Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dead Space 3

the end is near!

We've finally come to it, the final installment in the Dead Space trilogy. Engineer and protagonist Isaac Clarke has managed to survive the Ishimura. He made it through the Sprawl and its Unitologist fanatics. Now it's time to go to the marker homeworld and finish this thing!  Reviews for this game are all over the place with Game Informer giving it a 98, Xbox Magazine giving it a 70, and VideoGamer giving it a 50. Read on to see what your friendly neighborhood gamer-nerd feels on the subject!

so what happens?!

First off, let me say that this section contains some spoilers, so if you haven't finished the game yet and don't want me to ruin it for you, skip on down to the next heading. The game has a great opening. It drops you into the action just like Dead Space 2. It starts with you playing as someone other than Isaac Clarke for the first time. You're an EarthGov private on an ice-covered planet called Tau Volantis, which we later learn is the marker homeworld. You retrieve something called "the codex" and return in to your commanding officer who promptly shoots you, destroys the codex, then puts a bullet in his own head. The action then switches to Isaac and there's barely enough time to get your bearings before you come under attack from Unitologist forces trying to kill the one person who can destroy the markers and save 

You manage to escape and trace Ellie (your ex-girlfriend and fellow marker-hater) to an iceberg of a planet that is the marker homeworld, Tau Volantis. Upon arrival, your ship is torn apart by space mines and you must salvage parts from various other abandoned ships in the vicinity to reach the planet's surface. This provided some of the most fun portions of gameplay as you fly through space in your suit collecting the needed parts. Finally, you are able to reach Tau Volantis and start your mission to destroy the markers. 

Unfortunately, you were followed to the planet by Danick, the psychopathic Unitologist leader bent on releasing the markers' full power on mankind, thereby transforming us all into necromorphs. He believes it is the next step in human evolution. His Unitologist forces are trying to stop you at every turn. You also face a veritable army of necromorphs, many of which you will recognize from previous games while others are new to the franchise. Some of my favorite battles in the game came from fights between you, the Unitologists, and the necromorphs. Many times you could lay back and let one side finish off the other, then just clean up what's left. I won't cover every last detail, but the gist is that you find out you can re-create the codex and use it on "The Machine". This machine can activate all the markers and lead to the destruction of mankind, but it also has the power to destroy them all. Why the markers would create their own self-destruct mechanism is beyond me, but let's suspend our disbelief for a bit on that point. Suffice it to say you are left in a battle that will either destroy the entire human race or save all of mankind. 

The Dead Space franchise borrows heavily from other classic sci-fi movies. It's the perfect mix of Alien and Event Horizon with a smidge of The Thing thrown in for good measure (The Kurt Russell version. I refuse to watch the re-make on general principle). The variation in environments is a welcome addition to the third installment of Dead Space. In the first one, you spent all your time on the Ishimura. The second takes place almost entirely on the massive space station known as the Sprawl. This one starts on Tau Volantis, then moves to Isaac's apartment in an EarthGov colony, then to a spaceship, then into actual space itself, and finally back down to Tau Volantis. The game also includes side quests, an option not available in the previous two. They help take away some of the linear feel of the previous games, giving the player less of a feeling of a pre-determined outcome. 

It turns out that the ancient alien race Isaac thought created the markers was actually being attacked by them, just like humanity. Rather than let the markers destroy all life in the galaxy, they flash-froze Tau Volantis and themselves in a single day to stop the Convergence (the previously described destruction of all life). They're a little fuzzy on how they managed to flash-freeze an entire planet, but again, this is science fiction. Disbelief suspension is part and parcel to the genre. Do you really believe that pudgy little extra terrestrials can make bicycles fly with their minds? It doesn't matter. You cheered as loud as I did when E.T. helped Elliott and his crew get past that police roadblock. 

Somewhat similar to the Reapers in Mass Effect, the markers allow species throughout the universe to grow and thrive for millennia, then awaken to destroy them. The only difference being that the markers somehow feed on the species they're destroying for sustenance. The Reapers were destroying all life in the galaxy as some sort of cosmic reset button. It also shares something in common with Game of Thrones in that the writers weren't scared to kill off seemingly vital characters. This adds depth, emotional involvement, and gravitas to the game. I won't reveal how it ends in case some of you ignored the spoiler warning above. Suffice it to say I feel that this was an enjoyable and believable end to EA's fantastic sci-fi horror franchise. 


For the final chapter in the Dead Space trilogy, the developers completely overhauled the weapon and upgrade systems. You are even able to craft your own weapons at benches in order to match your personal style of play. As you can see in the picture above, a main difference is the addition of over/under weapons. Reminiscent of Ripley's duct-taped pulse rifle/flamethrower combination in Aliens, this allows players to have a rifle and a line gun in the same weapon. Aiming and pressing the right trigger fires the rifle, left trigger fires the line gun. 

The weapon upgrade system was easy to learn and easily superior to previous games. Not only can you build your own custom weapons, but you regularly find upgrade chips that can be attached to any gun to improve its performance. These improve damage, rate of fire, clip size, and reload speed. Depending on the type of weapon, you could add anywhere from two to eight of these chips to your gun. The weapon crafting options allow a player to have both long range and short range attack options in a single gun. This was especially helpful when being attacked by a gang of necromorphs. I would start out firing a rifle at them from a distance, but as they closed in I used a shotgun to dispatch the former humans without having to take precious seconds to switch weapons. In case you're not familiar with Dead Space, the markers turn humans into necromorphs. These necromorphs can turn other humans into the monsters pretty much the same way zombies do, by taking a big bite out of their flesh. 

There was a LOT more loot in this game than the previous two. I suspect it is an unintended consequence of the weapon crafting/upgrade system. Instead of just picking up health packs and ammo, you're picking up health packs, ammo, weapon schematics, upgrade chips, weapon parts, and elements used to craft both weapon parts and necessary items. This led to a vastly larger amount of looting. It also inspired me to search every area as intently as an OCD patient preparing to lock the house and go to bed. Personally, I loved it. Who doesn't love finding loot? However, the basic needs of the game's crafting system were beyond the ability of the environment to provide. The answer? Scavenger bots. These little puppies are acquired as you play and scout the area around you for items needed for crafting. After 5-10 minutes of scavenging, they return to the weapon bench and await your arrival, loot in hand. While they don't add a lot to the gameplay experience, they were necessary to keep loot collection at a reasonable and believable level while still providing enough raw materials to make crafting fun and useful. 

so the ride's got more accessories, but how does she handle? 

Short answer? Better than the previous models but there is still some small room for improvement. The actual gameplay isn't much different from Dead Space 1 and 2. Although it was part of both the previous games, stomping and dismembering dead necromorphs never got old. I would enjoy it even if loot didn't pop out of their corpses. Nothing was more pleasing than detaching part of a dead necromorph and using kinesis to hurl it at a live one (kinesis being a gravity tool equipped to your suit that is used to move objects). One of the highlights of the game for me were the early missions in space. Mines and aliens aside, who wouldn't want to fly through space in a protective booster suit? 

There are several small "puzzle" games sprinkled throughout Dead Space 3. In other games this type of addition can be annoying, but here it was a nice change of pace from battling necromorphs and Unitologists. They didn't get in the way of the experience and, if anything, add to the player's immersion in the story. One exception was the large, ancient alien doors near the end of the game (don't worry, no spoilers). The player had to place three symbols in the correct order on nearby panels to open the blockages. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order, so you are left simply trying combination after combination until you lucked into the right one. However, it was a minor inconvenience in an otherwise effective set of puzzles included in the larger game. 

Elevators and airlocks are present throughout the game. They are a cleverly used way to disguise the fact that the console is loading up the next area you're about to enter. It helps continuity by never forcing the player to watch a loading screen and causing a break in the flow of action. My one knock on them is that any items carried into an elevator seem to magically disappear once you press the button. I tried to carry a mounted buck's head with me (don't ask) into the next area in order to use the horns as a weapon, but as soon as I hit the "up" button, it vanished. Another thing I found mildly annoying was the inability to backtrack in certain situations. Doors that you had previously used with no problem became locked and you were no longer allowed to enter. I backtracked 9/10ths of the way through one level to reach a loot room, only to find the last door impassable. That said, I only encountered this issue once in the entire 20+ hours of gameplay. 

in summation

I thoroughly enjoyed this game, as much or more so than the previous two. I really don't understand why the reviews have been so mixed. This one got a 76 on (a review aggregating site that averages all reviews into a single score) whereas Dead Space 1 and 2 got a 90 and 89, respectively. There were enough additions to make it feel like an improvement over the previous iterations without deviating too far from the base experience. The addition of side missions and tougher enemies kept it from getting stale. They also added a cooperative element so that you can play with a friend. I'm looking forward to my second playthrough in co-op mode as soon as my gaming buddy finishes his first campaign (Hurry up, Greg!). In short, Dead Space 3 is a fantastic cap to the best sci-fi/horror franchise of this generation. 

the math

Objective Score: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for the mostly successful tweaks made to an already enjoyable gameplay system.

Penalties: -1 for a few plot holes that you just have to let go lest they hurt the experience. 

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. Very high quality/standout in its category.

Read about our scoring system, in which average is a 5/10, here.