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Dead Space has a rather strange – and sometimes split fan base. It stars Isaac Clarke, a former (mute) engineer that delves into the literal Hell in space. To save you from any potential spoilers, I’ll keep it short. Isaac used to have dementia from the presence of the Markers. These are the very markers that cause the head crab disease to life. When looking at the series as a whole, the Dead Space series carries many of the core mechanics (run into a room, dead body comes to life, Necromorph proceeds to stab your chest and vomit down your throat) that many fans fell in love with when the first Dead Space was released back in 2008.
Dead Space 2 released in early 2011 to universal acclaim and more-or-less capitalized on an already well-established franchise. Both of these games have satisfied the thirst for lovers of the survival horror genre. However, survival horror games lack the staying power when it comes to overall appeal. When the franchise is laden with jump-scares it’s almost exhausting and somewhat predictable. There’s only so many vents they can bust through.
These games were damn addicting though. They took me for a ride and I thoroughly enjoyed combing corridor to corridor, waiting to see if a Necromorph would suddenly appear, all with my finger on the stasis – Isaac’s ‘slow down’ button.
And that’s the beauty of Dead Space. The itchy feeling you get when you’re unsure about the blood-soaked hallways and what each ventilation shaft has in store. The game made it feel like Isaac was vulnerable. Visceral Games wouldn’t have animated all those grisly deaths if they didn’t intend for Isaac to die in the worst possible way.
It’s all about the tension. Dead Space 1 and 2 did a great job in creating the tension that’s typical of a survival horror game. A majority of the time, you’re relying on your stasis, quick reflexes, and a conservation of ammo. Sometimes the metal pole you found in the save room might save your life in the next room.
Since Dead Space is one of my favorite current-gen franchises, of course I was hyped for Dead Space 3. Everything looked absolutely beautiful. The snow slowly cascading over the horizon contrasted the terror of the Necromorphs wanting to eat your face was more than enough for me to throw my money in the cashier’s face.
And then they announced cooperative play. No big deal. Pfft. Whatever man, it still has solo play and co-op is optional anyway. Then they explained that the addition of a co-op partner (enter John Carver, a sergeant of Earthgov.) won’t change the story ‘too much.’ Come on guys, that’s about as vague as you can get. John Carver suffers from the Marker induced dementia in the campaign. Carver occasionally slips into a hallucinogenic, absolutely bat-shit vision and the things that he see is only limited to one player. An interesting concept, but it seems more like a gimmick if anything. Sure, I can see how they can implement that within the gameplay. Maybe a rush of Necromorphs rush Isaac from across the map as Carver’s past envelopes him in absolute terror – leaving Isaac to fend for himself.
Chances are, it could be absolutely nothing like that. It’s a clever twist on the cooperative formula I admit, but it kind of forces us to play it more than once. The dementia hallucinations were some of the eeriest and frightening things that made the series so iconic, and to pass the crazy on to Carver almost feels like their solution to force players to keep playing the game. It’s a cool incentive to experience the campaign through the eyes of another, but with all the pretty makeup of multiplayer caked onto the game, I feel as though it ruins what matters most: immersion.
What made the first two games so unique is how Visceral Games managed to capture the essence of isolation. When I played the demo, I felt none of it. Although the planet of Tau Volantis – and its never-ending blizzard – is filled with impressive set pieces, but the scale of the level rids of the claustrophobia that made my skin crawl. The space between Isaac and the Necromorphs aren’t as cramped and in-your-face.
Just the idea of a cooperative campaign upset me. Sure. I’ll play with a friend. Of course we both have mics. Aw man, we have mics. Communicating with your partner is key to doing well as a team, but if I’m forced to talk it ruins the whole immersion factor. Instead of paying attention to each and every crunch and screech in the distance, I’m getting an earful of whomever I happened to be partied with. Even then, Isaac and John seem to talk and interact often enough to kill the suspense. When you mess with the immersion and sound design, then you take the soul of one of my favorite current generation franchises.
I respect that the game is very high budgeted and equally as anticipated. I understand that these gripes sounds like another fan’s cry for attention. But rest assured, the game just feels a little too bloated. Weapon crafting is a forced grind, the 10 Day-one DLC boosters is an insult to me as a gamer, and the cooperative campaign does little to make any new breakthroughs in the 3rd person Survival Horror genre. Instead of gorging on the Ultramega Deluxe Space Scare Triple, I’ll stick to my lean, mean prequels.
Dead Space 1 and 2 were great games because they were pure, unadulterated rollercoaster rides. They were about a man who overcame all odds to do the impossible. Dead Space 3 seems to be following these cover-taking, dodge rolling, tank-controlling commando wannabes.
I’m not turning my back on the franchise for the record. I just feel as though Dead Space 3 doesn’t live up the expectations that I had. By no means do I think that Dead Space 3 is a terrible game, but that also means I don’t think it’s GOTY material. It’s Dead Space. I know that story lines in horror genres evolve. Ninety-percent of the time they tend to get bigger in scale a là Aliens. I’m just nitpicking because a 60 dollar purchase for an experience that I can still get/love with the prequels makes me feel indifferent.
Who knows, I might rent it at least. I might even take the dive.
But I’m a poor college student where I equal the money I spend on video games to food. That’s 60 Spicy McChicken Sandwiches – without tax.