And onto the weekend! I hope you all have a great Friday, Saturday and Sunday - and I'll see you again come Monday with my wrap-up of the Dead Space series.
Dead Space 1 and 2 have been probably my favorite horror games of this console generation. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a solid enough PC offering, and the Fatal Frame trilogy owned the PlayStation 2 era in my opinion, but this generation has lacked tense survival games.
There is something about the intense atmosphere, excellent lighting and sound design, coupled with the 'what is around the corner?' layout of the first two Dead Space games. Dead Space 3 showed something peculiar however, when Visceral Games and EA first teased the third game's content. There was co-op. Everything seemed faster. You were no longer skulking down dimly lit passages, but standing out in the open in a snowy field. It all looked and sounded pretty, but these other elements felt somewhat out of place.
Then came the announcement from an EA studio head that Dead Space 3 would have to sell five million copies or the series might be put on hold because it would be considered no longer financially viable. I know I have brought that statement up here and in other places over the last several months, but it really stuck with me - it made me concerned that this title would be 'broadened' - made into something meant to be more appealing to the general public and get away from its roots.
Graphics - 10:
Excellent visuals. Amazing really. I played this on PlayStation 3, and the gameplay never slowed and stuttered, creatures never clip through their environments. Tons of lighting and shadow effects are at work here. Minimal pop-in, especially considering the high level of detail and smooth animation found here. Whether working through a narrow passage or trudging through the snow and leaving footprints in your wake, Dead Space 3 is a visual treat.
Sound & Music - 10:
Sound design is one of the strongest points for this series. Play this game with surround sound and you can hear something scratching and scrabbling around the corner. You may hear a creature making some sounds as it clings to a nearby wall and ceiling and shoots at you. The music is generally very good, and the voice acting is excellent. It is a shame that it is wasted on a very mediocre story, but the audio itself is handled expertly.
Gameplay - 7:
Dead Space has never been the best shooter. It is solid, but Isaac is generally a little slow and plodding, and that is by design. Here, Isaac is a bit more nimble, with a roll technique added to his repertoire for good measure. It is a good thing too, because there are a lot more creatures this time around, and they are much faster and more aggressive. You will find yourself surrounded and semi-pinned quite a bit. I made more use of my stasis ability in combat here than in the prior titles, because slowing down groups of enemies is more important than ever. This however, does highlight the shooting and aiming mechanics - but not in a good way. Faster enemies mean that the core system feels a little inadequate at times. It is still easy to move around in menus and the HUD is still among the best ever, the way it is built into the game's visual design. Still, this game just 'feels' wrong when compared to the others that came before it.
Intangibles - 3:
Harsh? Incredibly, but not without reason. Actually, not without several reasons. For one, the story is weak - very weak. It is a shame, because the voice actors generally bring their A game, but for the first time in the series, I basically found myself not caring about the characters. The villain in this game? He comes across as a joke. He is some strange and stuffy character who never feels the least bit threatening. The people in my party? Could not stand most of them. They were either whiny or jerks. The emotional investment in Issac and his journey had a lot to do with carrying the first two games along (even the story in Extraction was better than this one). Not only is the villain a person, but he leads soldiers. They are not nearly as effective as the necromorphs in creating scares. They make the experience feel... diluted. My fourteen year old son, who enjoys shooters and the first two Dead Space was absolutely picking the story apart until he gave up on it completely about halfway through.
I stated at the beginning that Dead Space 1 and 2 were my favorite horror games this generation. Dead Space 2 as so effective in this capacity that I found myself jumping on dozens of occasions. Treks around corners and bends were nerve-wracking and the atmosphere delightfully tense. Dead Space 3 is not a horror game. It is an action game now, that sprinkles in a handful of completely ineffectual shock scares once every four or five chapters. The game's pacing, as mentioned above, feels 'off', and as a result this title feels completely different. It is as though my fears that the game getting watered down for the general audience that EA felt it needed to pander to came true.
Dead Space had some variations to the formula in parts 1 and 2, having you enter zero gravity at times, and working through puzzles. Here, the puzzles are fairly lame, the zero gravity was a well gone too often to in the beginning only to vanish in the second half of the game, and there were a lot of these odd, instant death 'flying' moments that I found more annoying than 'welcome breaks' from the normal content.
The ending. I will not get into specifics, but to me it was an unsatisfying cliffhanger. Oh, but I hear that there is DLC now that helps to clear that up. Also, in-game transaction opportunities abound. I generally do not complain about DLC - but here the game was clearly designed with it in mind.
Not everything is a loss. Co-op is good for sitting down and playing this game as a shooter, which is sadly what Dead Space 3 has become. The parallels to Resident Evil 5's "evolution" are fairly numerous, and I did not consider that an improvement either. Also, while I missed the upgrade system using nodes from the suits in Dead Space 1 and 2, I thought the weapon customization found in Dead Space 3 was actually really cool. It encouraged experimentation and provided you with a nice mix of ways to battle your enemies.
Overall - 7.5:
At first, it looks like Dead Space 3 is going to be awesome. The presentation values are outstanding, with audio and video that are among the best out there currently. The problem is in the expectations. Mass Effect 3 became a faster, more competent shooting game than its predecessors, but still felt like a Mass Effect title to me. One of my friends said it best when he said he felt Dead Space 3 'lost its soul'. I actually find that to be a very apt description.
If you come into Dead Space 3 looking for a third person shooter, and possibly a co-op shooter to play with a friend, you will find things to do in a serviceable game. The story does change around a bit to compensate for having one or two players participating, a nice bit of work on EA's part, though it does little to salvage a completely forgettable storyline.
However, if you were a huge fan of the first two games, as I was, Dead Space 3 unfortunately delivered on a lot of the concerns that presented themselves even before the game released. It is no longer a horror game - it has been turned into a shooter in an attempt to make it more appealing to a broader audience. Unfortunately that has left some of the fans who fell in love with the original games somewhat alienated and out in the cold.