phil Collins-inspired accompaniment.

Dead Space 3 will feature weapon and armour pack DLC, like that found in Dead Space 2. Those impatient for weapon crafting materials can also purchase them via microtransactions, though based on my play-through you really needn’t bother.

Completing the game unlocks several unique modes, of which Pure Survival carries the most traditional survival-horror overtones.

Early on in the original Dead Space you encounter a man standing in a hallway. The skin has been flayed from his body and he is repeatedly banging his head against the wall. With a final, wet thud he succeeds his macabre goal and slumps to the ground, dead.

You look at him a while, wondering what unbearable suffering or unimaginable horror could have driven him to such an extreme. Then you move on, disturbed by the notion that you’re soon to find out.

In Dead Space 2 there is a nursery. There’s a scene of perverse pantomime in which a woman comforts a mutated infant that explodes in her arms. There’s the eerie juxtaposition of innocence and corruption; happiness and suffering; comfort and insanity.

The experience of the nursery epitomises the tone of the entire game. It succinctly illustrates that you must survive not only the physical horror of the Necromorphs but also the broken mind of the protagonist.

I struggle to recall a moment from Dead Space 3 that has the same impact as either of these scenes. Dead Space 3 is an entertaining and enjoyable experience, but its strengths lie elsewhere. Its power to entertain is derived from a subtly different set of values than that of its immediate predecessor.

Its compelling qualities differ from those of the title that birthed the series and that became the benchmark by which to measure mainstream survival-horror. In many ways, Dead Space 3 feels like the Hollywood blockbuster of the franchise.

While it lacks its forebears’ power to disturb and get under your skin, it excels in its own ability to delight and to put a smile on your face.

Much of what I would criticise and commend about Dead Space 3 can be boiled down to its sense of scale. Dead Space 3 feels grand. Perhaps conscious that it cannot set every Dead Space game in oppressive dark corridors, Visceral has expanded its boundaries in almost every way.

Its narrative further explores the history of the transformative Markers and draws more readily on other material from the wider Dead Space universe. Its primary setting of the frozen planet of Tau Volantis dwarfs that of its predecessors.

Its expanded cast of characters lend variety and an increased scope for soap-opera amidst the feral savagery of the Necromorphs. In doing all of this, Dead Space 3 broadens its horizons but loses some of its intense intimacy.

It is plain to see that Dead Space 3 is the work of a developer capable of great things. Its production values are exemplary and the advancements Visceral has made over the span of the three games are remarkable.

Visually polished, Dead Space 3’s lighting effects and texture work are excellent. The sound design is impeccable and the integrated HUD remains one of the best seen in any game world. Everything feels big and bold and impressively produced.

Rather than being slick with slime and gore and viscera, Dead Space 3 is slick with the professional, high-buffed sheen of Hollywood. While it’s no less bloody or deserving of its mature rating, Visceral has rounded-off its sharp edges and packed Dead Space 3 full of a more wholesome and homogenised brand of horror.

This is most aptly demonstrated by the two surviving characters from Dead Space 2, Isaac Clarke and Ellie Langford. Both suffered severe physical and emotional trauma during their previous ordeal; both have been made whole again.

Ellie, who lost an eye to madman Stross, has had a fully-functioning artificial replacement fitted. In the 26th century this is a reasonable solution but the only mention of the grisly affair is in an optional text-log.

Meanwhile, Isaac Clarke has been transformed from the deranged and desperate man whose neuroses and hallucinations marked him as a unique protagonist. Now he is a more traditional world-weary hero with a smart-mouth. Both have been made whole: their ugliest imperfections airbrushed over for fear that the depiction of physical and emotional scars might fail to resonate with a broader demographic.

There is some relatable, easy-to-digest friction in Dead Space 3, but no real conflict. Instead, its primary emotional achievement is one of empowerment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Isaac’s arsenal. The weapon crafting is a revelation for the series and aptly facilitates Isaac’s role as an engineer.

It is engaging, compelling and plain fun to turn a handful of scrap parts into a brace of death-dealing weapons and Visceral entices you back to the workbench time and again to swap-out components, modules, modifiers and upgrade circuits.

A word of caution must be given, however: if you have previously completed a Dead Space game on normal difficulty, then start Dead Space 3 on hard. On normal difficulty I finished the game with hundreds of rounds of ammo to spare.

This has serious implications for game balance and how you utilise the other tools in Isaac’s arsenal, such as stasis and kinesis. If you’re a seasoned veteran you can even brave a first play-through on the hardest of the standard difficulty settings, which is unlocked right from the get-go this time around.

Elsewhere, Dead Space 3 pushes its boundaries with the introduction of optional objectives; frequently taking in areas that you will otherwise miss out if sticking to the critical path. These 10 side-missions offer Visceral a chance to experiment with both narrative and game play devices and are worth experiencing, even if one or two are little more than glorified loot runs.

Co-op play was sadly lacking from my PS3 review-build due to technical constraints. However, it’s evident that a great deal of Sergeant John Carver’s background story and character development is reserved for co-op mode.

In single-player, the three co-op-only mission areas that are scattered throughout Tau Volantis are inaccessible. Moreover, there’s none of the incidental chatter between Isaac and Carver, which has the unfortunate effect of leaving Carver’s personality to reveal itself in fits and starts through a handful of single-player cut-scenes.

While Visceral has the right idea to offer a narrative incentive to investigate the co-op mode, it should not come at the expense of the coherence of the single-player experience.

Fans of Dead Space 1 and 2 will find much to enjoy about this third entry in the core series, but they should go into it forewarned and so forearmed. For many franchise aficionados, Dead Space 3 will feature a little too much combat against human adversaries and the accompanying, rudimentary cover mechanic will feel as unwelcome as it does redundant (on normal difficulty, at least).

The broader scope of its exposition has the effect of reducing its emotional impact, while the finale is by turns preposterous and predictable.

Nonetheless, Dead Space 3 remains an expertly sculpted experience put together by a talented team. In some areas it fails to live up to its predecessors, while in others it exceeds their accomplishments.

Ultimately, it is to Visceral Games’ credit and detriment that the high standard against which Dead Space 3 is to be judged is that set by the developer’s own back-catalogue.

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35 Comments

  1. orakaa

    Wow… it does seem, with this article, that the impression I had while playing the demo was correct.
    I won’t buy it (maybe when it reaches the bargain bin in a year or so, but no more than $15).

    Dead Space was about the horror, the atmosphere, the story… not the action. Gameplay wise it’s frustrating and not pleasant… which was precisely the point: you’re playing an engineer, with NO combat experience and poorly designed weapons, you were NOT playing a space marine.

    Not saying it is not a good game… but unfortunately, this is not for me. If I want to play an action game, then I’ll play an action game (and no continuity over Isaac and Ellie’s backgrounds/psychological scars? Damn… :/ )

    #1 2 years ago
  2. deathm00n

    @2 Exactly, still a good game, but it’s far from what it was supposed to be, strangely the Co-Op part of the demo is more fun than the singleplayer.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Wezzulus

    @1
    To be fair though. Yes Isaac is a Engineer, but never has he had trouble, gameplay wise, to take out the Necromorph’s. Hell, you get the Plasma Cutter and from there on out you never need anything else. So my point is, yes, he is an engineer, but he always has felt like a space marine.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. manamana

    Good write-up Dave, although I was wondering when the microtransaction issues come into play. Nonetheless although Visceral has highest production values down, they departed from the true psychological horror of the first part and that is very disappointing imo. There once was hope for a great survival-horror IP but I guess action nowadays cashes in more money. At least producers seem to think so…

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Telepathic.Geometry

    Well, it’s already winging its way over to me now, set to arrive in time for the long weekend, and strangely enough, my GF is mad about DS so it’ll have to go on this weekend. :)

    It’s the curse of the last in the trilogy.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Telepathic.Geometry

    @4: It’s Stace man, not Dave.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Telepathic.Geometry

    Oh and, thanks for the review Stace. d-(^-^)

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Moonwalker1982

    I expect it before the weekend and i’ll be playing it in co-op with a friend. So i will see for myself soon enough how it is. It would be a bit weird if the horror is indeed mostly gone, cause didn’t VG247 recently write a piece that it was the opposite?

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Pytox

    @5 No it’s the curse of EA taking control …

    #9 2 years ago
  10. orakaa

    @3: Well, not to me. When I first played Dead Space, I felt much less powered than in other games in the genre, with very slow, clumsy movements, be it the slowness taken to turn, run, the time it took to stomp elements.

    All of this made the character feel much much less than a space marine and felt more “normal” (in terms of movements). Of course you had weapons/tools that were efficient, but I NEVER felt like being in Lost Planet, Gears of Wars or Killzone.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. manamana

    @Telepathic.Geometry damn, I must have confused it with another article I read recently… So hey, thanks Stace! ;-)

    #11 2 years ago
  12. SplatteredHouse

    @1: Precisely.
    The parts you tell me they’ve excised, Stace, are precisely the reason I would get a Dead Space. Those aspects I found most interesting, the parts that made it stand out when I wasn’t shooting grotesqueries of nature. :(
    So, they’ve basically chosen the path of Diablo 3…wonderful!

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Fin

    @1

    Sweeet, I fuckin’ loved Diablo 3!

    #13 2 years ago
  14. orakaa

    Well, we’ll see how it goes anyway

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Sublimeone

    Nice review, it echoed some of my thoughts.

    @ manamana. In regards to the microtransaction issues, it is not some thing that is in your face and you can actually miss it and not take notice of it at all. Its more like this, remember dead space1, I think some room after where you see the dude banging his head against the wall (the one Stace mentioned) I think the first time you use your Kinesis Module by the work bench, to your left is a room that requires you to only open it with a power node.

    In the event you do not have a spare power node/*random needed object*(DS3), most likely you would just move along till you come across one and come back.

    In DS3, you can simply just go the work bench and buy one, only if you have the required set of resources (a recipe list – object name A + B + D )* quality required of each ) to construct the needed object, and if you by chance you fall short of the requirement. You can simply log on the appropriate network (PSN/Orign/Xbl) and use real money to buy that resource or item. Same applies to whole guns/gun parts/upgrade nodes for suit (unlike other DS1 and DS2 – suits here are completely cosmetic) Upgrades on armor, stasis, HP, air…. apply to any suit.

    Visceral have done a wonderful job with this title release, some would love it, other will not, totally understandable. For me, DS1 still trumps this one.

    Here you don’t really feel alone, powerless and helpless. Constant conversation over the comms and the guns (oh my!). Maybe it is just me because I have played DS1 + 2 so many times. I was playing on the hard and impossible settings, the guns felt over powered.

    Another thing about not being powerless (this also applied to DS2), you enter a room and see a bunch of stasis canisters and fire extinguishers laying about, no surprises if necromorphs start jumping in from ceiling, windows, door, ground.

    I’ll leave it at that.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. mobiugearskin

    I think it’s funny.

    ALIEN – one of the greatest sci fi horror films of all time.
    ALIENS – one of the greatest sci fi action films of all time.

    For some reason, it’s OK for that to happen but it’s not OK for games to follow the same trajectory.

    Do people not think that, having played through Dead Space, a repeat of that same corridor crawl would lose its impact?

    That game was about 15 hours long. It was dank, it was creepy but, ultimately, by the final reel you knew that game inside out. The scares were sign-posted. The Necromorphs could be cut to pieces in the blink of an eye.

    The Necromorphs had ALREADY lost their ability to really scare in Dead Space 2. And that lasted another 16 hours.

    Do people REALLY think that repeating Dead Space 1, at this point, would pay off?

    It wouldn’t.

    Not to mention the fact that Dead Space is not just 1 experience.

    Dead Space
    Dead Space 2
    Dead Space 3
    Dead Space: Extraction
    Dead Space Mobile
    Dead Space: Iginition

    Dead Space: Downfall
    Dead Space: Aftermath

    Dead Space: Martyr
    Dead Space: Catalyst
    Dead Space: Salvage
    Dead Space: Liberation

    6 games, 2 animated films, 2 novels, 2 graphic novels.

    This franchise is way broader than just Dead Space 1. And it’s all fucking cool!

    #16 2 years ago
  17. DSB

    @16 I’m not sure that analogy works in favor of your argument.

    Alien 3 was the one where they really started mixing things up, and that was also the first one to suck.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. mobiugearskin

    But these comments about Dead Space losing it’s horror lustre were levelled at Dead Space 2 also.

    So the logic, in the case of gaming, is that it should not change.

    I look at other games series’ that have mutated over the years. The most obvious ones would be Silent Hill and Resident Evil. But those more action focused entries don’t kinda suck because they are action over horror. They kinda suck because they just aren’t good games.

    Shooters like CoD, Halo and Battlefield get lambasted because they don’t change. They just rinse and repeat the same thing with every instalment. In a short space of time, Dead Space has managed to offer different experiences, with an extremely high degree of polish.

    Nothing to scoff at.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Eddie Rodrigues

    @1 Well you are playing as the same character of the original games, you have to expect him to be more of a killing machine at this point (exmple: Leon from RE series), just my point of view I say, and yet this might be a terrific game, but I won’t go anywhere near it since EA’s strategy of Pay2PlayAndPayMore: You can buy in-game currency with real money… SIMPLY BRILLIANT!

    @18 you started your comment good but after the final sentence on the first paragraph you just blew it.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. mobiugearskin

    Insightful.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. DSB

    @18 Yeah, I’m not too impressed by the idea that things should never change, I was just poking fun at the analogy. I’m sure it’s an alright game.

    I don’t see Dead Space as an essential contribution to begin with though. To me it felt a lot like Resident Evil in space, sprinkled with a bit of Doom and Aliens.

    It was enjoyable enough, but it never did blow me away.

    I wouldn’t know about the second one, and I’m not getting the third one out of principle. The first one was really poorly optimized on PC.

    I think part of it is probably EA’s reputation as well. I think it’s common perception that EA wouldn’t care if they did jump the shark or not, as long as the moolah doth flow.

    That’s going to keep biting them in the ass until they wise up.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. fearmonkey

    Sadly after reading some reviews I think I will rent this one rather than purchase. Dead space 1 and 2 were fun games and I love the Horror element and this reminds me of what happened to the Fear series, it lost its horror focus for action, and suffered because of it.

    Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed Fear 3 but not as much as the first two games, especially the first. Dead space is going to be the same way it seems, I loved the first game the most, and the third Ill enjoy but it wont give the same scary wonder as the original sadly :(

    #22 2 years ago
  23. mobiugearskin

    @21 but DS has gone from strength to strength with regard to sales. DS2 sold something like twice as many copies as the first game.

    The Demo for DS3 was downloaded twice as many times as the demo for DS2, apparently.

    This is going to hit like a blockbuster freight train in the charts, I would expect. People love the series. A very broad audience loves co-op.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this went on to be the highest selling entry so far.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. DSB

    @23 That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t make the game better or worse in my opinion, and I think they’re going to keep taking a lot of shit on the internet until they start caring about public perception.

    A broad audience loves peanutbutter. Doesn’t mean you find it in every restaurant.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. mobiugearskin

    Do you honestly think EA cares about taking shit on the internet?

    The internet gives a lot of people an inflated sense of self importance. Fact is, people can complain as much as they like. Doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if the product sells by the boat load.

    That is all that ultimately matters.

    e-Drama isn’t worth the kilobytes it takes up. Ultimately, the conversation we are having right now counts for nothing. They’ve already got my money. They don’t have yours.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Hunam

    Let’s never discuss, debate or do anything ever again yeah?

    #26 2 years ago
  27. DSB

    @25 It was purely in response to you wondering why Dead Space 3 is taking flak. I say that Dead Space 3 is taking flak by association, at least in part.

    I do think it is cause for concern when the perception of a games publisher is actually worse than that of the bankers who caused a worldwide recession.

    Whenever EA puts a new TOS up on the internet, they have to devote resources to reassuring people that they won’t royally fuck them over, because that is people’s immediate conclusion. Legalese anywhere else is happily ignored, but when it’s signed by EA, it’s suddenly considered a real threat.

    You don’t think trust helps you to sell your products? Personally I really do think it’s a lot easier to sell people stuff, if they don’t think you’re the devil.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Clupula

    @25 – So, this is the second time you’ve gone on about how useless it is to discuss these sort of things on the internet…yet, you continue to discuss these things on the internet.

    Since you’ve stated that it’s all a waste of time, do you have so little to do with yourself that you’re going to spend so much effort on this?

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Moonwalker1982

    This website says the exact opposite of what reviews say :

    http://gamersyde.com/news_our_videos_of_dead_space_3-13764_en.html

    “Dead Space 3 has arrived, after months of waiting, we are finally going to find out if Visceral stayed true to the franchise. After playing the first 5 hours of the game in hard mode – and completing the first 7 chapters -, we can say that the game is a lot more faithful to the first episode than we thought it would be. Some will paradoxically bitch about the feeling of deja vu, but at least you’ll get your share of dark corridors and low gravity sequences – something many feared would not make it to the final game after months of snowy media.”

    #29 2 years ago
  30. SplatteredHouse

    Watching the Giant Bomb quick look, it’s being painted as a game of two halves, with Brad stating that it starts off fine, until about 6-8 hours in, after which it gets increasingly worse, until a completely woeful conclusion.
    He seems in agreement with Gamespot’s review’s Weak Story demerit, which I’ve seen mentioned, here earlier.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. SplatteredHouse

    Going by that, the game’s big on pew-pew, and I get the impression that crafting can help render enemies to trifling shooting gallery targets. Hard difficulty = traditional Normal. I would hope that the additional new game+ modes would offer more of a DS faithful experience.

    #31 2 years ago
  32. lexph3re

    I just got my copy today Prologue was nice! After my son is done watching Sesame Street I’m jumping back on. I also haven’t been reading, playing, or watching anything DS3 related since the e3 revealjust so I don’t spoil it for me.

    Also, for all the people crying theres no more horror. Why don’t you just start the game off on veteran and see how you feel after that? No point building up to it if you want to feel the stress.

    I know I’m playing solo first then co-op later! SOOOO EXCITED!

    #32 2 years ago
  33. Sini

    trash console quality textures kill this for me. maybe will pirate it when im bored.

    #33 2 years ago
  34. Sublimeone

    This one for those still unconvinced about DS3 failing to be true to the franchise. Just hop on any streaming site, loads of people playing. Simply watch and make up you mind.

    #34 2 years ago
  35. Phoenixblight

    I have been playing this solo and in Co-op and I love what they have done with the game with the new resource system, side missions and co-op. THis is so far a great addition to the series.

    #35 2 years ago

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