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EA Sort of Dismembers Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3 Cover

Last week, I profiled the Dead space series thus far. This week, I beat the final installment on its hardest difficulty setting. Here are my thoughts on the experience:

I was halfway through DS3 when I decided that what I was playing was no longer Dead Space. The environments looked like Dead Space. The skittering sounds induced nervousness like Dead Space. The gameplay even felt like Dead Space. So why did I feel so different? I looked at Isaac as he stepped out of the new suit kiosk, glimmering in his bright golden pre-order First Contact suit holding a DLC Evangelizer as Ellie came in over the comm system. That’s when it really hit me: Isaac you’ve changed, and for the worse.

Story (spoilers)

The ways in which Isaac Clarke has changed can be highlighted in a number of areas. These variations are not all flawed, but a few glaring issues prove jarring for longtime fans of the series. The worst involve his character developments. In the first Dead Space, he signed up for what was supposed to be a routine repair mission, a detachment crew sent from one spaceship to aid another. His goal was to visit his girlfriend, and he unwittingly stepped into the middle of the necromorph nightmare. Despite this, he maintains stoic, almost unflinching composure throughout the game.

Enter Isaac Clarke in Dead Space 2. No longer mute, he voices his opinions and worries with those who share his plight. Isaac discusses strategy with his allies and argues with visions of his dead girlfriend, images which the markers use in an attempt to destroy Isaac’s sanity (which he has somehow maintained). The player can relate his decisions, his feelings, how unsettled and tired he is with the mental and physical struggles that have come to define his life. Moreover, we’re impressed by how brave he is for succeeding where others would have failed.

Then there is Dead Space 3. Despite being incredibly well voice-acted, Isaac just isn’t the same: He no longer attacks his problems head on, instead hiding from them at the outset of the game. He has trouble focusing on the task of hand, instead more concerned that his ex is now seeing a space marine type. He no longer has to deal with forced mental invasions, instead blowing more trivial matters out of proportion. As a result, Isaac’s personal story has become uncompelling, and worse, he himself has become almost unlikable. Assuming the events in the game were possible, I find it incredibly hard to fathom that the mental fortitude and composure of two grown men in a space zombie apocalypse would be completely shattered by some high school level drama involving a girl.  This is especially true when you factor in that Isaac’s history and Norton’s backstory. These are not the type of people to crack under the most average of emotional pressures.

Factor in some other moments of massive failure and players lose all hope of ever being able to respect the characters. A perfect example is a portion of the game where you have to collect cross sections of a dead creature, Rosetta, in order to build something referred to as the codex (heads up, Rosetta is an alien). During the course of this assembly, the characters think that the cross sections are those of a human… even though the clearly alien head piece is already in the apparatus where Rosetta is being assembled. This is incredibly frustrating because yes, Isaac may be a spaceship engineer, but it does not take a doctor to realize that huge thing with 4 eye sockets couldn’t possibly belong to a human.

Is it so hard for the characters to expect they may be assembling an alien specimen in a world where their main problem is space zombies? It doesn’t help the the main unitologist baddie, Dannick, has you at gun point on at least three separate occasions and lets you escape all of them. Not even the villain is remotely intelligent.

The other components of DS3′s story don’t fare much better. It attempts to provide answers to the questions that the saga has created, the most important of which is the origin and purpose of the markers. Throughout the course of the game you find out details that indicate that the markers may be alien and that they are some sort of communication system. By exploring Tau Volantis, you find out more about their origin and various other alien technologies. Towards the end of the game, you find out that they’re a necromorph technology and that the rest of the things you’ve found belong to a race that was attempting to avoid being destroyed by the necromorph menace. Though they ultimately failed, they were able to severely hamper the progress of their foe by mostly (but not entirely) signal jamming the markers.

Dead Space 3 final bossIsaac, overcoming his “I want out” mentality,” does his best to finish what his alien predecessors started and use their technology to destroy the necromorphs. Things go sideways at the last minute thanks to those pesky unitologists, and you instead unsignal jam the markers and encounter the first true necromorph and creator of the markers… which is, erm, a moon. A big angry moon with a ton of tentacles that definitely seems like it belongs in some Japanese porno. Isaac and Carver fight it with tiny guns and by throwing floating markers into its eyes. Somewhere within EA and Visceral, somebody messed up BIG time.

Not content with letting the storyline die a noble death and clearly lying about you finally being able to “Take Down the Terror,” Isaac is heard at the end of the credits calling out for his ex over his comm system, which is really stupid, because before fighting said angry zombie moon in a super silly manner, Isaac’s space helmet gets destroyed. Ignoring him somehow surviving said battle in space without a helmet, he also gets thrown farther into space from dying zombie moon after defeating it. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of space, you can’t breathe there. In fact, the death you would suffer is super painful, but no one informed the developers of this.

The story is probably the last reason you want to buy this game. EA and Visceral denied Isaac an epic finale and a heroic death, something that I think most fans were expecting given the nature of the series. Instead, they’re keeping the series story they’ve all but killed barely alive in order to milk every last penny that they can out of it.

Combat

The combat succeeds at achieving its most important purpose, to be entertaining. Players shouldn’t fret: There are still few enemies more fun to dismantle than a necromorph. The nervousness when you face down a wave of stubborn enemies is still there, as is the satisfying feeling of overcoming your foes. This formula has always been one of the strengths of the series and it still, even barely modified from the first installment, feels fresh and incredibly unique.

Sadly, DS3 still suffers from some critical flaws, most notably the lack of new elements. It adds only two new enemy types, only compensating for this by slightly modifying the behavior of some of the reappearing enemies. I see this as inexcusable given DS2′s successful inclusion of a wide variety of new enemies. To make matters worse, many of the enemies that appeared in the previous installments are no longer in DS3. This makes absolutely no sense to me as many of these enemies were actually quite fun to battle, lacking any overt problems that merit removing them. The added variation these enemies would have provided is sorely needed in Dead Space 3′s environments.

The game starts off well, placing fans in environments similar to the Ishimura. It quickly attempts to freshen things up with things on the icy planet of Tau Volantis. Unfortunately, the game soon begins relying on backtracking, and the lacking enemy variation makes many of the encounters feel overly similar. This problem could have been alleviated by having some rooms spawn random unit compositions instead of identical patterns. If you can memorize room spawns, it severely limits replayability (especially for me, since my first play through was on impossible difficulty).

To make matters worse, the developers chose to reuse some of the worst enemies imaginable: Bosses! Why would anyone in their right mind recycle bosses? Maybe if they had been mini-bosses this would have been excusable, but these re-encounters with previous bosses are an attempt to be real bosses! The fight with the Nexus is a direct rehash of DS1′s final Hive Mind boss. The Snow Beast is an enemy you have to fight on 3 separate occasions and whose mechanics don’t change at all during each of the 3 encounters.  Worst of all, the angry space moon is stolen from an entirely DIFFERENT game: Mass Effect 2′s Reaper boss finale. At least EA and Visceral had the decency to give Mass Effect fans the ability to wear Commander Shepard inspired armor while doing battle with the Reaper, er, I mean angry space moon.

New Features

The highly hyped new weapons bench and co-op modes are a mixed bag, but I actually enjoyed these features. Weapons crafting allows a whole mess of fun things to be built: Shotguns with trip mines, electric anchored bolas that are like placeable electric lawnmower blades, rocket launchers with secondary assault rifle fire capabilities, snipers with a melee attachments, etc.  You can tell the design team really had fun throwing these ideas together. Combine that with the ability to slap two guns together and you have a addictive little mini game. Throw in additional electrical circuit modification slots that allow you to increase gun stats like damage, reload, clip size, etc. and you realize that this feature is one of the only things DS3 does right. While some of the options (such as the pre-order only Evangelizer shotgun) may be too overpowered, playing with these new toys is simply too much fun.

The resource system has also been revamped. Instead of getting specific types of ammo for your weapons and generic money, you get the opposite: you get generic universal usable ammo and specific resources by either finding them or delivery by scavenger bot. The universal ammo transforms the game from horror survival to action, as you don’t have to worry about what gun you want to take with you based on limited ammo supplies. Also, a smart player should never have basic supply (ammo and health) problems as you can now build ammo and health at the weapons bench via acquired resources. These different types of resources are also utilized to build parts for your gun which you may not have yet encountered. The same goes for suit upgrades. Suits, by the way, no longer have inherent stat bonuses, you wear the ones you think are aesthetically pleasing and that is it. When you break down a weapon, you get to keep all the parts it was composed of.  This means that experimenting with different weapon combinations is incredibly easy and encouraged.

Co-op is also entertaining: There’s nothing like blasting baddies alongside a friend. Despite this, DS3 should have thought through a couple things a little harder. For instance, the game never becomes difficult enough for two experienced, upgraded players to feel challenged. I beat the game on Impossible solo, so adding a partner and not giving the game a way to ramp up difficulty based on whether there are one or two players means that everything is just too simple. The game supposedly throws more bad guys at you, but I noticed absolutely no difference.

A second issue is that in order to experience Carver’s plotline, you need to play through as Carver to see his visions in the side quests. This is really, really frustrating if you’re a story buff but have no friends who you can play the game with. I find myself in this predicament as we speak, and the mostly mute DS3 playing community is often unwilling to venture into the side quests which I so desperately want to experience when I join their game as a second player (the only way to play as Carver). If I make my own game, I have to play as Isaac, thus failing to get the full experience. I still haven’t had the opportunity to play all of Carver’s co-op missions despite having beat the game 3 days ago. It seems silly that you can’t just go play them through alone as Carver.

Finally, sometimes I just randomly disconnect from EA’s server. I have a solid connection that’s rarely been a problem with other games, but this is definitely an abnormally high frequency for me.

There’s also the infrequent glitch here and there. I’ve fallen through the bottom of an elevator, warped through a wall, etc. When I play co-op and change suits in the suit kiosk I can see nothing of my ally but floating lights like the spinal column health indicator, stasis level readout, and ammo counter.  This does not affect gameplay in any way, but betrays a slight lack of attention to detail.

Tone

Perhaps the greatest difference between DS3 and the previous installments is the feeling you get playing the game. It’s no longer scary. Sure, there is a surprise here and there, but many of the attempts used to catch the players off guard are recycled. Despite the shift, Dead Space 3′s new feel kind of works. This is Isaac’s 3rd encounter with the necromorph menace and he’s already survived twice, so it stands to reason that he as a character would be less scared. This constant battle of the undead is no longer new. Instead, the game attempts to keep the player constantly tense and alert. It tries to wear you down with constant stress. Though I preferred (and was expecting) the feel of the older installments, my complaints are more subjective than objective.

The series’ graphics and sound have always been top notch, and fortunately EA’s massive production capabilities continue to push the boundaries.  The visuals are hauntingly beautiful, allowing you to see every detail in the classic Dead Space look. The sound is particularly standout, adding a lot to the tension to the environments. The game combines necromorph air vent skitterings with a clash of sharp strings when they come out to attack. The battle music also cleverly does not play when there is no necromorph in your field of vision. This means that necromorphs can sneak up on you from behind and you won’t be alerted until after you’ve been hit, providing an additional sense of expertly induced paranoia.

DLC

I hate this. I hate this so much. EA is consistently one of the worst offenders when it comes to day of release DLC. I unwrapped my pre-order Dead Space 3 and logged on, only to find EA was already trying to squeeze every penny out of me by shamelessly flaunting three entirely separate DLC packs. I did not buy them, so I can not tell you what they contained or how they performed. I don’t think I should need to. This is a totally inexcusable maneuver that needs to stop being pulled on newly released games. I’m too angry to articulate much more on the subject.

Conclusion

Despite my numerous grievances with Dead Space 3, I still like it. I really do.  It’s incredibly fun to play, much like prior installments.  The problem I have is that it could have been so much more. If it had continued building upon the improvements that DS2 provided, it would have cemented the series as the unstoppable juggernaut it was meant to be. I was holding it to these standards, and sadly I was let down. I feel like a disappointed friend, telling Isaac “You could have been so much more!”  The burning questions I had about where the markers came from were answered in ways so terrible that yanked me out of the game experience. A sequel should add more to the universe, and the further into the world the installments take you, the more you should feel a part of that world. Instead, Dead Space 3 destroyed my once great connection to a previously interesting universe.

Buy, rent, or avoid?

Definitely rent. If you’ve never played the series it’s worth a try, and even if you are a series fan you’re still probably interested enough in what DS3 has to offer to warrant at least a single playthrough. Though I pre-ordered this game, I will have to rent Dead Space 4 before my faith in the series is reinstated.

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