Dead Space 3 PC Review
I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I didn't really enjoy playing the first two Dead Space games. I feel that horror action games have fallen into a rut that combined cheap scares with limitations on controls or movement along with other bits of awkwardness that turn what could be a fun, thrilling experience into a tedious one. So, does Dead Space 3 from Visceral Games and publisher EA change that formula or freshen things up?
Yes, they did, but not much. This third game starts with an introduction that serves well as a "previously on Dead Space", then goes into a quick prologue, then finally puts you back into the HEV suit of Isaac Clarke, the everyman-turned-action-hero that game developers love to use. Or at least, that's what he was originally; now, Isaac is kind of insane, as he's got a schematic imprinted into his mind for how to build a Marker, a powerful alien device that can infect a human population and turn it into shrieking, arm-blade-wielding undead called Necromorphs. Throughout the game, Clarke will be looking for a way to stop the Marker menace once and for all, and that starts with a short escape from the Earth's lunar colony, onto a fleet of (mostly) derelict ships, and then onto an uncharted planet that's supposed to be the key to solving all of this mess.
For the first two or three hours, you'll be wandering around the dark spaceship corridors that are a hallmark of the Dead Space series, with a few optional paths you can take for extra salvage and gear. It's technically a free roaming environment early on, as you have the option of taking on a few optional objectives for extra salvage and gear. The zero-g environments early in the game make for a really cool atmosphere and a fun open "world" to traverse, especially since you sometimes need to get around with simply your suit's thrusters.
Dead Space 3 makes things interesting - or at least, interesting for a horror game - by allowing you to upgrade your suit and then fully custom-build and upgrade new weapons. You start with frames, then add two "barrels" which are basically weapons in their own right, then modify them on the weapon platform and finally add attachments and modules. It's a really cool system that I wish was in more dedicated action games and even a few serious RPGs. You can also use these basic materials to craft supplies like healing kits or ammo clips. I thought that might take away the tension of running low on these supplies, but the thing is, you can only make these materials at a workbench, you only have so much inventory space, and these workbenches aren't exactly littered throughout the ships and stations you traverse, so even if you make a good chunk of supplies, using them too liberally could still put you in danger of running out.
So, earlier in this review I mentioned that I haven't really liked Dead Space in the past. And much as I try, I just can't ever really get fully behind the way Dead Space 3 delivers its combat. You'll get a lot of the monster closet jump-scares that I find to be the lowest common denominator of horror games, and the game does a lot of spawning enemies both in front of you and behind you at the same time. As is the convention in Dead Space, the necromorphs take extra damage when you shoot them in the limbs rather than in the head, but the necromorphs often make this difficult by writhing those limbs around and keeping them out of your rather narrow viewpoint when the monsters get close to you. In general, the third-person view that Dead Space 3 uses is unique because the HUD is attached to Isaac himself, rather than on the camera. Unfortunately, the way enemies can easily mob you with melee attacks makes fighting in third-person a little inconvenient, and the developers insist on making you aim before you can fire - you can't hip-fire your gun, and there's no dedicated melee attack key or button.
On PC, Visceral Games made a fully functional but no-frills port with a few basic graphical features you can throw on, a simple set of control options, 360 gamepad functionality if you're into that, and the same texture quality that you'd get over on consoles. The game still looks and sounds pretty great - the intricacy of some wall and door textures in some areas look better than many games with higher texture quality, which serves as good evidence for the argument that sometimes better artists can be more effective than cranking up the tech specs and system requirements. The soundscape and voice acting are both pretty great, too, just as they have been in past games. Either way, this PC version is better than some straight-over ports I've seen this generation, but it certainly could have benefited from a little more time spent on PC-only features. The default key bindings are a tad strange, as the developers put the dodge button on the CTRL key, which I really just do not find to be a good place for it - luckily, it can be changed. (A thumb button on the mouse seems like a good spot.) Origin's perfectly-acceptable online functionality is used for online play in the two-player, drop-in-drop-out cooperative mode, and you can even share and trade weapon blueprints in online play and take them into offline modes.
There's also some day-one DLC available through Origin, and frankly, it's pretty expensive and feels like a money grab, but I also don't feel like the base game's really "missing" content. If DLC bothers you but you're still interested in this game, I suggest you just try as hard as you can to ignore it; after all, there's no story or gameplay content being locked away with the currently-available DLC - it's mostly just weapons and a few other small touches. The game itself also doesn't fake you out by placing DLC items in its menus and then taking you to a "buy now" menu if you select them (unlike, say, Forza Horizon, where cars contained in DLC you don't own are still shown in the car list, then you're prompted to buy the DLC if you want to unlock the car).
Many of the recent AAA games that have included cooperative play wind up cutting down the single player mode and using only the chunks that happen to be well-suited for playing together. In some cases, a game will be designed from the ground up for either solo or cooperative play. In Dead Space 3, they went a different route, where the cooperative mode is basically the same as the single player one in structure and story, but the maps are modified so that players are often given more space to move around in. It's an interesting design idea that I think generally works for making what is nearly the exact same game scary in the single player mode, but a little more action-oriented in the online cooperative mode. With that said, Dead Space 3 just isn't quite as scary as its predecessors; Isaac is pretty much just shell-shocked into complacency by now. Battling demonic blade-arm creatures that skitter and crawl? For most horror game protagonists, that'd be pure nightmare fuel, but for Isaac, it's pretty much just Tuesday. Even if you're not a huge fan of the first two games, even if you haven't spent dozens of hours in the Dead Space universe, you'll feel some of Isaac's fatigue since he's been dealing with all of this crap for so long.
While Dead Space 3 is certainly a worthy successor in the series if you've been a fan up until this point, it doesn't do as much as it probably could to really expand the formula. The game is more action-oriented than you might be expecting, both online and offline - and you'll see this more the further you go, especially with how the environments change and how the enemies eventually start to use more than just their limbs and various spit attacks to damage you. Still, the game doesn't go so far out of previously-set bounds, or at least not for long enough at a time, for any of this to really be an issue in my mind. As it often is with final entries in big trilogies, fans of the Dead Space franchise are well-served buying into this third game, and those who disliked the past two aren't likely to be moved to a change of heart. But at this point in a trilogy, the most important thing is to keep things fresh for the built-in fanbase, and that's something Visceral Games mostly accomplished, especially with the cooperative mode. They didn't really add much more on top of all that, but I think that's at least acceptable at this point, especially for the third game in a trilogy. Dead Space 3 won't revolutionize horror games, but it's still a fine horror-action game and a competent port on PC.
Disclaimer: This article is based on a downloadable version of the game provided by the publisher.