I want to preface this article by saying that, while I have yet to play Dead Space 2, I did play the original Dead Space shortly after its original launch with the lights off and the curtains drawn for maximum effect. I’m aware of what fans liked about the series and why they may not have liked Dead Space 3, having gone from what was essentially Resident Evil 4 in space to what was essentially Resident Evil 6 in space. But, thanks to Origin Access, I recently sat down and played through Dead Space 3 with my girlfriend and I would like to make a case for it being a vastly underrated game. This isn’t a review and, as such, I am going to largely focus on a few key points. This will largely be rife with minor spoilers, so, if you intend to play the game at some point, I recommend that you don’t read it, but it’s also four years old at this point and, by all accounts, did not sell well, so I realize that the chances of that are low.
Throughout Dead Space 3, you are met with what is simply excellent cinematography. The moments in between shooting necromorphs genuinely feel great and the story feels exciting at nearly all times. There’s a real sense that the developers knew when to place cutscenes and how to present them in the context of themselves. There are also moments, like the one where Santos’ station is damaged when you are entering the atmosphere of the Marker planet, where expert use of off-screen action—I say “expert” because, at the time, your character wouldn’t have seen what was going on either, which shows great attention to detail—where you are genuinely left wondering what happened and simply have to wait and see how things turn out. They even managed to implement an alternate character expository prologue in a similar manner to that of a movie. Unlike many similar games, there were times that I genuinely felt like I was playing through a 20-odd hour action flick and that on its own deserves commending.
Dead Space 3 also does a great job of making the player feel as if they are learning alongside the characters. Everything is alien to them, literally, much less us and it shows. The mystery isn’t easily solved an hour into the game and there are new twists based on information that is learned later in the game. Towards the end, the only reason that the group is able to continue on knowing what they’re doing is that they continuously find recordings left behind by their predecessors. With all of the tapping into the brains of aliens elements and all of the technology that is available in the game’s universe, it would have been easy for the writers to hamfist in any of a number of poor explanations of how they knew what they were doing, but that’s not what happened. The story is measured, albeit nearly constantly intense, and revelations are introduced naturally.
In terms of gameplay, I cannot state how much I enjoyed the game’s weapon crafting system. The constant tweaking of combinations of weapons, changing out tools to try out different combinations of two tools, changing tips to alter their functionality, adding modules like “Flame Glaze” for additional elemental damage, optimizing damage and other stats through various upgrade chips…the system is surprisingly deep. There’s a lot that you can do with even a small number of modules. You can make a gun that launches sawblades that explode when they hit your target. You can make a gun that has one tool that launches rivets in a shotgun-like manner and another tool that shoots what are essentially cryogenic flames that slowly freeze your target. You can take the rivet shotgun and turn it into a machine gun using a different tip and add the Flame Glaze module noted above for additional flame damage. I had quite a lot of fun creating weapons that were optimal for the enemies that I was up against at the time and then trying to max out their highest stats.
You will probably find that you’re changing your weapons out a fair amount throughout the first half of the game. In addition to finding new parts, there is a surprisingly large variety of enemies, each with their own set of behaviors. There are the infected humans that wield axes. There are the infected humans whose arms have basically turned into blades. There are the infected heads that take over bodies and shoot at you inaccurately. There are the dog-like enemies that shoot projectiles at you. My personal favorite, however, are these four-legged creatures that peek out from behind cover, wait for an opportune moment, and then charge you full force, knocking you over in the process. They’re a unique type of enemy that I can’t say that I’ve seen anywhere else and, while they could be frustrating at times, they added a whole extra layer of complexity to fights.
Zero gravity zones saw significant improvement over the way that they worked in the original Dead Space. In Dead Space 3, many zero gravity areas were set outside of space ships that you had to explore and, as such, are basically open world, six degrees of freedom zones in which you can float around indefinitely as long as you continuously remember to stop and grab oxygen from tanks that are either floating around or on the sides of said space ships. Additionally, fighting in zero gravity is as fun as ever, allowing you to more deftly dodge projectiles and then watch defeated necromorphs slowly float off of the surface that they were on.
As with every great horror game, Dead Space 3 features an extremely minimalistic UI. In fact, unless you are actively changing your weapon, managing your inventory, or listening to dialogue, there simply isn’t a UI. You health and stasis meters are on the back of your suit and, to make that seem more normal, even human NPCs that you have to fight have health meters on their backs. It’s a nice touch that makes the game far more immersive.
I would be remiss not to also note that there is one feature that really sold me on the fact that the game was well thought out. There are certain side missions that you can do, during which Carver starts hallucinating. During the first one, it’s clear that Isaac isn’t supposed to be there at all, but, when you’re playing the game in co-op mode, the player playing as Isaac joins Carver on his excursion anyways. During these missions, only Carver hallucinates. The player playing as Isaac never sees any of what Carver is hallucinating, providing an experience similar to what the characters would actually be going through. This sort of asymmetric storytelling in a cooperative game provides a refreshing change of pace that I am rather fond of.
I won’t claim to know why Dead Space 3 didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessors. Critics gave the game generally good reviews, even if users didn’t. I will say this, though, Dead Space 3, while not a perfect game, is quite good. The weapon crafting system, the story, the way the story is presented, and several other aspects of the game are all simply excellent. There are a few issues, such as the odd love story and what may be an overuse of on-rails sequences that can sometimes feel like mini-games, but it is by and large much better than the opinions of those that I’ve seen talk about are letting on. If you’ve been on the fence about trying it and you have an Origin Access subscription anyways, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot—just be sure to bring a friend.