One reason it struggles to scare so much is its failure to properly establish a horror tone. The game begins with a prologue sequence where you play as another character wandering slowly through the snow. You’ll encounter your first enemies in this short chapter, but their introduction is very haphazard, and the build-up is practically nonexistent. After the prologue, you’ll finally play as Isaac. In this chapter, you’ll walk, talk, engage in combat with firearm-wielding humans, play through set pieces, and have action-packed fights with Necromorphs. It will be some time before things are quiet again, but it may be too late by then for the game to get under your skin.
Contrast this with the first Dead Space. That game starts very slowly as you approach and board the USG Ishimura and explore its docking station with your crew. The game then guides you into a room where you’ll be locked in as you witness your crew being set upon by Necromorphs. They burst into the room and chase you down a series of corridors where you narrowly escape death in an elevator. From here on out, you’re on your own and the game truly begins. Dead Space has now established a violent and intense horror tone that the rest of the game will follow through on. Dead Space 2 has a similar, albeit much faster-paced, intro where Isaac must escape the horde whilst encased in a straitjacket. Both of these games establish a tone that is consistent with the experience present beyond their intros.
Dead Space 3 does make numerous attempts to be atmospheric and tense. You’ll traverse through blizzards with limited visibility whilst groups of Necromorphs lie dormant in the snow, waiting for an opportune moment to catch you off guard. There are dark rooms and corridors to be explored with unknown threats scratching about in the walls. Every player will react differently to these scenarios and the type of response they elicit in you will be a key factor in your enjoyment of the game.