I played the first Dead Space because I had to. It was one of my first game reviews for S+V. It was inconsistent, regularly annoying, but fairly enjoyable. The sequel was a better game overall, but lacking some of the first game’s raw scariness.
The universe, story, and concept were sound enough that I was actually looking forward to DS3.
Here’s what I found.
Like its predecessors, Dead Space 3 is a 3rd person horror/shooter set in the universe where zombie-like creatures really want to eat your face. As the games have progressed and matured, they’ve drifted away from "quiet scary" and tense, creepy moments to more of the BAM, gotcha! of a traditional shooter. Pretty much gone are the moments where you sneak through dark rooms with little ammo and a terrible weapon. In its place are enemies constantly dropping out of the ceiling in the SURPRISE DID I SCARE YOU!!! of a crappy horror movie. Almost always another monster drops behind you at the same time, guaranteeing you don’t escape the encounter without losing health. It’s cheap and lazy game design.
However, DS3 itself is far more polished and a better game than either of its predecessors. That is, as long as you approach realizing it’s more of a distant descendant of Doom than Space Day-Z.
DS3’s strongest aspects are truly gorgeous environments and excellent art direction. Ships have a lived-in, gritty feel. Scenic vistas, either in space or on the ground, are lavish in that big-budget videogame way. It’s a visual spectacle, and worth playing just for that.
The story, taking place shortly after the events in the previous game, makes for an interesting backdrop to the goings-on. Stone monoliths that turn people into bizarre monsters is a great setup, and the escalation from your character’s lowly start in the first game makes for a compelling and plausible arc. The voice acting is excellent throughout, though often the dialog is heavy-handed, and in a few cases characters behave like annoying and hardly believeable 13-year-olds.
But too often, DS3 falls back on the crutches of lazy game design. The invincible enemies from the previous game (games? I can’t remember), are back. This concept was lame the second time you saw it, and even lamer in a sequel. I’ll admit it’s occasionally used to better effect in this game, where the regenerating baddie lumbers after you while you’re required to do something quickly (like unlock a door). Other times, though, it’s blatantly artificial, and feels cheap. Like having to wait for an elevator while the invinceables just happen to find you. Quick Time Events, where you're basically forced to watch a short movie while repeatedly pressing a single button, are far too common.
Other aspects aren’t the fault of the game designers, more limitations of the console roots of the game. Levels reguarly take on a tight corridor feel, and you’re constantly pausing to open a door, entering a small room, opening another door, then continuing. This is certainly better than the static load screens of yore. Such is the problem when the programming has to dumb down for 6-year-old hardware.
The weapon crafting interface is clunky and unintuitive, but I like that it’s in there. There are so many options that it’s easy to find two weapons and multiple attachments that suit your playstyle.
Once again, music makes the game. I bought both the DS and DS2 soundtracks, and just bought DS3’s as well. Composers Jason Graves and James Hannigan nail it, getting right both the quiet creepy moments and the bombastic action moments. The atmosphere created by the score is the equal to many Hollywood movies.
It amuses me that despite having countless traits of a “dumb console game,” I really enjoyed DS3. I think it’s largely to do with the gorgeously realized universe. I’m a sucker for any Big Grand Space Opera. If you’ve played Dead Space and DS2, definitely pick up DS3. If you’re a sci-fi fan, and like a little scare with your outer space, I’m sure you can find the previous games in the bargain bin. They make for entertaining fare and lead up well to this one.
Come to think of it, there are two animated movies too. The first one is horrid, but the second one isn’t terrible.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.