The Dead Space series may very well be EA's most ambitious franchise. Starting as a simple survival horror title, its popularity quickly lead to a sequel. Dead Space 2 was so highly regarded that EA took it upon themselves to make a third title. This may not seem all too ambitious as any game that does well tends to get a sequel (except Shadow of the Colossus), but it is since each sequel is completely different from the original.
The original Dead Space was, as I described, a survival horror title. You were a faceless mechanic aboard a ship that had gone to crap. The second title branched away from the original, replacing fear with gut-wrenching action, and a more in depth story-line. Now, the third title has appeared. Deciding the only similarities it really wanted to share with its forefathers were the characters and plot, Dead Space 3 is a complete facelift for the series. The co-op alone is groundbreaking for the series, but the more open-world focused gameplay and side-missions seem to be EA's way of saying “we can take risks”. The question is: are these risks worth taking?
I'M ALIVE IN HERE
Iconic Action Still Pertains - There is a simple truth in shooting titles; killing things that are vastly different from you is more fun than killing things that fight the same way you do. That simple truth is the reason I play Dead Space and not Call of Duty's single player. Shooting things that shoot back and are limited to guns is boring. Shooting things that are literal walking weapons with no regard for their survival and come in more varieties than the available ice cream selection at Cold Stone (RIP Baskin Robbins) is freaking awesome. Dead Space 3 may be entirely different from the humble title it came from, but the combat is still there, even if it got streamlined.
Horror for Two - I can imagine more than a few gamers who were probably bothered by the addition of co-op gameplay. I heard the argument “but the game won't be scary if there are two people playing”. Right, except Dead Space 2 had already pulled away from the fear side of things, and action had already replaced it as the driving force of the series. Co-op was a logical choice for EA.
The odd thing is, the co-op is actually good. Not only do players get additional side quests when they play co-op, but the character interaction is worth finding someone with a second copy to play with. Isaac and John make a great team that contrasts each other in a good light, and not an over-the-top way. The only possible down side to the co-op is that the game becomes slightly empty without a second player.
All the Necessities are There - Even if a game is good, sloppy controls, awful graphics, or even an out-of-place soundtrack can quickly send it plummeting down a chasm of mediocrity. Fortunately for Dead Space 3, it slides by. The graphics aren't the best I've ever seen, and the controls can sometimes become overly complicated in an intense moment, but it all holds out. There are very few “little problems” that keep Dead Space 3 from being a good title.
Kinda Witty - Dead Space has more or less cemented its storyline. You know any sequel to the series will probably include Isaac fighting an even more powerful Necromorph threat and that's fine. The only drawback to a predictable plot is that you have to focus on something else to entertain players when they're not killing things. EA realized this and included a nice bit of almost unnoticeable character development. Watching two completely different characters go from hating each other to cracking jokes about gas that eats your face without you even noticing until you look at the contrast is pretty impressive.
A Ton of Backsory - Dead Space 3 may have pulled a bit away from the horror side of things, but it's still creepy. Throughout the game are side-missions and audio logs that give a solid back-story to the places that the players will visit. The best part about these logs and side-missions is that you can literally watch a completely legitimate expedition delve into total madness. The worst part is, once the audio log ends, you're still stuck in the nightmare that the people created.
NOW STAY DEAD
It's Not Scary Anymore - If it wasn't made known in Dead Space 2 that the developers were moving away from a survival horror, they made it perfectly clear in the sequel. I can quite literally count the amount of times I jumped because I got scared on one hand. There were no corridors you didn't want to walk down and there were no unexpected moments. Like I said, Dead Space 3 has replaced fear with action, but it is certainly sad to see a good survival horror title go.
Weak to Strong - The beginning of Dead Space 3 starts in a fairly typical manner. You're underpowered, your weapons are weak, and you don't have enough health to let a necromorph so much as fart in your general direction. This is fine as it makes the game a bit more intense. The problem is, at about the halfway point, you become an un-killable juggernaut. The weapons, health, and armor you should probably have at about the 80% completion point are given to you before you start the second half of the game. The game pretty much becomes a walk in the park for people playing on the lower difficulty settings before they figure out how to use stasis.
I Only Need 1 Gun - The line gun is perhaps one of the most iconic weapons in shooting history, and ranks right up there with the BFG 9000 and the needler. It's a weapon that lets you rotate your shots and cut limbs off of anything. Here's the problem: if a game gives you the ability to make almost any weapon you can imagine (this includes a harpoon gun that shoots acid, and a flamethrower with a bayonet at the end of it), you probably shouldn't run through the entire game with your starting weapon. My first playthrough, I had 2 weapons. A 3-shot burst SMG for the human enemies and the line gun for everything else.
Strong Start, Weak Finish - Beginning Dead Space 3, a player may feel overwhelmed. There's a lot to do in the beginning and a large variety of places to explore. An especially notable point in the beginning is when the players are given a side-mission that puts them in a dangerous game of traps that they must overcome if they wish to acquire better equipment. However, about the time the player crash-lands onto the snow ridden planet, they will quickly notice some repetition. Almost all the side-quests planetside use the exact same corridors and level design, and it becomes difficult to tell them apart. What's even stranger is that it seems like there's less to do on a wide open snow planet than a relatively small space cruiser.
I said when I started this review that the Dead Space series is quite ambitious. Never content with the previous designs, the titles always seem to reach even further forward, and that is very respectable. The only problem is that the game was perhaps too ambitious. EA has made some great strides forward with the addition of co-op gameplay and a wider variety of places to explore, but they also took some steps back. They worked too hard in the beginning, forgot some of the defining features of Dead Space that set it apart from other game series, and got lazy. It's a shame too. If they had worked harder, Dead Space 3 could have been an amazing game, and not just a good game.
*This review was based on the PC retail version of the game.*