Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dead Space 3

Post-Launch Review
Dead Space 3 (PC)
Developer:Visceral Games
Released: February 2013
Played: story complete in 13h20min; Awakened DLC complete in1h15min


Some time after the events of Dead Space 2, the Unitologists are inciting rebellions all over the colonies to free the markers and start necromorph infestations. Isaac Clarke is pulled from an outbreak by Earthgov's last military unit, and they set out to find Ellie Langford's research team on Tau Volantis, an ice planet which appears to be the source of the marker signal and which may offer a way to end the necromorph threat for good.

At Launch

Dead Space 3 was well received, earning average review scores of 78%. Reviewers were impressed with the expansive crafting system and larger scope, and how well the co-op is integrated into the story. Critics felt that some of the plot points were weak, and that the game stumbles any time it moves away from the series' core combat design. Gameplay was still mostly viewed as strong and exciting, but with forgettable bosses and more focus on action than horror.

Post Launch

The Awakened DLC pack adds a bit more story after the core game's ending.
There are a large number of small DLC packs, most adding a weapon or a suit and a weapon. DLC weapons contain exclusive customization parts that are not available in normal gameplay. There are upgrades to the scavenger bot's capacity and speed, as well as a "personality pack" which adds silly voice lines to the scavengers. The Tau Volantis Survival Kit combines several DLC packs and the bot speed upgrade into one discounted pack.

I guess it's inevitable that an action-horror series will lean more on action and less on horror as the scale increases. I noticed this right away in Dead Space 3. The first half of the very short prologue seemed like a lazy or incompetent attempt at horror, having your character - supposedly a trained soldier - scream every time he sees a guy with an axe. Second half of the prologue is an actiony escape from a ship. And when we finally get back to Isaac Clarke, he's immediately pulled out of his apartment by some military guys and shot at by Unitologists. I never liked calling Dead Space survival horror (I've always thought of it as action horror) but here it's so firmly in the realm of action that I would actually laugh at anyone calling it survival. An hour in, once you board a derelict ship infested with necromorphs, the game finally starts feeling like Dead Space - ie, no guys shooting at you, hidden monsters, and no pounding action soundtrack.
The series' fantastic UI is diluted in effectiveness just a bit - the objective marker is kind of ruined in the city and other complex environments without blueprints/maps. It made sense in the Ishimura, a ship with a known layout, but does Isaac's suit really know the full exact layout of the city and exactly where he's going so that it can project a holographic path for him?

I also find it a little odd that the game tells me to stomp on enemies to get items. If I'm recalling correctly, in previous games, enemies just dropped stuff when they died. I used the stomp out of paranoia that the guy I killed wasn't dead yet, or that the corpse in the hallway wasn't really a corpse. The way Isaac yelled every time he stomped invoked the desperation and brutality of violently stomping on corpses as a safety measure. But now the game is like "stomp on guys to get teh lootz". Hrm.
While we're on the topic of lootz, let's talk crafting! Dead Space 3's weapon crafting system is actually pretty nifty. Each weapon is built from 3 core parts: a frame, a tool, and a tip. The frame determines whether you're building a one-handed or two-handed weapon, how many circuit upgrade slots the weapon will have, and may include some built-in bonuses if you find the rare frames. The tool determines what the weapon fires: projectiles, electricity, saws, etc. And the tip modifies the actual projectile. As an example, a two-handed stock with a military engine can create a shotgun with a conic dispersion tip, or an automatic rifle with a precision tip. Using a two-handed frame also lets you build in a lower tool, which will give you a second firing mode which is equally customizable as the first. And finally you have two mod slots which can be used for a variety of effects. All of this allows for a lot of customization and experimentation. I ended up using an arc lightning gun with a melee blade, and as a secondary I used an assault rifle with an AoE shockwave.
Dead Space 3 has a curious and sort of annoying blend of "save anywhere" and "checkpoint save". There's a menu option to save and quit, but it only saves your inventory - when you continue playing you're put at the last checkpoint, but with the inventory you had when you quit. I guess it's better than checkpoint only, but when I hit save and quit and loaded the game up again a ways back of where I quit - before an elevator, which I thought was a loading area and checkpoint - I was confused and mad.

PC controls are a little awkward. Movement and the interface seem to have been designed for controllers. Isaac can't strafe while moving forward (ie diagonal movement), and some menus or minigames require you to move the cursor diagonally by simultaneously pressing two direction keys (which often doesn't work and will give you one direction or the other).

The first time I met Ellie the boobiness of her low-cut shirt actually broke my immersion. Dead Space is a game filled with horror and over-the-top violence and gore - sex is the last thing on my mind while playing - and SUDDENLY BOOBS. Really breaks the atmosphere. Fortunately she covers up later and I didn't have to worry about it again.

I remember a lot of people being skeptical about how scary a snow planet could be, around the time the game first launched. Well, it's pretty scary. When you first arrive on the planet your gear is damaged and can't protect you from the cold, so you have to monitor your body temperature and find heat sources to warm up. Once necromorphs start burrowing under the snow to catch you by surprise, things do indeed get pretty suspenseful! And often you get blowing snow that won't let you see very far ahead of you, so you're isolated in a sea of white where the monsters could come from anywhere at any time.

There seems to be quite a lot missing between Dead Space 2 and 3, with references to Isaac giving up and hiding, the Earthgov forces being absolutely shattered, and Unitology uprisings freeing markers all over the colonies. It can be a little confusing to wonder how long it's been since Dead Space 2 and what's been happening, but it's not super important because none of it really involved Isaac.

Anyway, the story is pretty good. The new developments center around Tau Volantis, the marker homeworld, an ice planet abandoned two hundred years ago after a necromorph uprising wiped out the research teams. It seems that before being destroyed, the research teams discovered a way to end the influence of the markers, and most of the story revolves around piecing together what happened to the researchers and recovering their findings.

Carver, the guy the second player controls during co-op, is a bit of a weak link in the story if you're going single player. He has to survive and be present through the whole game since he's the co-op character, but in single player he just disappears for entire missions. The dialogue always accounts for the co-op presence, but playing by myself, I just got confused every time anyone mentioned that Carver was working hard too. Really? Where was he while I was fighting all those giant mutant zombie monsters? Thus, the choice to include co-op weakens the single player just a bit.
The one big flaw in the writing is (highlight for spoilers) when Isaac kills Ellie's current boyfriend Robert. Robert has been against the plan from the beginning; he locks Isaac in a cage and leaves him to die so that he can cancel the mission and take Ellie offworld; when Isaac escapes it turns out Robert sold their location to the Unitologists; and Robert still points a gun at Isaac's head even after Isaac saved his life. So Isaac kills Robert. And what does he tell Ellie? "I shot your boyfriend. I'm sorry, I had no choice." And then he goes on to basically say "I don't understand why you're mad at me, get over it already". Uh... WHAT?! How about you tell her about the MULTIPLE attempts to kill you, the betrayal, the attempt to end Ellie's mission against her will? And then Isaac fails to save someone and gets all mopey and for some reason this makes Ellie understand and everything's OK between them. What. The. Hell.

Anyway, the ending left me pleasantly surprised but didn't quite complete the story. Highlight for some more spoilers: Isaac is faced with the choice between saving the human race and protecting someone he cares about. Usually what happens in this situation is that the hero can't sacrifice the person, which makes it seem like all is lost but it still works out in the end. That's not what happens at with Isaac's choice, which is nice. There's a little tease at the end of the credits which is also interesting. What bugged me, though, is that everything seems to be firmly concluded (at least for now), but we still don't know where the original black marker came from. Hm. This is especially distressing given that EA viewed Dead Space 3's sales were somewhat disappointing.

The game was pretty easy for me on normal difficulty. If you're an experienced gamer who wants a challenge, definitely play on a higher difficulty. I had modified the Mjolnir blueprint to one-shot almost every enemy in the game (and damage nearby enemies with arc lightning). And with a stasis mod attached, anything that didn't die instantly couldn't move, so I just shot it again. And if something managed to get in close, the underslung melee blade made short work of it - again, slowing the enemies because of the stasis mod. Even though enemies get tougher, you can easily keep pace with the one-shots if you find the stronger damage circuits.

When you visit a Bench or Suit Kiosk, you might notice that there's a button option for "downloadable content". This is partially an in-game store for the DLC, but there's another option. If you deploy scavenger bots at resource caches, you might notice that the bots retrieve something called "ration seals" which appear to have no purpose. In the DLC menu you can spend ration seals on resource packs that will give you some crafting materials plus some strong weapon mods you can't find normally in-game. That's kind of nice.

Halfway through the game I noticed that the DLC was on sale, since I happened to be playing during Origin's Black Friday sale. I thought, what the heck, I'll try the Tau Volantis Survival Kit, which includes several DLC packs at a discounted price. I regretted it pretty much immediately. The new suits aren't different enough from the normal ones to be really interesting, and while the DLC weapons do include exclusive pieces to use in crafting, none of them really fit my play style (in other words I didn't find them as useful as the superweapon I built myself using normal components). The bot upgrades are nice to have, but not necessary by any means - I was swimming in resources even before I got the bot speed boost, and that's without the capacity boost as well.

Recommendation: play it.

Dead Space 3 builds on the story of the previous games, finally giving us some (but not many) answers on what the markers are and where they come from (which will be pretty confusing if you haven't played the previous 2 games). I was worried at first that the game would lean too heavily on action setpieces after a noisy opening, but fortunately it quickly moves back to the dark, creepy atmosphere of the previous games, where you're alone with thousands of mutant zombie monsters. The same problems I've always had with the franchise are still present - namely, insistent scary music stings and becoming too powerful for the horror vibe - but the first of those might not bother you, and the second is mitigated by playing on higher difficulties. There's a new problem, too- the co-op is well integrated into the story, but the downside is that it makes the single player a little odd. Weapon crafting is great, though, and adds a lot of variety and customization.
Dead Space 3 is simultaneously a pretty good conclusion to a trilogy and also a tease for more, though I found it a little weaker than its predecessors.

Awakened DLC: play it, unless you want a conclusion.

The Awakened DLC pack is short - it took me just over an hour to play through - but there are some major plot developments that dramatically up the stakes, concluding with a jaw-dropping bang. You also get a few more weapon upgrades that'll boost your strength a little, useful if you plan on doing a new game + playthrough. Only downside is that popping on a massive cliffhanger ruins any sense of finality you might've got from the main campaign, and at this time there's no word on Dead Space 4 other than rumours that it was cancelled.


  1. You don't have to stomp anything if you do enough damage to it with your weapon. A simple arm/leg dismemberment in DS1 wouldn't always net you some loot. It's a damage based system.

  2. thank you for this. I Absolutely agree with the horror being toned down and the survival aspect lacking. I Finished this game but i did not do as much as you have. the weapon crafting never really took off with me and good to know that the dlc is worth it.
    Dead space 2 was so much more fun... unfortunately