I’m only about halfway (probably?) through Dead Space 3, the latest entry in Visceral Games’ survival horror series, and I’m here to tell you that all the reviews you’ve read so far are right; it’s a different game. Just about every complaint and every compliment I’ve heard from other reviewers holds true from what I can tell, but just to a greater degree with the good and lesser degree with the bad; I think Dead Space 3 is a great game.
In ways here and there, I can tell people who hold one prejudice going into the game will be in another camp by the end, but there’s one flag that some just will never give up: the horror. The addition of co-op sounded off some warnings to me, too, but I approached it with an open mind and was rewarded (it’s good stuff) despite being a staunch supporter of how totally crazy scary the first Dead Space was. To others, it is an interminable branding of where the franchise went off the horror rails and landed in Candy Land.
Which, in a way, is true because Dead Space 3 is the least scary of the Dead Space bunch, and that includes the mobile and rail shooter titles. But that’s for good reason; Dead Space 3 is just a really good third-person action game. Even from Dead Space 2, the series has been top of the list for slower, non-Call of Duty shooters in terms of just the feel and satisfaction of actually playing the game. From moving around to the feedback—both audio and visual—you get for shooting to the absolutely brutal kill sequences, the franchise is at least close to being best-in-class.
That, however, will not quell the horror fans. There is little to no horror here no matter how dark you turn your room or how late and alone you play it. But I managed to accept that Dead Space 3 is different, and I’ll tell you how: Mission: Impossible.
Also, Aliens, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Mission: Impossible, while originally a television series, first took the jump to the big screen in 1996 with the help of Carrie, Scarface, and The Untouchables director Brian De Palma. It was a somewhat subtle and stylish film that only had the occasional jump into the overt action realm. It went for the cerebral and unfortunately fell short, but the intended feel of the movie was there. That much was a success on De Palma’s part.
Then you go to Mission: Impossible II which, from its opening moments where Ethan Hunt is hanging from a cliff while receiving his next mission, is a drastic departure from its predecessor. Directed by famed Chinese director John Woo, it’s easy to understand why: this is what Woo does. He applies this strange, otherworldly sheen to his movies that look, sound, and act like reality but feel like some ethereal plane where a much broader range of things is possible. The action just feels…clean, in a word (and ridiculous for another), that ties into sufficient, if categorically less, character development.
The series then takes a dirtier slant with J.J. Abrams’ stab in Mission: Impossible III where not only there a constant grime applied to every scene but also it is what I would call mindless. Things just sort of happen for the sake of happening and you don’t really mind it because of all the different kind of things happening. And most recently, former The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird gives us Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which actually succeeds in being a thriller as well as an action film.
What I’m getting at is that every Mission: Impossible film, while still involving the Impossible Missions Force and Ethan Hunt, had a different director and every Mission: Impossible film was as drastically different as you could get in terms of summer blockbusters. Being a fan of one would not necessarily make you a fan of the next, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude you from liking all of them, either.
If you look at the Dead Space series, you can find a similar thread. The original designer duo from the first game in Glen Schofield and Bret Robbins never worked on Dead Space 2 or Dead Space 3 (they then went on to develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with Sledgehammer Games), and it was a horror game through and through.
But its horror was dramatically different from that of Dead Space 2. The sequel was more about disturbing imagery (the eye laser and the mother with the baby and—sweet Jesus—the opening scene) with the occasional slow burn tension while the maiden voyage with Isaac Clarke was more about the buildup and eventual massive release. And of course you go from the sparse and isolated USG Ishimura to the abandoned but hardly empty Sprawl and you can see where the directions of the two games diverged.
Once I made the logical connection of continually shifting game directions with how the Mission: Impossible franchise operates, it bothered me less and less how Dead Space 3 was a straight-up action game. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison would be the Aliens franchise: Alien was claustrophobic in its terror; Aliens was a banger of an action film that still managed to maintain much of the original’s tension; and Alien 3, well, David Fincher tried, I guess.
As a fan of the first two, I obviously miss the horror and jumps, but that shouldn’t stop me from enjoying the cap to the Isaac Clark trilogy, nor should it stop you. New directions should never be a reason to not enjoy something. For all the legitimate complaints about Dead Space 3, “not scary” should not be among them; that is just a fact. I don’t hold anything against (500) Days of Summer for not being scary or refuse to watch The Orphanage because it doesn’t have any invading armies that shoot at each other. They are just different visions for different stories. Once you wrap your mind around that, I think you’ll also come around on Dead Space 3.
That, or want to watch Aliens again.