‘Dead Space 3’ suffers from identity crisis

Sometimes, being a cult hit isn’t enough. Sometimes, the powers that be take a franchise with well-defined identity and, in a bid to broaden its appeal and rake in the dough, slap on a bunch of new features that not only dilute the original flavor, but result in confused chimera of a game. “Dead Space 3” is a perfect example of that, and while some of the “improvements,” like the gun-crafting system, are fun, they undermine what made the series work in the first place.

After surviving two games worth of horrifying extraterrestrial undead Necromorph creatures, losing his mind for a while and losing his girlfriend, preternaturally unlucky engineer Isaac Clark must suit up to battle the space zombie menace once more. This time around, the Necromorph-worshipping cult known as the Unitologists have evolved into a terrorist army hell bent on unleashing as many of the ghastly critters as they can. Isaac; his ex-girlfriend Ellie; her current boyfriend, Norton; and John Carver (who is playable in a co-op game) must battle both the Necromorphs and those who worship them in a last-ditch attempt to save mankind.

The fear and mental instability that defined the previous “Dead Space” stories has now been slathered with a hefty helping of epic, save-the-world cliché, which is a shame. None of the characters are particularly interesting, and an out-of-place love triangle between Isaac, Ellie and Norton looks ridiculous when put in the life-or-death scenario in which they find themselves. The voice acting is great and the cutscenes are short and smartly written, but the overall design of the story feels forced and generic.

The combat of “Dead Space 3” is similar to previous installments, with sluggish movement and limited ammo forcing a sense of dread on the player as he blasts off the limbs and tentacles of wave after wave of grisly Necromorphs. Dismemberment remains the main quirk of the otherwise generic third-person-shooter combat, with blasting off knees to slow down charging enemies a common (and very effective) strategy.

The game does its best to scare the player, but the scene shift from dimly lit corridors to the snowy planet Tau Volantis halfway through the game doesn’t help. Still, “Dead Space 3” has enough jump-out-of-your-seat moments to please thrill seeking gamers, and the arctic environs help break up the monotony of endless metallic hallways.

The biggest blow to the game’s spooky and immersive atmosphere is also the most fun of the game’s new features. The weapon forging system turns a dark cargo bay full of lurking terrors into a room full of potential materials with which to build better weapons. While combining scrap to create downright awesome weaponry is fun, it turns “Dead Space 3” from a sci-fi survival horror game into a shooter RPG, and a shallow one at that. Worse still, the game constantly encourages the player to spend real-life money to gain access to powerful weapons early on, which further spoils the sense of immersion. While gamers can certainly make it through the game without spending an extra dime, it cheapens the whole experience.

Collaborative multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag as well. The secondary character, John Carver, doesn’t really factor into the game’s plot in a meaningful way. But the fact that he experiences hallucinations that the first player can’t see makes for some alarming moments. Having a second player ride shotgun makes the game less frightening, but at least the occasionally obnoxious puzzles are quicker to solve with a second player in tow.

“Dead Space 3” still has everything that fans loved about the first two games. However, it also has an underwhelming story and fun but out-of-place weapon crafting system that makes you think of enemies as treasure chests instead of threats. It’s a game that, like its mentally unstable protagonist, doesn’t seem to know what it wants.