It’s no secret that the Dead Space franchise has been lying dormant since the release of its third mainline entry back in 2013. Despite the success of the Resident Evil franchise in recent years, the hunger of the survival horror audience for a new AAA entry into the genre, and the fact that the series still maintains a strong following online, EA has been, up until recently, extremely hesitant to step foot into this universe for another adventure.

Dead Space 3 has been the subject of much criticism since its release and that continues to this day. Critical reception was mixed, and general audiences were even less forgiving, with Dead Space 3’s (Xbox 360 version) user score currently sitting at a 6.4 on Metacritic. It would seem that this poor reception, mixed with declining sales, may have been what led to the franchise being put on ice indefinitely. Visceral Games would spearhead development on only one more title (Battlefield Hardline) before being closed permanently during the development of an untitled Star Wars game in 2017. It’s an unfortunate fate for the iconic studio, and their decline truly began with Dead Space 3, but what was it about the game that caused so much rejection from the Dead Space community? 

In this retrospective, we’ll be examining the three most prominent criticisms of Dead Space 3 and judging them from a 2021 perspective as fairly and objectively as possible. It’s important to note that we won’t be taking the launch version of the game into account as that’s not the version any new or returning players would experience in the modern-day. Based on the comments found in many reviews online, the three most common complaints are:

  • The co-op integration 
  • The monetization 
  • The shift away from survival horror

    These aren’t the only complaints people had, as other aspects of the game like its narrative and combat were also criticized, but these three will be the focus of this retrospective. 

    The Co-op and John Carver 

    Whereas Dead Space & Dead Space 2’s campaigns were built entirely around a single-player experience, Dead Space 3, likely in an attempt to follow trends of the time, has integrated a 2-player co-op mode that is baked into the core experience of the campaign. Player 2 will take control of Sergeant John Carver, a soldier of the Earth Defense Force with a tragic past. The co-op mode itself, while nothing particularly special, is well made and a fun experience. Where troubles begin is how co-op warps Dead Space 3’s design philosophy in such a way that solo play is inevitably affected. 

    Dead Space 3 is not a co-op exclusive experience, the option for single-player is included. Unlike many of its contemporaries, such as the Resident Evil and Army of Two franchises, Dead Space 3 does not force an AI companion to tag along for the ride. On the flip side, it doesn’t allow for one and this is the root cause for many problems that plague the gameplay. 

    Dead Space 3 introduces optional side missions to the series and while most of them can be completed solo, a small handful require John to be present as they are used to explore his backstory and trauma. Since John is supposed to be present for the whole game, the story assumes that a level of rapport and camaraderie has been built up between Isaac and John but in single-player, this comes off as incredibly forced and out of place. John and Isaac barely interact and John himself does practically nothing for the whole campaign.  

    Due to the game being designed with co-op in mind, some combat encounters feel unbalanced for solo mode. There are times when enemies are coming from more directions than you can keep track of and/or in quantities that you may not be equipped to deal with because the game expects another player to have your back. All this doesn’t necessarily make the solo experience unenjoyable; it just means there’ll be some inconsistencies and extra moments of frustration to deal with that otherwise wouldn’t be there. 

    Monetization & Microtransactions 

    Perhaps the most controversial inclusion in Dead Space 3 is the microtransactions and the systems that support them. The monetization is directly tied with the game’s upgrade and crafting mechanics. You’ll use resources to craft weapons, attachments, consumable items, and suit upgrades. Resources are acquired by scavenging from the environment, as drops from defeated enemies, by sending out scavenger bots, or by purchasing resource packs from the downloadable content store. 

    Source: Jacob Cox – Screen Capture

    The two ways of purchasing resource packs are either with real money or with the in-game currency known as ration seals. Your primary means of acquiring ration seals is by sending out scavenger bots which each take 10 minutes to return. There are DLCs you can purchase that half the bot’s harvesting time and increase their yield. You’d be justified in suspecting that this means progression is a grind but that’s not exactly the case. While progress is somewhat slow for the first half of the game, things pick up once you get access to multiple scavenger bots. If you make liberal use of them and complete the optional missions, you’ll find yourself with more resources than you can spend, hours before the credits roll. This is without spending any money. 

    Whilst it can be argued that these kinds of monetization systems have significantly worsened since the release of Dead Space 3, this type of player exploitation is in its infancy here and the impact it’ll have on your enjoyment is likely to be minimal, despite what you may expect. 

    Shifting Away from Horror 

    While Dead Space 2 leaned a little more towards action than its predecessor, Dead Space 3 took it to a whole new level. Ask anyone who’s played the game and they’ll likely tell you that it is not scary. Eurogamer’s Dan Whitehead remarked, “It’s never remotely scary, but there’s an undeniable satisfaction in mowing down Necromorphs with a friend” and this is not an uncommon opinion. The fear factor is subjective but Dead Space 3 is very much a horror game and the fact that so many were unphased by its attempts to instill dread is a matter for some concern. Dead Space 3 is a much more bombastic and action-packed entry in the series with plenty of set pieces and third-person, cover shooting sections. 

    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. 

    Recommendations and the future of Dead Space 

    Due to the subjective nature of the main question posed in this retrospective, I can’t give a fair and definitive answer to it, but I will still provide my thoughts. I believe the response to Dead Space 3 at launch was justified. Trying to turn a series into something it’s not is a design direction that established fan bases are rarely receptive to, so it’s completely understandable for the Dead Space community to be so critical of this entry. However, we’re well past that point now and I believe that we should appreciate it for the things it gets right rather than hate it for its failures. After all, this far down the track, our opinions on Dead Space 3 have little impact on the future of the franchise. If you liked the first two games, then I’d recommend trying this one out. It is available with EA Play & Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and the stand-alone purchase has seen a significant price drop since release, so there’s little financial reason to skip it. If you’ve not yet played Dead Space AND Dead Space 2 then there’s no point in playing Dead Space 3 beforehand. 

    So, what can we expect from Dead Space in the future? Well, with the announcement of a Dead Space remake, the franchise is poised for a (hopefully) triumphant return. Only time will tell if EA Motive has what it takes to revive this legendary series. 

    Jacob Cox

    Article Team

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