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Solo Gamer Review: Dead Space 3 - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

Isaac in space
This is where Isaac's ludicrous air capacity comes in handy
Also worth note are the zero-G parts of the game. Early in the story, Isaac finds himself in a graveyard of debris-riddled old spaceships that is orbiting Tau Volantis. He spends a lot of time floating through space, salvaging wreckage, and repairing a shuttle that will eventually get him to the planet surface. These are some of my favorite moments, because no game has ever given me a more effective impression of outer space in all its vast beauty. (Granted, the closeness of all the debris isn't realistic, but I'm not known for wanting realism in my video games.) The ability to maneuver in three dimensions using thrusters in your RIG--along with the ability to fire your weapons while airborne--is maintained and perfected, and even though you quickly lose your sense of up and down, you will never need to reach for the dramamine.

Actually getting to the surface of the planet involves a crash sequence that is easily one of the most intense and exciting moments in the series. Once on Tau Volantis, a suit malfunction makes Isaac's body temperature an issue, forcing players to run from warm spot to warm spot as they keep an eye on the body temperature gauge on his back. If this brilliant mechanic continued throughout the game, it would really bolster the game's survival horror credentials, but alas, it is over way too soon.

One hallmark of survival horror that is notably absent is the anxiety over saving your game. The save stations from Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are totally done away with here, replaced with a frequent autosave and the ability to save your inventory at any time. The previous games had a way of testing your endurance with the stingy save stations, but that's completely gone now. Dying is no longer much of a concern, because you know it won't set you back too far (unless you're in the middle of one of the optional missions, which only autosave at the start and at the end).

new axe-weilding necromorph
As we all know, dual-weilding axes is super creative
The enemies, too, aren't as inventive as they have been in the past. Nearly all of the old enemy types return (except for the mysteriously absent flying necromorphs, heavy brutes, and three-part divider), although some of them, such as the Guardian and pregnant necromorph, only appear once or twice. Some of the baddies have undergone changes, like the pack being made up of starving necromorphs instead of adolescents, but aside from a difficult enemy near the end that I don't want to spoil for you, the only new enemy types are far from memorable. There are tiny crawling necromorphs that look and behave almost identically to the Flood from Halo, and they can occasionally possess a dead body to create a necromorph that carries weaponry. The most common new enemy type is a necromorph that comes running at you with two climbing axes, but aside from being more sturdy than your average necromorph, they don't behave in a novel or interesting way. Thankfully, the most ingenious baddy from Dead Space 2, the stalker, comes back with a vengeance here, especially as you approach the game's climax. Unfortunately, the boss battles in Dead Space 3 are the most mediocre yet, with three of them involving the exact same enemy. The final boss, too, is fairly generic.

The bottom line is this: if Dead Space 3 were primarily a third-person shooter--a so-called "action horror" game--it would deserve a high gameplay score. The crafting mechanic is surprisingly fun, the collectables are abundant, the action scenes are intense, and there are some clever mechanics that are--if anything--underused. The poor cover system and weak RIG modifications would count against the score, but overall, I would call this an admirably-designed shooter. As survival horror, however, it is woefully inept. The crafting mechanic, universal ammo, and huge inventory space eliminates a primary source of anxiety in survival horror, as do the generous air supply and autosaves. The parts where you're shooting at human opponents and scoring headshots is also notable for being almost blasphemous to the core concepts of the franchise, and the fact that Isaac's well-known engineering weapons take a back-seat to assault rifles and shotguns is incredibly disappointing. There are flashes of brilliance and the actual gameplay interface is seemlessly perfected, but I simply cannot say this is Dead Space at its finest.

[Gameplay: 7 - Despite awesome zero-G gameplay, intense action sequences, and an addictive crafting mechanism, this game is a huge step away from the survival horror innovations that made its predecessors so notable.]



PRESENTATION

Danik
Granted, Kain looks a hell of a lot cooler than this douche
One place where Dead Space 3 really excells is in its presentation, living up to and improving upon the work of its predecessors. The graphics are incredible, with seemingly infinite draw distances in the depths of space or while standing at the top of a mining facility on Tau Volantis. What little you see of the lunar colony at the start of the game is pretty cool, and I should stress that the load times are actually shorter than they are in the last game. There are no texture pop-ins, framerate drops, or graphical hiccups, even when there are several complex things happening on screen, and the physics feel more natural than ever.

The music, though occasionally overplayed and lacking in theme, is well-done, and as has always been true of Dead Space games, the ambient sound is truly wonderful. Even the voice acting is good, with the actors able to do much with fairly one-dimensional characters. For example, I remember thinking that the best thing about the main villain, Danik, is his voice actor, but it wasn't until I finally beat the game and watched the credits that I realized Danik is voiced by none other than Simon Templeman, a voice actor every gamer should be familiar with.

The most impressive thing the game does, though, is integrate gameplay with cutscene, doing it even more seemlessly than either of the first two games. There are several points in the game where Isaac is rappelling up or down a mountain face, and these parts are equal parts cutscene and gameplay that are impossible to pull apart. And I want to again mention the crash sequence, because holy crap is it awesome.

[Presentation: 10 - Whether you're talking about graphics, music, sound, voice acting, or the perfect integration of cutscenes, Dead Space 3 is a truly impressive technical achievement.]



SOLO GAMER SCORE

Isaac and Carver
The marketing team for this game keeps insisting that being alone isn't nearly as terrifying as having a friend
The good news for solo gamers concerned about the inclusion of co-op in Dead Space 3 is that the single-player experience is still largely intact. Your co-op partner, John Carver, doesn't follow you around throughout the game or fight alongside you as a computer-controlled AI. He pops in and out of the story for the occasional cutscene in a largely organic way, though his frequent disappearances occasionally strain the suspension of disbelief. He is, for the most part, like any other non-playable character in the game. Alas, it is still apparent from how the game is designed that Dead Space 3 was built, from the ground up, to include co-op, and that's a dumb way to approach survival horror.

There are dozens of achievements you can't unlock without playing the co-op campaign, as certain areas throughout the game are blocked off from solo gamers, preventing you from gathering all the collectables. Additionally, much of the story is obviously missing. You get teased early on about Carver's backstory, but unless you play co-op, you never get any additional information about it. This game absolutely punishes you if you choose to play it solo, and that is unforgivable from a horror game.

No, I do not believe that terror is better when it's shared. That's bullcrap. Horror is best when it's just you and your deepest fears and insecurities, when it's just you alone, having your mind tweaked ever so delicately and persistently. If I want to be scared, I don't want to be able to seek comfort with a companion. Having co-op written into the game's DNA is a huge strike against Dead Space 3, and I cannot be merciful in my score. If this weren't part of a survival horror franchise, I might be more forgiving, but as a successor to the masterful solo experience of the original Dead Space, this game is a huge disappointment.

[Solo Gamer Score: 4 - While not quite as bad as Resident Evil 5, the co-op is an enormous part of Dead Space 3, with several achievements and parts of the game blocked off from solo gamers.]



CONCLUSIONS

Isaac meets up with Ellie
"Can't we talk about this?"
The game designers made a choice early in the development of Dead Space 3 to make it a much bigger game that offers something for everyone. In this day and age, it's a logical business decision to avoid restricting a big budget title to a niche audience, but when you're crafting a survival horror experience, throwing in as much as you can is antithetical to the core precepts of the genre. Instead of restricting the experience in order to deliver white-knuckled terror, Dead Space 3 offers a wide array of flexibility and forgiveness that ironically takes away from what the series has been trying to do.

I'm left with a choice of my own: do I score this game as a big budget action game, or do I score it as survival horror? As an action game, it does a lot of things well and allows just about anybody to find something they like. Therefore, if it were a brand-new IP, this game might deserve a higher score. Unfortunately, few people are going to get interested in the Dead Space franchise at this point, as it has built a reputation as a horror tentpole. The mythology of the series is deep and intriguing, meaning that fans that got hooked on it by the horror are willing to stick around for the story whereas newcomers are going to feel like they're missing way too much. By trying to cater to a wider audience, the designers are alienating survival horror fans and limiting their potential for gain amongst the rest of the gaming community.

I could forgive this, though, if it weren't for the poorly-written characters, the substandard shooter controls when dealing with human enemies, and the subtle hostility the game shows solo gamers. As a third-person shooter, it's playing catch-up to a dozen other franchises that have already perfected the formula. I don't believe that every horror franchise must inevitably sacrifice survival mechanics for action the way so many of them do, but even setting that aside, the fact remains that, even as an action game, Dead Space 3 does not stand out.

This is a franchise with an identity crisis, and since the original Dead Space is probably the best thing to happen to the survival horror genre in a console generation, the confused state of the IP is unfortunate. If it continues in this direction, the series has no hope for much of a future; it will just turn into a copy of every other game out there where you run around in a drab sci-fi setting shooting everything that comes at you with the standard array of assault weaponry. Therefore, unless somebody comes along and restores the franchise to what made it great in the first place, I would be content letting this be the final chapter of the necromorph story.




FINAL TALLY
STORY: 6
GAMEPLAY: 7
PRESENTATION: 10
SOLO GAME SCORE: 4

TOTAL SCORE: 6.8

I won't be shedding any tears if this is the end of the franchise.



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-e. magill 3/5/2013










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