Dead Space 3 is a beautiful looking game. It also has amazingly disgusting sound design. And like previous entries in the series, the controls are as tight as they’ve ever been. Yet, I finished Dead Space 3 and put down the controller feeling disappointed. You see, for everything Dead Space 3 does exceptionally well, it fails at the most basic level – it’s just not very fun to play.
You might be quick to point the finger at the series’ transition from survival horror to a more action-heavy approach. That’s not the issue. Well, then it must be the inclusion of cooperative play, which eliminates that foundation of isolation the series was built upon? Nope, strike two. The reason Dead Space 3 isn’t fun is solely because of its structure.
Let’s be honest, the fetch quest is a quintessential trope of video game development. Almost every game ever made features a moment (or two) where the hero is sent on a quest to retrieve some item of importance in order to receive a helping hand from someone who can give it. The classic “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” scenario. But in Dead Space 3, protagonist Isaac Clarke never gets his back scratched; he does all the scratching and never once gets any reciprocation. He’s allocated to being the manliest errand boy ever.
Watch us play Dead Space 3
Dead Space 3 makes no attempt to mask the fact that it is essentially an 8-hour series of fetch quests punctuated by occasional shootouts with gruesome monsters and gun-toting religious zealots. Most other games try to at least hide the fact that they’re padding the experience by making you run from one far end of an area to the other just to collect someone’s mittens because their hands are cold. Dead Space 3, on the other hand, is fully transparent, and it does the game no favors. This makes the design structure of Dead Space 3 feel uninspired, to say the least, almost as if Visceral Games’ heart wasn’t in this one when cooking up things for Isaac to do. By the fifth time you’re sent out to collect something for someone because they’re too chicken-shit or lazy to do it themselves, you’ll be rolling your eyes. I know I was.
What this does is make “hero” Isaac Clarke come off as nothing more than a crippled child, sent out of the room to take care of bitch work while the rest of the adults are talking. You reach a certain point where you just want to scream through the television on Isaac’s behalf because you’re sick of him not standing up for himself and demanding help from any of the other crew members in your company. This is what it’s come to? A man who has fought off an army of bloodthirsty monsters three times now is nothing more than a glorified personal assistant. Thankfully, there isn’t a whole chapter of Dead Space 3 dedicated to getting a space latte for Ellie, who you might remember from Dead Space 2.
But if you can get over the fact that Dead Space 3 is just one monotonous task after another, then there’s some stuff to enjoy about the ride. For starters, cooperative play does not signal the end of the franchise, as many heralded it would. In fact, co-op is pretty damn fun. Ever since Dead Space 2, the series has been more Aliens than Alien, meaning it’s been more about the next big action sequence than the fear of being stranded alone with only a few bullets to protect yourself. So, unsurprisingly, blasting necromorphs with a buddy makes for a good time, maybe even a preferred one. Hell, playing co-op helps stomach those aforementioned errands you’ll be doing constantly. Remember, folks, misery loves company.
Also new to Dead Space 3 is the ability to craft weapons and equipment from scratch. The new crafting benches make it possible to create your dream weapon from the ground up – from its frame, to its attachments, to its secondary fire, etcetera. While I found myself sticking with the tried-and-true plasma cutter for most of the experience (albeit upgraded to the extreme), I can say the sense of satisfaction that comes from frankensteining your own death machine cannot be understated. The little scavenger bot that can be sent out to find raw materials for crafting deserves mention as well, simply because of how adorable it is. I might be so bold as to say that that little robot is the highlight of Dead Space 3 from a creative point of view, as seemingly harsh as that is to admit.
But when push comes to shove, Dead Space 3 is just kind of boring. I know, I can’t believe I’m saying that either. I loved the original game and even its more action-heavy successor. Both of those titles featured solid mechanics wrapped in a forward-moving narrative structure that was worth seeing through to the end. Dead Space 3 might continue the series’ trend of great mechanics, but it lacks drive. I just didn’t care about a single thing I was doing in the game; I was just going through the motions laid out in front of me. Where the previous two games made me feel like the baddest motherf***ing engineer in the galaxy, Dead Space 3 consistently reminded me of the menial tasks I do in everyday life, and that’s a freakin’ drag. Cooperative play and the new crafting system help make Dead Space 3 a better game, there’s no denying that, but even those things can’t save the title from some of the most uninspired gameplay I’ve come across in quite a long while.
We received one copy of Dead Space 3 for Xbox 360 from Microsoft. Before starting our review, we played the campaign to completion. We dabbled in cooperative play. We did not test out the game’s Kinect features.