Dead Space 3 and Awakened (PS3) Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 04.13.2013
The latest installment of the Dead Space franchise is here with Dead Space 3. Electronic Arts has also released the first story-based downloadable content for the game as well in Awakened. Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review of both.
Title: Dead Space 3
Developer: Visceral Games
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Rated: M for Mature
*Authorís Note: The below review has spoilers to Dead Space 3 and Awakened. Please read at your own risk.*
So I finally got around to playing Dead Space 3. Having got the Limited Edition version on sale at GameStop, I also decided to go ahead and buy the Awakened story DLC as well to play it all in one go and get as full an experience as possible. Certainly the franchise is unarguably in a bit of turmoil at the moment. There have been conflicting reports of the franchiseís demise. No surprise with the way game companies, publishers and developers, alike have been dropping like flies. It seems big publishers are also putting lofty expectations on titles that simply cannot be met as well. But thatís a whole other debate. Dead Space 3 has itself received some of a mixed response, so letís get to it.
After an introductory tutorial prologue set 200 years earlier, Dead Space 3 continues the main story of the franchise with Isaac Clarke, the seriesí protagonist who we last saw able to escape the Sprawl with Ellie Langford at the end of Dead Space 2. Some time has passed, and Ellie has moved on after having a relationship with Isaac for a while. The conflict between EarthGov and the Marker-worshiping Unitologists however has reached a fever pitch. The Unitologists and their leader Jacob Danik look to seize power and unleash the Markers from the EarthGov research sites. This creates more Necromorphs on Moon Colony in the process. Isaac Clarke is roused from his menial, solitary, and pathetic state of inaction by EarthGov soldiers Captain Norton (Ellieís new beau) and Sgt. John Carver. Carver gets to be the Co-op second playable character in the game, but weíll get to that later. Norton wants Clarkeís help in order to find Ellie. Ellie and a research team believe they've found the Marker home world on Tau Volantis (the icy planet from the prologue), which could hold the key to stopping the Necromorph and Marker threats for good. Isaac, desperate to save Ellie, must eventually come to grips with the fate heís been constantly avoiding and shutting himself off from. That is his role in the conflict with the Markers and their higher power.
Now to those who would say the game isn't scary enough or not as scary as the previous installments in the franchise, I would say they were wrong. The overall game is sufficiently terrifying. Danger is lurking around every corner. At a momentís notice you could be bombarded from all sides from any manner of monsters. The atmosphere Visceral Games has created here is palpable; taking you from the Moon Colony, to the derelict SCAF ships, and then to Tau Volantis itself. The Awakened DLC offers some more traditional Dead Space style scares along with some imagery that almost seems right out of Silent Hill. The bleak dystopic future, evocative of Blade Runner, and the ambiance of exploring the derelict ships and research facilities 200 years after unexplainable horrors is chilling to play through. The environments are highly detailed and look amazing. I like that the first half of the game lets you play around on space ships and the next half puts you on another planet. Some of the most effective parts of the game were the zero-G missions where you are just floating around repairing stuff or exploring the outer parts of the derelict ships. There is not a lot of action in these sequences, but they are oddly satisfying to be able to float through the space around a wrecked interstellar military outpost. Itís almost like you are playing a portion of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So in this manner, the game offers up a nice variety of different types of levels and stages to play through. The writing and voice acting for the game is top notch and some of the best I can recall in recent memory (probably since Uncharted). The performances and dialogue in the game have this very natural, gritty style I really enjoy.
The game really makes me feel like Iím playing through the best parts of Alien and Aliens put together at times. I think the gameplay and controls are incredibly solid. I enjoyed the shooter mechanics, especially mixing kinesis/stasis with your fighting. For this game, Visceral has opted to incorporate a custom weapons crafting mode to make your tools for battling Necromorphs. Considering Isaac Clarke has an engineering background, this makes perfect sense. As you play, you can pick up new weapon parts and upgrades in order to enhance or alter your weapons to as you see fit. Personally, my preferred weapon was the assault rifle/shotgun combo, the Evangelizer, which came with the LE. Using that along with an Acid Bath attachment was particularly awesome.
Enemy AI is quite strong for this game. The Necromorphs themselves are formidable opponents and completely relentless. You can shoot off their limbs, torsos, or even their heads and they will continue to come at you. The Necromorphs freaked me out so much I always stomped on dead remains longer than necessary. Seeing dead bodies in any room constantly put me on edge and had me dismembering them for good measure. Itís the only way to be sure. The epic boss fights with the giant Necromorph monsters donít come until around the second half of the game, but finally being able to experience fighting the Nexus creature (like a giant centipede/praying mantis Necromorph hybrid) was amazing. At one point you actually get swallowed up by this creature and have to fight your way out of its stomach, so points for creativity.
Many critics have espoused how the two-player co-op experience ruins the atmosphere and scares of the game, but thatís not true at all. In fact, I think some of the creepiest moments of the regular game come from the co-op mode. John Carver is the second playable character for the game, and the qualities he brings to the table for the story are refreshing. The presence of Carver does not at all upset the tone or style of the franchise. If anything he enhances it. Carver is not unlike Hicks or Hudson from Aliens. He provides a certain bluntness to the story that is thankfully great, and he has some of the best lines in the game as well. Carver has no problem telling Clarke exactly what is on his mind and to stop messing around, giving Clarke both the perfect foil and partner at the same time. In addition, his backstory fits well within the confines and traditions of the franchise. And again, the co-op mode involving Carverís story had some of the creepier and more chilling instances in the entire game. Also, itís not necessary to even play the game with co-op anyway. The game works well both ways. The franchise has not betrayed its sci-fi/horror roots. It has merely evolved. The evolution of the franchise and the protagonist Isaac Clarke going from a mute engineer to a more active warrior is not unlike the transition of Alien to Aliens and the protagonist of Ripley. Was Aliens a betrayal to Ridley Scottís aesthetic of Alien? No, it was simply different. Ripley evolved and changed as a character much like Isaac Clarke does here. These are not necessarily bad things or ideas.
Now as much as I enjoyed the experience, the game and the Awakened DLC are not without their flaws. The regular game has about 10 optional missions (including solo and co-op). Now the optional missions do provide some interesting story tidbits and background on exactly what happened to the SCAF forces and research team on Tau Volantis 200 years earlier. The additions basically give you the dots to fill in the horrifying blanks of what took place. However, the optional missions at times do become horrendously repetitive once you get to Tau Volantis. They all seem to use the same rooms and climax with you being forced into a showdown with multiple waves of Necromorphs for a chest of goodies. I liked getting the items and finding the additional collectibles (text logs, artifacts, audio logs, etc.), but all the optional missions just started becoming and looking exactly the same. The Carver missions do offer something different though with his growing dementia and learning the different pieces of his backstory.
There were a couple stages that were quite hard to get through. By hard I mean even harder than the boss fights because in one stage a wind force is chasing you and can rip you limb from limb if you donít keep moving. But during this stage, you still have to deal with waves of enemies as well. That did get a little frustrating. Even facing the regenerating Necromorphs, as nerve-wracking as that was, was a walk in the park in comparison.
And now a story complaint. Awakened is a story DLC that continues the main story of the game. So you are back playing Isaac Clarke and John Carver again. But the issue is that theyíre alive after what took place at the end of the game. I kept anticipating some revelation or big secret about what happened. However, it never came. Isaac Clarke merely lampshades it away with, ďwelp, it was alien technology. Who knows what it can do?Ē If not for John Carverís painfully blunt and honest remarks about how stupid, nonsensical, and unsatisfying of an answer that is, one could become almost as incredulous as Mass Effect fans did after getting to the end of the third installment of that franchise. Not to mention, everything you did in the game was basically pointless. This bleak future at this point looks virtually unsalvageable. The Markers and their higher power do not seem to have any permanent fix. It seems when you stop one, more will just pop up and take their place. Also what of the Overseer and the EarthGov conspiracy set up in the previous games? They are never really addressed. The story does not address what remains of EarthGov and why they have suddenly given up in their Marker conspiracy. So the game leaves you with many big issues and problems. Some major plot points of the previous games are abandoned. And with the franchiseís future being in a questionable state at this point, one wonders if the answers will ever come.
- Great graphics and a detailed, chilling atmosphere combining gritty science fiction and horror.
- A fun new, weapon and item crafting element. You can play around more with this in the weapon crafting arena.
- Co-op gameplay works well in this game, and John Carver adds a great dynamic to the story and playing off of the main protagonist in Isaac Clarke.
- Overall top notch writing, voice-acting, dialogue and presentation despite story flaws.
- The game offers two different experiences in one with the solo and co-op campaigns.
- The main story mode is not a rushed sprint as many games are seemingly becoming as of late.
- The optional missions at times can be a bit repetitive in having to do the same things over and over again.
- The explanations in Awakened are extremely unsatisfying.
- Certain story threads from previous iterations of Dead Space are all but abandoned and unexplained.
- The game and the Awakened DLC leave the story in uncertain territory, with the franchiseís future in question at this point, and raise a ton of confusing questions. While the game is well done, Visceral Games possibly shouldíve thought about wrapping Isaac Clarkeís story up for now.
Overall, Dead Space 3 is a great game. Awakened is a solid DLC release even though the game leaves you in a bit of a WTF place and none of the bigger questions are really addressed. The co-op mode actually enhances the game a great deal and gives a nice little added dynamic to the game. I canít recall a game that also let you experience zero-g environments this fun or this effectively before. I think the LE version of the game is a good buy at $40. I recommend the Awakened DLC for hardcore fans. It offers some fun additional gameplay with a horrific new paint job on the Terra Nova, though the story questions it produces and fails to answer are mystifying.
Great graphics and amazing, creepy, and highly detailed environments.
Solid controls and some fun shooter gameplay mechanics. Getting to play around in zero-g in outer space was breathtaking.
Amazing soundtrack and great voice acting. The sound design really adds to the ambiance of this game and constantly puts you on your toes and at the edge of your seat.
The campaign is nicely lengthy considering how woefully short campaigns have become as of late. Optional missions are at times repetitive, but there's a lot to explore and pick up between solo and co-op modes. Additional DLC is fun and terrifying.
Co-op actually gives a nice added dynamic overall. Altogether a very fun gaming experience.