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Friday, August 1, 2014

Dead Space 3

By on 10:16 AM

If pop culture has taught us anything, it's that space can be a pretty lonely place. Like Ellen Ripley before him, Dead Space's Isaac Clark had to endure two full games of solitary terror in order to arrive at where he is today. To give the guy a break, EA and Visceral Games decided to expand the third installment in the series by allowing a second player to assume the role of John Carver, and officer in the Earth Defense Force with a bit of a troubled past. Together, the two of them journey from the familiarity of decrepit spaceships to the unfamiliar hell of Tau Volantis, a frozen planet that holds the key to saving humanity. With this newfound importance placed on cooperative play, we decided that it would be best for 1UP editors Jose Otero and Marty Sliva to team up and review Dead Space 3 together.

Marty Sliva: Before we delve into Dead Space 3, I feel like we should first state our history with the series. How versed are you with the prior games?
Jose Otero: I played and loved the original Dead Space. I can't say the same for Dead Space 2 -- I played about an hour of it and moved on. I know Dead Space and its sequel are often compared to distinct differences between Alien and Aliens, but the blockbuster path of the sequel kind of turned me away from the series. Plus, I had other games to play for work at the time. I also played about an hour of Dead Space Extraction and one of the iOS games.
MS: Ok, so you're much more familiar with the series than I am. As much as I love the survival horror genre, I completely missed out on the Dead Space train in 2008 and 2011. I know a whole mess of people who claim that the first one isEvery element of the environment consistently makes you feel consistently uncomfortable. The harsh sounds that doors make whenever they close behind you. The way you stumble across corpses that lie still in the silent and creepy environments. Even the notes left behind by the fallen contribute to a general sense of unease. Space and the planet Tau Volantis are cold, hard, and sometimes terrifying in a way that matches up to some of the best of sci-fi.
Of course, I'm not a huge fan of the way Dead Space 3 oscillates between action and suspense, but it stays consistent with what I played of the sequel, and tries to incorporate more ideas that make sense with the character -- like the crafting system. To some degree, the problems I have with Dead Space 3 come from issues with pacing, both narratively and from a gameplay standpoint.
MS: I completely agree that DS3 is an aesthetic wonder. The empty vacuum of space, the decrepit remains of a once-powerful flotilla, and the unforgiving surface of Tau Volantis are all rendered with a level of artisanship that stands against anything we've seen this generation. Each location feels like a place that was lived in before the universe went straight to hell. The visuals are complemented by some great sound design that toys with your senses and plays tricks on you all in the name of tension. Sadly, I feel like a lot of this great work is hampered by rudimentary mission design and a crafting system that, though robust, pulls you out of the world every time you saddle up to a workbench. a truly terrifying experience in the vein of Alien, and that like you said, the second one becomes much more of an action story. I was a bit worried that Dead Space 3 would take that thought even further and strip away any sense of horror, instead focusing on action scope. And wouldn't you know, that's exactly what Visceral delivered: A kitchen-sink finale that had trouble finding a singular voice.
JO: Silly stories are practically a staple of survival horror games, but I wouldn't claim Dead Space 3 lacks a singular voice. It's true that the narrative consistently bumbles the peril and plot twists -- with the developer often predictably showing their hand and their hordes of malformed enemy types waiting around the next corner -- but this game still fits into the overall tone of Dead Space. The environments and graphics preserve a seamless transition between storytelling and action that's remained a consistent elemnet since the first game, and the level of detail found in this experience can often feel breathtaking.
Far too often, DS3 falls into the banal routine of forcing the player to collect three nick-nacks in order to power some sort of larger gadget. After you manage to find what you're looking for, you inevitably stumble upon another piece of broken technology that, once again, requires Isaac to set out and gather another trio of objects. The few times that the story deviates from this cycle usual come in the side-missions, which each contain their own smaller narrative and have you descending into a dungeon-esque area removed from the main story. You'll come across wrecked souls who've boobytrapped their own ship, and generals who had no qualms with brutally killing their own innocent men in the hopes of staving off infection. I would've loved to see the entirety of DS3 exude this same sort of unique surprise.


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