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Post-Ops: Dead Space 3

Spoilers, y’all.

This was a bitch to review. I’ve had my scraps in the past with games that dared me to choose between either rewarding good gameplay or calling out bad storytelling, but no game has leaned back on its haunches, held its arms out wide and dared me to take a shot at its nuts quite like this one.

Here’s what’s so frustrating: Dead Space 3 itself is a Porsche. It’s gorgeous, masterfully composed, and functions more like a dream than a machine. Reviewed on its merits as a technical construct, Dead Space has always been among the very best of its kind. But DS3 is a harsh reminder that games can be amazing in and of themselves and still fail to be memorable. To wit, Dead Space 2 was a cross country tour in a Porsche with a near-limitless gas tank; Dead Space 3 is parallel parking that Porsche on a rainy day at the local grocery store.

Things go bad nearly from the start. What’s happened to Isaac? Oh, nothing, actually. He’s just chilling out on the moon, getting hammered on space-bourbon and not cleaning his apartment. What about his mind? His insane visions, and the horrifying doubt that maybe he’s not fighting what he thinks he’s fighting? Once again, nothing. Isaac is fine. In the parlance of Monty Python, he got better. Deal with it.

Immediately, the central mystery of Dead Space is castrated. I didn’t love Dead Space 2 because it let me cut monsters in half; I loved it for the implication that those weren’t actually monsters. Isaac was an unreliable narrator in DS2, and in DS3 he’s perfunctory to the point of irrelevance. He had more character when he couldn’t speak.

The total dissolution of Isaac’s madness also undercuts DS3’s potential saving grace: the co-op. Isaac might have his head, but knowing that Carver is slowly going insane from Marker exposure should restore things to the Dead Space of yore, correct? No. Unfortunately, having a character succumb to the Marker’s influence in the presence of someone who shook it off after a spell of drunken bedrest doesn’t do much to preserve the tension of the circumstances. Also, Carver gets killed in the end, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Some closing thoughts:

-If you’re really interested, definitely play Dead Space 3 with a buddy. Otherwise, play Dead Space 2 again.

-Where are all the set-pieces? DS2 had the church, the train, the nursery and (quelle nightmare) the needle; guiding the ship into Tau Volantis’ atmosphere is the only really impressive gameplay sequence. Everything else is just combat.

-Captain Norton and Ellie’s whole “thing” is beyond forced. The scene where they reunite and reveal that they’re an item is basically Norton just going “hummina hummina hummina” into Ellie’s face for 90 seconds. Then he dies and Ellie’s back with Isaac in about as much time.

-I like Danick, but if you’re going to give your villain a face at least let him show it once in awhile. He’s missing for a good chunk of the game’s center before coming back to spout pseudo-religious platitudes and be vaguely evil. A far cry from Stross and Nicole.

-New enemy types? No? Okay. (Dudes with guns don’t count)

-I will say this for Dead Space 3: the final boss is basically the Oggdru Jahadd from Hellboy. So that’s cool.