I’ve finally done it. I finally beat Dead Space 3, and its expansion. After 2 years of procrastination.
In fact, the only Dead Space game I ever played that I did beat in a reasonable time frame was Dead Space 2. Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 3 took me extended periods of time, for axiomatically different reasons that serve to emphasize what types of games they are. I put Dead Space down after chapter 2 and didn’t pick it up for nearly a year afterwards because I was frightened to find out what was behind that med bay door. I put Dead Space 3 down because I knew what was behind the next door, and I simply did not care. Guess what was behind the next door?
Dead Space 3’s failure as a Dead Space game, and as a survival horror game, can not be simplified any better than that sentence because after the first chapter, you will know almost exactly what to expect for the next 18. Fortunately it seems to be widely agreed that the game was a misstep, so it doesn’t need to be made any clearer than a simple sentence.
Let me take a step back and provide some clarification. I don’t scream in fright at any game – horror or not. You can rest assured I’ll yell some words, but they’ll be expletives, and not girlish cries. So Dead Space was never shit your pants scary, no. In spite of that, Visceral employed a great mixture of pacing and environmental design that allowed common gameplay tropes to exist, inside of a brilliant haunted carnival house that was one of the most memorable and enjoyable horror experiences in video game history.
Isaac was vulnerable, he was essentially alone, and he was afraid. As well as slowly going insane throughout the course of the game thanks to the red marker. Most importantly, he didn’t say a damn word for 99% of the game. It was just you, silence, your gun, and a haunted (basically) ship full of alien monsters trying to kill you. On top of that, innocuous heavy machinery would kill you too. Broken doors would slice you up, malfunctioning gravity plating would slam you into a wall and rip you apart, gyroscopic stabilizers would cut you in half, and most of the ship would try to suck you out into space.
Dead Space 2 removed this vulnerability and feeling of isolation, but still managed to deliver a tense rollercoaster ride through a different haunted house with some slightly different tricks. Isaac could move more fluidly, guns seemed to be more effective, kinesis powers were more effective and he could use random objects to destroy enemies. He also talked a lot and often met up with living human beings, which made it feel like he wasn’t alone and thus like you weren’t alone. To make up for this, the game featured new enemies who were faster and harder to kill, and the first 6 chapters were basically a gauntlet of brutality for the player to survive. To be fair, you start the game in a straight jacket and the first living human being you meet dies a gruesome death within 20 seconds, and you don’t even get a gun until just before the first boss. The number of enemies also increased to compensate for Isaac suddenly being a badass. It seems his years in a straightjacket somehow magically turned him into a combat engineer, not just a systems engineer.
So what did Dead Space 3 do wrong? Well, as it turns out, a lot of things. I’ll save those for another article for the sake of length. Right now, let’s acknowledge what it did right. The overall art design and sound design is still brilliant. This stands out more in the latter half of the game when you get to see vistas on Tau Volantis like the first approach to the research base, or when you reach the alien city and are introduced to their physical appearance as well as their architecture. Before this, though, you do get to see a lot of the flotilla in orbit of the planet and there are some cool shots like this one. The only negative thing I can say about the art design is that the death animations, while still varied, almost all seem to be too fast and result in the same thing – your body chopped into at least 2 pieces. Where Dead Space 1 and 2 took time to show you yourself being murdered, Dead Space 3 just blows you up every 5 minutes and doesn’t even have the courtesy to show you.
On that note, the graphics are also much improved over the first two games. Moreso the first than the second, as Dead Space 2 came out this decade, but the graphics are better. Down to the fur and cloth on some of the outfits blowing in the wind of the frozen wasteland. Animations and character textures have been improved as well and overall the engine used for this game seems to have been tweaked with some more modern capabilities, especially when it comes to postprocessing.
Just like Dead Space 2, you start out with some living normal humans. And then immediately thereafter, the Church of Unitology shows up and kills the entire colony, turning people into necromorphs and I would think starting a convergence event. You are fighting necros and soldiers who shoot at you, in the streets and alleys and in shops. Whereas Dead Space 2 maintained an intentional pacing and didn’t give you the option of really looking around in the beginning, the sequel does not because there doesn’t seem to be any urgency after you clear an area of necromorphs. The only positive aspect of any of this is the fact that you got to see what “normal” human life might be like for a second. You didn’t really get to see it in Dead Space 2 because everything was dying and covered in blood by the time you saw it, but in 3 you at least get a brief glimpse. Which isn’t saying much, because it’s almost literally nothing. You see some cars, there’s a highway, and the Moon colony seems to be a pretty big settlement. Other than that and setting up the game’s villain, there is nothing notable to come from the first two chapters of the game.
Following that is your arrival in space around Tau Volantis, where you’ll spend the next 6 chapters, otherwise referred to as the Sovereign Colonies flotilla. This is the section of the game that seemed to be on the right track, and the section where the game shined. The ship corridors are tighter than most areas of Dead Space 2, and at most times it feels like a worthy tribute to Dead Space, though it admittedly doesn’t capture the same essence. You still have the vents and necromorphs coming out of them, and the creepy sounds, and the piece by piece backstory that you would expect, but the ships like the Roanoke or the Terra Nova just don’t feel the same. What makes the flotilla cool is that it has sidequests where you can go exploring and learn the story of these ships, all while still being hounded by regenerators and lots of necromorphs. In addition to that, DS3 improves upon the zero g mechanics and takes them to a whole new level. Basically every zero g sequence is the cover of the game Dark Void, and it’s liberating to finally be able to move whatever direction you want in zero g.
Unfortunately that all comes to an end somewhat quickly, depending on how you play and whether or not you do side quests at all. After that, it’s on to the surface of Tau Volantis, which is its own rollercoaster ride, but it’s just pure action and its downright annoying. The only good trick Dead Space 3 has left at this point is to employ some oldschool survival horror where you’re better off running away than fighting enemies, because it simply spawns too many of them on your face. Unless you have a ridiculously overpowered gun, which you won’t have until after multiple playthroughs, you are better off running.
It’s quite clear that EA tried to please too many audiences at once while really aiming this title at a different group of people than the group that wanted it. You simply can’t do that in a sequel, much less at the end of a trilogy. The third game in a series, where all the games are directly connected and still telling the same story, is not the appropriate time to try to remarket a franchise towards casuals.
Especially when that game only exists because the core gamers bought and supported the first two entries.