Dead Space 3
It’s a difficult balancing act for a work of horror to capture the grotesque without also becoming so. Dead Space 3 has nearly become the grotesque, a flashy and bloated genre piece. Sure, following up the generation’s most defining horror with a resolution is an unenviable task but it’s also just a simple, cinematic action sequel. The concluding entry can only resolve what’s already there and only be as horrifying as it is unexpected, and while it’s not the most refined Dead Space, it’s certainly the most ambitious.
Dead Space 3 is cut up into thirds, each with unique possibilities for horror and varying degrees of execution pulling from the source material. There’s a space station, an ice planet, and an abstract finish. The influences are Aliens, The Thing, and Lovecraftian horror, classic themes with varied character. There are probably three games worth of potential there, if they were all to be fully realized.
Visceral has taken this as license to show off their progress since the 2008 debut. The designs now feel more substantial and evoke a better sense of scale. Interiors aren’t as feverishly designed, however, with the sense of place shifting from suffocating interiors to universe building set pieces. The sound follows and continues playing into the emptiness and fullness of the spaces and action in them.
Co-op necessitates the design, propelling an overlong twenty or so hours of constant forward momentum. The concept of playing without a partner or with drop-in co-op is a huge improvement over Resident Evil 5 forcing the deficient AI to tag along. It’s a fine action game played in co-op and roughly still Dead Space played alone. The design remains built for two and while there was an initial interest in having the pure experience, co-op is the realization of a design leftover from the first game’s development. It was a last minute dashed concept and holds merit for the way the third game is built up. There are also surprisingly differences . Visceral has designed effectively for context and it’s far more fitting and better realized than the last game’s throwaway multi.
There’s also a big difference in weaponry. Rather than utilizing engineering tools as makeshift weapons, Isaac’s able to engineer parts into a more formidable arsenal. Microtransactions are objectionable because they exist. They never get in the way – apart from padding out the gun-building process – and if they’re designed to be exploited, they’re now the only ones I reasonably like. Ultimately the biggest benefit is being able to throw a friend a stacked gun if they come in late game, without upsetting the balanced design.
Enemies remain dumb and humans provide a reason to extend all the gun modding points for longer range fights, whereas dismemberment remains useful for Necromorphs. The humans also provide potential corpses for the aliens to invade and in that sense, also add to the context of that fight. The AI sadly hasn’t gotten any better over a few games and opening the environments makes their scripting more visible. For example, walk into a room and maybe Necromorphs and humans start firing and charging each other. Step away and they’ll politely return to their monster closets mid battle.
Now primarily an action game, horror’s no longer a viable excuse for AI. The tendency for AI to spawn in right behind the player’s also more noticeable in open spaces, but also because co-op makes all enemy engagement more visible. The enemies provide little reason for actually relying on a partner as in a Left4Dead or the superbly balanced patterns that keep a Halo interesting on repeat plays and make the co-op an expansive central idea.
There’s also unevenness to the pacing between the high-energy action divided by constant collect-a-thons. A good portion of the content’s superfluous and it’s unfortunate that the new locations didn’t inspire new mission ideas. You’re doing the same game on a fairly open frozen planet as in a derelict space station, and another reminder of how the originals were under designed and they’re already somewhat dated.
The action thankfully picks up for a handful of engaging last chapters informed by Lovecraftian horror which are some of the finer, more thoughtful moments in series. It’s a more philosophically interesting horror to end on, closing in some Beyond Good & Evil derivative final battle. It’s thoughtfully done and interesting to turn a franchise on its head within the crucial final moments.