Dead Space 3 Review

Having enjoyed the first two Dead Space games, I was very cautiously optimistic about this third installment. When information about this game was being released and some of the unconventional, potentially disastrous avenues that it was taking were revealed, my excitement began to dampen considerably. Then came the similarly disconcerting revelations about the audacious and unashamed misuse of microtransactions. These things certainly concerned me greatly, but the flicker of hope that this game could still be good remained.

So, nonetheless determined to maintain an open mind whilst playing this game, when I started playing it, and my fears were continually and irrevocably confirmed, you can imagine the internal conflict that was brewing within my mind. I had idly worried that I might inadvertently adopt a corrupt viewpoint inspired by my hope that the game would be good: where because I wanted to like the game, even if I wasn’t enjoying it, that desire would override logicality and convince me that I actually did like it.

I needn’t have fretted. In spite of all this, put simply, the game was so unmistakably mediocre that even my hopeful subconscious couldn’t delude me into thinking that it was anything else.

The prologue level provides an abjectly disheartening beginning to this game, and a lot of its mistakes are habitually repeated throughout the rest of it. It offers up disposable characters and a pitiful imitation of an epic set piece, both in its predictability and in it being overly linear and entirely forgettable. This disappointingly poor opening sequence stirred within me a sense of wariness at how the game’s quality and tone was going to end up being.

Reintroducing Isaac Clarke to the player by having him fight human enemies, being jarringly incongruent with my expectations, was an unpleasant surprise. Though confused and concerned, I was intent on giving this peculiar change up a fair chance – in point of fact, I was anxiously anticipating something especially engaging to be made of this bizarre segment – and yet my patience was only rewarded with discouraging shock when their presence throughout the first real level revealed it to be merely a particularly clumsy tutorial in which they are utilized as easy shooting targets for the returning player.

Off to such a bad start, I was still, for some unexplainable reason, subconsciously hoping against hope for a quick turn around of these initial dire straits.

I was not, as it turns out, to find any such redemption.

I did, however, soon thereafter find myself idly exploring yet another ‘ostensibly lifeless’ spaceship, and sighing with derision whilst I was once again darting through familiarly dark, claustrophobic corridors and rooms. Whilst you might think I would have been glad, after the irksomely unwanted and unneeded aspects of originality in the first level, for a return to familiar ground, in actuality this lazy reoccurrence provided only wearyingly overfamilar atmosphere and gameplay.

My spirits were lifted somewhat when the transition to planetside exploration on the icy Tau Volantus finally came about. Now, whilst this did provide an absolutely welcome change in scenery, and the tense isolation and desolation of the snowy tundra is conveyed admirably well and capitalized upon in some fairly inventive ways, the actual gameplay remained remarkably unchanged and so continued to be a source of dissatisfaction.

Speaking of which, the combat gameplay is still the thoroughly familiar brand of ‘strategic dismemberment’ that we’ve all come to know and love, but it just hasn’t evolved in any meaningful way, and so the frustrating arbitrariness of it becomes more and more glaringly unavoidable. To be fair, it is still fairly gratifying at time, but other times it feels sluggish and overly formulaic. The only variation to be found is in how the prolonged rigmarole of blowing off limbs and appendages is adapted for each type of enemy, and this is a palliative solution if anything. On top of this, the few boss battles are agonizingly, tediously formulaic: shoot the bright weak spot over and over until your mind melts from boredom.

I couldn’t help but constantly notice that the character design of the necromorphs enemies is horribly unvaried, and several of them seem to have, without pretense, merely been carried over from the previous games, whilst the newcomers are sadly uninspired. Additionally, the necromorphs apparently possess an extremely limited range of methodology for ensnaring or ambushing the player, and these are shamelessly recurrent throughout the game.

The game’s story is uninteresting, but fairly inoffensively so – besides the expected narrative twist towards the end, which reeks of a twist simply engineered to be so ridiculous that it couldn’t be anything but surprising. The real problem is that the storytelling is far too inconsistently doled out, switching between truly bare bones narrative and overcomplicated explanations which rely far too heavily on a working knowledge of Dead Space’s universe and lore (particularly the nature of the markers/necromorphs). Playing through the story on my own, the constant narrative contrivances engineering my separation from the party of other characters and the unnecessarily solitary exploration this engenders began to grate on me after a while. There is also too much story and gameplay filler in the form of laughably trivial errand running which severely detracts from the otherwise compelling impetus of the narrative. The text and audio logs, which are lazy methods of storytelling that have pervaded so many games in recent memory, really aren’t handled well in this game, becoming victims of awkward placement and purpose, and so begin to feel especially archaic and overly simplistic. That there are optional tangential side missions initially struck me as a pleasant addition as the first couple of them that I pursued were fairly substantial, with their own impressively complete self-contained narrative, but they eventually lose their engaging aspect of divergent storytelling and devolve into overly simplistic and uninteresting chores.

The weapon creation and upgrade system is respectably complex, but I found myself instantly overwhelmed by that very same complexity and also found it unwieldy to use, and so I barely ended up using it. Honestly, it felt like an unnecessary addition meant to artificially complicate the gameplay and extend the already extensive replayability yet further. Having to worry about micromanaging via resource gathering and management in a game like this seems like the most pedantically mundane thing in the world, and likely to only detract from any dramatic tension being built up.

The combat and exploration gameplay is punctuated frequently by various things, and these perfunctory interruptions become increasingly unwelcome. The extremely linear action sequences and QTEs pervade the game throughout and, unfortunately, even in the most audaciously novel instances of their execution, they’re still only able to provide a lame imitation of exhilaration. Though these set-piece moment go to great lengths to try to replicate the sense of adrenaline fueled action to be found in forgettable summer blockbusters, they ultimately feel like tedious imitations of imitations, and any excitement that might have once existed in what is being portrayed is immeasurably diluted to the point of it becoming extremely negligible. The frequent mini-games have only the barest pretense of originality or diversity, and feel like forced inclusions, and yet, despite this, and despite the fact that they are universally very straightforward, they somehow remain oddly satisfying to complete nonetheless. Whereas the gameplay puzzles are either asininely difficult or almost condescendingly, redundantly simplistic and present immediately obvious solutions.

The increasingly grizzled, agitated and perturbed protagonist Isaac Clarke receives surprisingly and woefully little character development in this game. In fact, he speaks so little, and, when he does, rarely says anything of real dramatic consequence, that one has to wonder whether him no longer being mute is really proving beneficial to how the character is being handled. I mean, despite being the hero of the story, and potentially quite an interesting character considering his previously acquired psychological eccentricities and maladies (which are so underfeatured in this game as to seem almost miraculously cured or forgotten), the limelight always seems to hover on the periphery of Isaac’s internal struggle and mental anguish, never quite illuminating and exploring these aspects. This is really a crying shame, because considering the horrific incidents and tragedies he has lived through, there was ample opportunity to really commit to portraying how it continues to hamper his psychological recovery and return to normal life. The compelling plot mechanic of his hallucinations and delusions making him an unreliable narrator is also shirked in this game, which is something that could have at least enlivened his dully straightforward role as the stereotypical action hero a little bit.

The main antagonist Davik benefits from great voice acting and initially seems like he might make for a very refreshingly intriguing villain. He is a well-spoken, physically very pedestrian and unintimidating man who looks like a mild mannered middle-aged bank manager; juxtaposing this in dramatic fashion, Davik is also a sort of bizarrely deranged eco-terrorist who is fanatically seeking to end all human life, and whose beguiling sophistry has allowed him to utilize the cult of Unitology to conscript an army of militant zealots in order to do so – it’s a compelling combination, to be sure. Yet he also features relatively little, lacking sufficient exposition to reveal the nuances of his character and motivations.

Robert Norton, the almost absurdly farcical caricature of an uprightly pompously and self-righteous military man, completes the love triangle between himself, Isaac and the main love interest, Ellie. However, he simply cannot be taken seriously as a fully formed character, and ultimately ends up providing unintentional comic relief. His actual motivations remain either unclear or incomprehensible, and his dialogue is generally filled with inadvertently hilarious cheesy machismo moments.

Admittedly, a handful of half-hearted, fleeting attempts are made to explain Carver’s backstory, but before they can catch your attention, he returns to the yawn inducing role of gruff space marine.

Ellie, unfortunately, receives little expended effort to make her likable or even believable, and mostly does nothing but function as an inital MacGuffin in order to spur Isaac’s chivalric impetus and, later on, to perpetrate the romantic friction between her two suitors.

The problem is that none of the characters receive the attention they deserve, and so they only seem like hollow shells with blunt emotions and simplistic motivations as a result. Though some of the supporting characters seem like they could be potentially interesting characters, they simply aren’t fleshed out properly; in fact, they generally seem to only serve the purposes of evoking a response from Isaac or believably initiating an event. Character interactions are often melodramatic, and there’s little subtlety to be found in how the immensely important mission is affecting them all.

I must say that the very last section of the game is probably its highlight, in that it very effectively and impressively conveys a sense of alienness in an environment, and this achievement represents the game’s only real triumph. It also attempts to modify and augment the core gameplay, albeit in fairly straightforward and limited ways, which I also enjoyed.

The game’s graphical fidelity is respectably decent, and occasionally there are even some quite impressive scenes, but generally the graphics are merely underwhelmingly adequate. That the game’s visual style is, at times, both a departure from the previous Dead Space games and varied throughout this latest one is at least enormously welcome.

The more action orientated focus of Dead Space 3 is a galvanizing direction for the series to be moving towards, and yet I can’t help but wonder whether it was perhaps both inevitable and ultimately maybe even preferable to the alternative. The considerable horror prestige that the first two games earned suggested to fans that their favorite franchise was destined to focus on scaring the bejesus out of them with each new installment. However, having played both previous games, it was clear to me that the various ways of scaring the player that the original Dead Space had perfected were simply repeated to diminished effect in the sequel. This game, when it deigns to commit to its horror roots, once again brazenly reuses the same predictable methods to create tension or make you jump and these stale tricks have all grown especially tired and ineffective at this point. Had Dead Space 3 attempted to majorly focus on horror like its predecessors, and stretched out these same scares even further, one has to wonder whether eyebrows, rather than pulses, would be the only thing raised in response. Though Dead Space 3 provides a thoroughly mediocre shooter experience when it focuses on action, maybe that’s the lesser evil than a game fraught with more dully predictable horror sequences.

The perfect word to summarize Dead Space 3’s many shortcomings is unnecessary. The game feels like an unnecessary addition to the series. The production values on this game are undeniably high, but the polish isn’t distributed equally or even logically, and it feels like the soulless action flicks that are churned out each summer. The familiarly emanating from so many aspects of this game isn’t pleasant nostalgia but rather boring predictability; the gimmicks that once seemed novel and innovative have now been nauseatingly overused to the point of becoming almost insulting in their expectation of still being able to affect the player. Everything that was once amazing has now been stretched far too thin. The half-hearted attempt to steer this game towards a different direction counts for very little when you’re doing the same old stuff but just in new places and in new contexts.

Besides lining EA’s bulging coffers yet further, I really struggle to see that this game presents to the player a compelling argument that it even need exist in the first place. Much like Clarke is wont to do in the game, EA is clearly looking to stomp the corpse of this series for the loot such desecration still readily provides, and, unfortunately for Dead Space fans, I don’t think there is an end in sight. This game just feels like a cynical attempt to cash in on fans who have already been hooked by the Dead Space series, and is so dreadfully uninspired and formulaic that throughout my experience I literally felt like I was replaying, for the umpteenth time, the unmemorable parts of one of the previous games. Perhaps if this game had been merely a standalone new IP, I might not have been so offended by it being mediocre at its high points and generally downright tedious and largely devoid of fun the rest of the time, but, as it is, this third entry into the series really riled me at how perfectly it typifies the awful trend of churning out insipid and unnecessary sequels to popular franchises.


  • The combat and exploration gameplay is unsophisticated and it hasn’t evolved, but it can still provide a small amount of repetitive and, even rarer still, gratifying fun
  • The final section of the game makes some fairly successful attempts to breathe some fresh life into the gameplay and environments


  • The combat gameplay is so overly familiar that its painfully methodical rhythm will either bore you to sleep or having you tearing your hair out
  • We’ve seen all – and I do mean all – of this game’s tricks before, and, having been recycled throughout two previous games, they are unbearably predictable
  • Too often do the (very underdeveloped) characters solely seem like shallow husks
  • The QTEs and action sequences feel like they’ve been appropriated from the cutting room floor of a Michael Bay action film

[xrr rating=5.5/10]


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