Guest Thoughts : Dead Space 3

Lamarr?

Friend Damien Harris sent us his thoughts on Dead Space 3 as follows. DEAD SPACE SERIES SPOILERS WITHIN.


Dead Space 3: This... Game...

At some point, you sort of have to take a step back and wonder if the current trend revolving around the third game of a major franchise being a hot mess is an intentional trend on behalf of the major developers.  The latest shining example of this is comes from EA and Visceral Game’s survivor horror franchise Dead Space, which sets out to be the closing act on the story of engineer Isaac Clark, but instead becomes a winding mess of cartoonishly flat dialog, one-dimensional characters and poorly implemented mechanics all wrapped around what are probably the most refined and intuitive controls for the franchise to date.

As a moment of honesty, I’m one of the few who believed that Isaac’s story should have concluded at the end of Dead Space 2 with the destruction of Titan Station (a.k.a. "The Sprawl"), and that perhaps the third game of the series should have continued on with someone new, either with Ellie or perhaps someone else.  The prologue to Dead Space 3 even briefly raised those hopes as we start the intro / tutorial area as one Private Tim Caufman of the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces 200 years in the past, running through on the same ice planet we’ve seen numerous times through trailers and gameplay demos.   Unfortunately, those hopes are short lived once you reach the end of Tim’s mission and we return to the tragic life of Isaac Clark.

Bear with me here, as there’s a lot of groundwork to lie down to try and get into the meat of this game.

Most images pulled from Giant Bomb's wonderful site.

And I do mean tragic. Apparently some untold amount of time after the events of Dead Space 2, we return to Clark who has become a beaten down drunk living in a horrid slum of an apartment somewhere (presumably Earth or one of the human colonies. It’s never really made clear), depressed over his separation from Ellie Langford who has left our protagonist because, and I wish I was joking, he was unable to man up, put behind him every terrible thing he has witnessed and survived over the course of two games, and accept his "responsibility" to stop the markers once and for all.  All of his self-pity comes to a screeching halt when his apartment is invaded by two of the few remaining EarthGov’s military forces John Carver (Who will henseforth be known as "Co-op buddy") and Robert Norton who have been sent by Ellie to retrieve Issac.

The reason Co-op buddy exists is because the competitive, team based multiplayer of the second game has been replaced by Clark and Carver buddy cop fun time. However, this new co-op mode has infested the single player campaign as well; you continuously run into scenarios that were clearly built for two players. Things like environment events or mini-games inexplicably having two sets of equipment. There’s even bizarre uses of dialog where occasionally enemies will shout out "There THEY are," and at one point in the game, even Isaac does it when he tells someone "We’re on our way" even though HE IS THE ONLY ONE THERE.  Far more egregious is the fact that entire portions of the game’s content have been locked away behind co-op mode.

On top of that, you run into situations where Co-op buddy randomly photobombs into cutscenes to add in a few bits of really unnecessary dialog, and once you regain control, completely vanishes. I almost would have been happy to accept that he’s a marker-created figment of Isaac’s imagination like his wife was in the first two games, but no, he’s very real, and by far one of the worst characters in the game. If not for Norton, he would be THE worst, but I’ll get to that below.

Full disclosure, I haven’t played with the Co-Op. I frankly believe it completely removes the sense of complete isolation and loneliness presented by the first two Dead Space games.  I’ve heard people have enjoyed it, and more power to them if they did, but a horror game is not the kind of game you go to with "I wish I could play this with a friend" in mind.

In addition to the new co-op, this game introduces a far more detailed crafting and customization system. In the previous games, crafting consisted of finding blueprints, loading them into a shop, and then buying the resulting item with credits. You could then upgrade weapons and armor with power nodes. This time around, your currency is a random assortment of crafting materials. All throughout the game, you find crafting materials pretty much everywhere. They’re dropped by enemies, hidden in item crates. You even receive them as side mission rewards and from deploying little scavenging bots at specific, dinging locations.

The scavenging bots, once deployed, then sit on a 10 minute timer until they automatically return to the bench to deliver what they’ve found. However, in what is rather disturbing for a full priced game, you have the option of either purchasing the crafting materials with real money through microtransactions, or even buying boosters for your bots to lessen the wait time or to double what they bring you.

Yes, all the joys of mobile phone games have finally come to consoles.

Thankfully, this can be easily ignored thanks to the ability to replay through chapters, and in some locations, crafting materials will simply respawn, effectively allowing you to gather them infinitely.

As for the customization system, you now have the ability to fully customize every part of your gun. In previous games, the gun you made was the gun you made, and all you could do was beef it up. Now, you can build dozens of weapon combinations using various stocks, "generators", weapon modifications and weapon tips that completely change how your weapon function.  For example, changing the tip on a plasma cutter could turn it into a slower, but slightly wider beam cutter, or into a semi-automatic beam pistol.

There’s certainly good intentions here, but I found many of the weapons simply arbitrary and otherwise useless. You can only carry two weapons now, which is down from the four of the previous games, and of those two slots, I ran the entire game with a slightly beefed up plasma cutter and a rocket launcher with a modification that protected me from my own splash damage. Nothing else seemed to be able to compare to the cutter’s dismembering power, and the launcher helped when I ran into situations where I was significantly overwhelmed and need breathing room.

Another "mechanic" that the game introduces comes into play in the latter half of the game is "Cold."  Seeing as Tau Volantis is an ice planet, you need cold weather related gear in order to survive. Until you can find it, you work your way from fire and ancient bunk house to fire and ancient bunk house to keep your body temperature up until you can finally find a cold-resistant suit.

Now, the reason I have mechanic in quotes is because, after this section, cold resistance IS NEVER USED AGAIN. I wish I was kidding. The game introduces this as a new system that is used for one entire chapter and is then completely dismissed.  There are later portions where you’re once more walking through full blizzards on mountain tops, and you could be wearing the spacewalk suit from the first half of the game with no problems. It’s just one of MANY moments in this game that just makes you go "Why…?"

The first of these "Why…?" moments come at start of this game runs through set piece after set piece of fighting human grunts, a first for the series as previous games has only set you against Necromorphs of various stages of evolution.  This game was never built to handle human-on-human combat and it shows. No one thought to animate Isaac reacting to being shot by things that aren’t acid or necro-bullets. As a consequence, normal shots fired by human enemies appear to have no impact, and the only way you are made aware that Isaac is being hit is by the health bar on his rig slowly decreasing. To try and compensate, cover-based mechanics have been introduced to the game as yet another first.

However, this is just as ham-fisted as combat against human enemies. Taking cover consists of Issac crouching behind chest high walls and, when holding the aim button, making him slightly lean over the cover to fire. Simple enough, except the camera never changes view from Issac’s right shoulder, so if there are any objects juuuust slightly to the right of Isaac, your view of anything to your right becomes completely obscured.  I wound up completely ignoring cover and charging at enemies. It was absurdly much more effective because human enemies die with an easily placed headshot.

Now after running through linear set piece after linear set piece involving these grunts, you’re finally introduced to the game’s primary antagonist (and Elton John lookalike) Jacob Danik, whose major plan consists of killing everyone, unleashing the markers, and starting Unification. Oh, and killing Isaac Clark, because for some reason he is the ONLY person in the entire universe capable of stopping Danik’s plans.  You could almost say he was the one person chosen for this task.  It’s also through his exposition that you find out that apparently EarthGov had set up research stations containing manufactured markers on what is assumed to be EVERY HUMAN COLONY THROUGHOUT SPACE. 

Let me stop right here, because… after two whole games of things going all to hell whenever and wherever Markers are found, wouldn’t someone at some point have gone "Uh…you know, maybe we shouldn’t mess around with these marker things since it seems that every time there’s a marker, everything becomes fucked."  Nope, there are just markers everywhere now because. 

On top of this, the game has now introduced the idea that Church of Unitology, which in the past two games was just a semi-harmless parody of Scientology, as an evil organization capable of toppling governments in its mission to turn all of humanity into necromorphs.

Now, in my honest opinion, the best portion of the game begins after escaping from the planet / colony / wherever, when you finally join up with the crew of EarthGov’s last remaining forces and jump through space to where Ellie and her team was last reported to be:  A series of old, derelict spaceships in orbit around Tau Volantis. These areas, though retaining the linearity, are the coolest areas to explore, both inside the dilapidated ships and when doing the space walks around them and were also barely mentioned or displayed in any sort of media leading up to the game’s release. They were a pleasant surprise, and felt the most like the last two Dead Space games. They also contain a few side missions here and there that flesh out some of the background, both to the ships and their ill-fated crew, and to the reason why they were there.

It’s here that you run into the first of several content stonewalls. The game actually completely locks you out of an entire ship if you’re playing in single player mode. It doesn’t even let you inside the door. The hologram flashes up orange with the words "Co-Op" glowing within the middle (Why hello there, 4th wall!) and your little notification viewer pops ups telling you that you can only access that content with a friend.  There are others much like this, with the very same "Co-Op" hologram blocking your path.

It all goes downhill from here unfortunately, as the moment you crash land on Tau Volantis, character motivations and plot seems to go right out the window in favor of manufactured drama and conflict, all culminating into the most ridiculously telegraphed plot twist I’ve ever seen, which is immediately followed by the most ridiculous reaction to the end result of said twist that makes me think that the developers at this point had just given up.

As it has become in Dead Space tradition, the game ends with a massive boss fight, far more ridiculous and laughable than any other boss fight before it. By the end, there was no satisfaction to be found. Only relief that the game was over and done with. The ending played, the unskippable credits blaring the most obnoxious instrumental rock I’ve ever heard rolled… then the post-credits teaser came.

And all I could do was shake my head.

So, should you play this game?  Sure. By basis of gameplay alone, it’s not all that bad minus the human combat sections. However, I wouldn’t recommend paying full price. And if you’re a fan of the franchise, prepare to be severely disappointed.