A Critical Review of the Best Action-Horror Game Ever Made: "Dead Space 3"
This game is coming to us straight from the past, and still there are people out there who haven't even heard of the series! Can you believe that?!
As such I would like to explore in as great of depth as I can muster, and attempt to give you more than enough reasons to buy the game. At the same time, I would like to explore exactly what it is about the game that I absolutely loathe; because trust me, there are bits and pieces of this game deserving of nothing but the deepest disdain. Dead Space 3
Before I begin, here is your spoiler alert, and I'd like to say if you are the type of person who doesn't like spoilers then please don't go any further. I don't care about your feelings, and nothing would make my day more than you disregarding this spoiler alert and reading onward against my warning.
Without further ado, let's explore the wonderful, mystical world of Dead Space 3!
What Is the Gameplay Like?
If I absolutely had to break down the gameplay within Dead Space 3, then I'd shorten it down to calling it an action-horror, third-person shooter that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire game.
The graphics, though lower-end, have held up through the passing years, and upgrades in developing software and gaming hardware have only made this game more of a standout. Where other games haven't weathered the storm of glistening aesthetics, Dead Space 3 continues to be an example to look toward for excellent environment building.
Every second within the dystopian hellscape will be spent wondering what's around the next corner, whether or not that dead body is actually dead, and gawking in awe at the seamless and story-rich landmarks. The game has no comparison as far as quality, but it plays and feels similar to the latest installments within the Resident Evil franchise.
As you shoot, blast, and explode your way through the blood-and-guts-laden corridors and valleys, you'll be thankful for the short respite that the chilling narrative skillfully delivers.
Where It All Began
Within the first game of the series we pick up in the year 2508 and we get to learn all about the Red Marker, which is actually a copy of its precursor the Black Marker. These Markers are, essentially, the conduit for the main protagonist of the entire series; they deliver the will of the antagonist that is harassing everything in existence. The will of this antagonist is something we discover in this third installment of the series, and it is anything but benevolent.
You see, exposure to these markers has a devastating effect on any living creature unfortunate enough to be within range of its effects. The range on these things varies as well, seeming to attract living beings to them even across vast distances, making the seeming coincidence of their discovery an intended plan. Upon discovery, the beings who find them quickly succumb to their allure.
The allure of the Black Marker, and its subsequent copies, compels the human race to produce even more copies of the Marker. This is because they feel that the Marker can be used as an unlimited power source, not realizing that the Markers aren't sources for power, but conduits for the power of the antagonist to travel through and influence the universe. As the copies become more vast in number, so do we see the consequences of the propagation of the Markers and their influence—if I knew where the narrative would take me, I would've immersed deeper in the lore sooner.
The Church of Unitology
Alright, so with humanity's discovery of the Markers and the leak of information about the Markers released sometime between the first and second installments in the series, we have the birth of the Church of Unitology.
Not unlike the ignorance of modern religion, the Church of Unitology knows absolutely nothing about the Markers other than they are compelled to worship them and create more all around their society. Promising vehemently that they know what they are talking about, that science no one has performed agrees with them, their goal is to undergo, "transformation and rebirth."
Little do they know that their entire faith is based around the antagonist's desire to be made whole, and has nothing to do with them other than being a food source for the antagonist—a splendid twist to their already-twisted and delusional faith in things that can't be proven, if you ask me.
The Antagonist's Main Pawn
Jacob Arthur Danik, a lowly religious zealot in large-brimmed glasses, is pretty much what you could call the main antagonist of Dead Space 3, except he is nothing more than a pawn for the true antagonist's plan.
He holds an excessively high opinion of himself, his faith, and the power that the Markers hold for the human race. This ego was built up over the years as he committed terrorist acts against EarthGov, the ruling party of human existence, and slowly eroded their power. As the years went by, and his religion-born terrorism became more bold, the powers that be were replaced by the Church of Unitology of which he was now the face.
Religion drew him to speak out against the atrocities that humans had committed against the environment and how they were, "enslaving," the Markers, and he was able to maintain his self-righteous attitude as the body count continued to rise.
Eventually, he succeeded in his goals to free the Markers and so did hell become unleashed on the human race. Humans quickly became literal monsters, and succumbed to the power of the Markers.
The monsters in this game are some of the greatest concepts I have ever had the pleasure of killing.
Everyone and Everything Is a Monster!
I'll do my best to keep this section short and sweet, because the monsters that the Markers breed do well enough at speaking for themselves, but I absolutely must mention that I love the concepts behind them.
I mean, not only does the game take a huge dump on organized religion, but it turns it into a horror spectacle born of religious idealism. When I played these games in my younger days I didn't see much of a connection between the narrative and the gameplay, but now the narrative blares over the unending slaughter. As it blares, it blares to the tone of consequences for ignorance.
What are the consequences for religious ignorance in the Dead Space universe? All of your followers, their families, and even their pets get to fall into deep despair, insanity, and transform into nightmare creatures.
Some people are lucky enough to lose their lives during the psychotic break that the Markers cause, often killing and eating one another as well as themselves, but there are those who survive to become the epitome of hell.
As you can discern from the pictures above, you'd rather die early on than become one of these things. Even though they are gruesome and gory, I can't help but to admire the effort put into the design of the monsters overall. Certainly, much more love, thought, and design went into the monsters than went into the lackluster crew.
The narrative behind the crew-members in Dead Space 3 is akin to a wet paper sack, and I can't help but frown upon their design and delivery.
Our Lackluster Crew
They tried, boy oh boy did they try, to shoehorn some form of crew camaraderie and depth into the team narrative. Sheer failure and utter disappointment, these are how I would describe the products of the effort put into the support characters in this game. Their personalities are hollow and the only one they really want you to care for is your ex-girlfriend, Ellie
Nonetheless, I did my best to try and connect with these individuals on some sort of emotional level but I just couldn't do it. Let's break down what I remember about this ragtag collection of nerds and soldiers.
Old, fat, white guy: I can't even remember what his voice sounds like. I do know, however, he dies because they ran out of snow shoes. Aside from the critical mistake of not packing his snow shoes, not a single one of my combat-hardened and science-driven team patched up his gaping wound on his abdomen. He dies from freezing to death, or bleeding to death while suffering hypothermia.
Black, bald, scientist chick: She forces you to build a probe gun and sends you inside a giant alien corpse to shoot neurodes, which then gets you mobbed by a bunch of skeletal enemies in one of the hardest battles in the game for me. My only compliment for this character is about the voice actor, because after all the whining and just before she dies by plummeting in a lift down the mountain, the blood-curdling scream felt real. Unfortunately it only took the crew about fifteen seconds to get over her death and move on with their lives, I moved on about five seconds after.
Dude with a scar on his face, or as I like to call him, Scarface: Considering this guy is your right-hand-man, your go-to guy, I should probably know more about him. Alas, all I know about this guy is that he is all scarred up and he abuses his family. The last time he speaks to his wife he yells at her, then closes out with a half-hearted I love you which at the end he feels bad for so... I guess we are supposed to like him? I still don't like him.
Norton, the guy with his arm around my ex-girlfriend on the right in the picture above: Basically this dude existed for the sole purpose of shoehorning in some sort of "star-crossed lovers" narrative that really doesn't suit any part of the game other than its own forced story-line. He's a hardened soldier, then he becomes a whiny child who betrays you and you shoot him between the eyes.
Now, let's bring the focus on to our final crew-member. Our ex-girlfriend, Ellie, whom I wish did not exist in this game.
Ellie the Contrivance
Ellie, by any educated and tasteful standard, is the absolute worst part of the entire third installment to Dead Space. This isn't because she is unattractive, because she absolutely is a wonderfully rendered, three dimensional, digital woman; but the entire story arc behind her and Isaac Clarke's (the main character) relationship is unnecessary. Every time they tried to develop this story arc, you could feel it like nails on a chalkboard.
The problem between these two isn't that the story itself is not relevant, it is the way in which everything grinds to a screeching halt to press a narrative with an obvious outcome. It is as if every time they wished to develop the relationship, the writer's went to the, "contrived romance," checklist and began ticking the boxes with no thought as to the delivery of the story.
Ex-girlfriend calls to break up with you while you stare at a torn picture of you two? Check!
Unbeknownst to you, her new boyfriend shows up to recruit you for a suicide mission? Check!
Immediate tension the first time you see your ex-girlfriend in the same room as her boyfriend? Check!
Boyfriend gets rightfully paranoid that your ex-girlfriend still loves you and so he becomes a total asshole? Check!
Boyfriend betrays you and you kill him, then worry what your ex will think? Check!
Ex gets mad at you for killing her traitor boyfriend? Check!
You spend fifteen minutes getting yelled at by your ex for killing her traitor boyfriend, as you scale the sheer faces of a mountain, only for her to get over it immediately after you make it to the top of the mountain and she confesses her love for you? Check!
You get one kiss from her before you walk into what will most likely be your death? Check!
She cries as she assumes, wrongfully, that you died when unable to contact you via radio from orbit around the giant death moon; then jets off at warp speed back to human civilization? Check!
If you think I'm being facetious here, I'm not at all. This is, sadly, a perfect summary for every scene you'll witness that develops the relationship between Isaac and Ellie. An unnecessary story arc that ends abruptly, and anti-climactically with you staring at the picture you kept of her before it flies off into the dust-filled wind that the big fleshy ball you defeated just stirred up.
Honestly, I wish the big fleshy ball antagonist had just eaten me; it would have been a preferable fate, rather than having to live through that horrible writing and jamming of romance into an action-horror game.
Your Antagonist: Big Fleshy Balls
I couldn't help but laugh at myself when thinking about the antagonists for the Dead Space series because they are literally just giant balls of flesh and rock, that communicate with each other so as to find food.
As intimidating as a planet-sized enemy may sound, when you realize they're just big fleshy balls then you can understand why I laugh in their faces. I mean, if I was a set of big fleshy balls and everyone wouldn't take me seriously then I'd be pretty angry too.
My main antagonist, the driving force behind the well thought out Markers, being a set of big fleshy balls was really disappointing. Like, come on dudes, you couldn't come up with anything better than a hive mind comprised of giant balls?
The writers are lucky that the combat in their amazingly fleshed-out environment saves them from any further criticism, because without the environment this game may not be as great as it is.
An All-Immersive Environment With No Equals
Unlike the contrived relationship between Isaac and Ellie trying to ruin my immersion in the action and horror that Dead Space 3 has to offer, the environment never fails to suck me in and keep me there like some sort of helpless animal just trying to claw my way out and remain in one piece.
You see, I've played quite a lot of horror games and the only one that even comes slightly close in presentation and quality to this series would have to be the Silent Hill series. However, where Silent Hill fails to keep me interested due to its flawed combat and over-the-top story telling, Dead Space 3 keeps me riveted all throughout.
Whenever I play a horror game I always get this feeling in the back of my mind, a feeling that never leaves, and that feeling is that I am playing a horror game and it was made to scare me. This feeling is nowhere to be found while playing Dead Space, and that is because they didn't go too over the top with trying to shock me.
Every bit of this game feels like it was recently lived in, like nothing should be going wrong, it presents you with a sense of familiarity and instills a false sense of security as you traverse its many zones. All the while the blood spatters, bodies strewn about, and gory murals made of human remains remind you that you are anything but safe. The lore scattered about the map for you to peruse and collect only compounds that false security, letting you become familiar with why this place was, in fact, recently lived in by its now brutalized and resurrected inhabitants.
Another unfortunate addition for you, however, will be the needless puzzles, button mashing, and mountain climbing that clumsily break up this seamless travel through the wonderful environment.
Mountain Climbing, Puzzle Solving, and Button Mashing
There are three, undeniably pointless mechanisms in this game that should have been swapped out for something a little more intuitive. Those mechanisms are mountain climbing, puzzle solving, and button mashing. To be fair, the climbing was charming at first, but once Ellie bitched and moaned at me for fifteen minutes as I traversed the side of a deadly mountain... I realized how worthless the mechanic was as far as contributing to the overall experience.
Climbing down things was pretty fun; hold the shift button and go forward, only stop to fire a rocket when you really feel like you need it, but otherwise a fun plunge down a sheer wall face. It was the climbing up that was absolutely pointless. The ease with which you can surpass the climbing aspects, the mundanity of it, I just don't understand why it couldn't have been replaced with something a little cooler.
Sure, the button mashing scenes that lead to a gruesome death if you fail them make for an interesting experience once or twice; but even the chance of a unique death and cutscene for that death does not bring enough appeal to the climbing system. It feels like it's a way to fluff engagement time without actually programming intuitive pieces of the game, and this is also how I feel about the lackluster puzzles.
There is zero need for puzzles in this game, especially when we consider the dungeon-like layout of most of the zones. Every time I have to stop and solve a puzzle, a laborious chore when you also have to fight a horde of enemies, I let out a big sigh knowing its there to slow me down rather than present a real challenge. The puzzles are so easy that they have no real value outside of artificially inflating your play time, and they're everywhere!
Never again do I want to play an action-horror where the action and horror comes to an abrupt and screeching halt for contrived relationships, slow mountain climbing, and unnecessary puzzles.
Luckily, we are coming to a close in this long-winded article. I'd like to close it with another dig at the writers.
In Closing: Screw Your Scavenger Bot
In order to bring this article to a close, I'd like to say that I hope anyone who hasn't done so already, goes out and buys this masterpiece of a game. Despite its few negatives, it has had me coming back for more and more throughout the years, and each time I find a new level of enjoyment and a novel piece of the story I have not experienced in previous playthroughs. You can't go wrong in buying all the DLC, as well, except for the scavenger bot DLC.
I absolutely loathe the scavenger bot DLC; and to whomever thought it was a good idea to green-light the voice acting for it, as well as the writer(s) for the crappy humor of the bot itself, I hope you feel bad about what you produced.
The new dialogue for the bot is nothing but insults; anti-human, anti-culture, anti-personal, and insulting garbage is all that comes out of this things audio delivery medium. It doesn't even make sense most of the time, like the comment about stomping him over and over again, because I've never even thought about stomping the scavenger bot. You can only get away with contrived dialogue if that dialogue is in some way relevant to your audience, and at no point will insults be relevant to me, ever.
I'm thankful for the doubled speed and capacity of the bots, but the other DLC made that sort of worthless as I can beat the whole game with just the DLC weapons on the hardest difficulty. Nonetheless, I hate the scavenger bot's new personality and I wish it never existed.
Death to scavenger bots and their contrived and insulting personalities.
Hail the Marker and make us whole!