Change can be scary. Maybe not a pack of necromorphs-scary, but scary nonetheless. It is not surprising then, that the new additions to Dead Space 3 are quite unnerving at first glance. Some of these new features, if they rub you the wrong way, can be ignored, but others are embedded in DS3 in a way that can not be overlooked and take the series in a direction that some fans of the Dead Space franchise will not appreciate.
Dead Space 3 takes place soon after the events of Dead Space 2. Once again, you play as Isaac Clarke, who has returned to everyday life on a lunar colony, but is still haunted by his contact with the mysterious Marker. As the only person with such intimate knowledge of the Marker, both the devastated EarthGov and the Marker-worshipping Unitologists are after you. While the few remaining members of EarthGov want to see all Markers, and the monstrous necromorphs they create destroyed, the Unitologists desperately seek to protect them. Throughout DS3, the lore of the Marker is greatly expanded upon. The large scope of DS3 means that Clarke gets to explore a more expansive range of environments. An early section of the game takes place on a lunar colony while another is on an inhospitable ice planet and you'll even find yourself exploring the void of space, sans spaceship. A change of setting, while sometimes brief, is quite refreshing. It also gives developer Visceral Games a larger pallet to work with. There are some amazing things done with color and light in DS3. In an early section of the game, the setting Sun creates a beautiful blood red effect on your surroundings. The ice planet, Tau Volantis, with its swirling white hurricanes and aurora borealis-like effects, are also a stark contrast from the uniform confines of the previous Dead Space games. A good portion of DS3 still takes place in interior environments that will look familiar to Dead Space veterans, but the graphical updates that have been made are apparent and very pleasing to the eye.
DS3 also features greater player agency than the first and second Dead Space. While they largely received acclaim, one of the few complaints about the them was the linear nature of their campaigns. Clarke was rarely presented with any other option except to continue moving forward, with little room for exploration. DS3 corrects this by providing the player with numerous side missions. Far from filler material, this optional content provides insight into the Marker and the Dead Space universe. While the rewards for completing this secondary content are often middling, hunting down text logs and other items that reveals a little more of Dead Space's lore is very satisfying. The only downside is that if players choose to skip certain optional objectives, they will be missing important and revealing portions of the story.
Another change in DS3 is the inclusion of human enemies. Clarke's sole opponent has been necromorphs up to this point, but now Unitologist soldiers will also pursue and attack him. This creates some exciting instances where the human enemies, necromorphs and Clarke are all fighting each other at the same time. Disappointingly, there are only a few new necromorph types, but some are worthy additions to the Dead Space bestiary. The variety of tactics created by these new enemies are welcome, as anyone who has played previous Dead Space games will likely be well prepared for one of the necromorphs favorite tactics, popping out of vents. The human enemies and some of the new necromorphs are more or less just cannon fodder, but by adding more enemy types, it does help keep the player off balance and out of their comfort zone.
Co-op is another feature that is new to the main series of Dead Space games and has caused much acrimony among fans. Playing DS3 with a partner definitely lessens the tension but the co-op does have redeeming qualities. Similar to a scary movie, there is a lot of fun to be had jumping at DS3's scares along with a friend. There are also optional missions that can only be accessed if you are playing in co-op, which give you more information about Clarke's partner, John Carver. Carver is a fairly bland character who would be well at home in any third or first person shooter. His troubled backstory helps differentiate him however, and is the basis of Carver's hallucinations, which only those playing as Carver will be able to see. Some of his hallucinations are harmless, while occasionally, they completely incapacitate him, forcing Clarke to briefly fight alone. It is an interesting mechanic and is an effective way of putting the Dead Space seal on the co-op experience. The only downside is that Carver also plays a role in the single player portion of the game. Without a friend controlling him, Carver is a fairly unlikeable character and even more generic. His inclusion feels forced as well, especially near the end of the campaign, where the story creates a strong bond between Clarke and Carver, even though they hardly interact with one another and never seem particularly friendly throughout the single player portion of DS3.
While these new additions to the Dead Space formula are largely beneficial to the franchise, others weaken it. There is undeniably a greater focus on action and less of a focus on atmosphere in DS3. It is partially a product of the environments. DS3's numerous large open spaces, especially on Tau Volantis, just cannot match in atmosphere to the claustrophobic hallways and dimly lit rooms of Dead Space 1 and 2. In those games, there was constantly the feeling of having no means of escape and the sense of isolation was ever present. In the vast emptiness of deep space, it really felt like it was just you against a monstrous horde. The sequences in DS3 that have you rappelling up and down walls, dodging objects in zero gravity, and flying a space ship while shooting mines, are exciting set pieces and are cool to look at, but just aren't as memorable as DS1 and 2's prolonged, hair-raising periods of silence. Still suffering the effects of his experience with the Marker, DS3 also missed an opportunity to utilize Clarke's horrifying Marker-induced hallucinations that were used to such great effect in DS2. DS3's numerous wide-open environments, large scope, frequent frenzied battles, and your nearly ever-present team of EarthGov soldiers and civilians, just kills any potential fear or tension.
The weapon crafting system is also an unwelcome entry to the Dead Space franchise. This system allows Clarke to construct a large number of weapons from resources collected from the environment and enemies. He can also create weapon attachments like scopes, grenade launchers, and underslung melee weapons, then attach them to his weapon FPS-style. However, it is possible to make it through DS3 with little to no use of weapon crafting, which is a good thing, as the long periods of tinkering in the menus and backtracking to workbenches has a negative affect on the game's pacing. Also, while the Dead Space series is identified as survival horror, in DS3 it never really feels like you are struggling to survive. When you have access to a huge arsenal at the numerous workbenches scattered throughout the world, it tends to undermine the survival in survival horror.
The use of power nodes from the previous two main Dead Space games was a much better system to begin with. It provided a better sense of progression and it required the player to utilize some real strategy in deciding where to allocate their nodes. Considering that the resources used to create weapons and items in DS3 can be bought with real-world currency, there really seems to be little reason for weapon crafting to exist except to provide a basis for a microtransaction economy. While weapon crafting has a largely negative impact on DS3, one positive to come out of it is the universal ammunition that is required to support the numerous weapon types. In the previous games, each gun required its own type of ammo, often resulting in a very cluttered inventory, but with only one type to worry about now, much more time can be spent out of the inventory and in the game.
The basis of what made Dead Space a lauded franchise still exists in DS3. It is still a very solid third person shooter with an interesting story and some genuinely scary moments. At the same time though, much of what made Dead Space unique in a crop of ever growing third person shooters has been stripped away in favor of a more action-oriented experience, replete with a huge arsenal of weapons and an intrusive microtransaction economy. While far from a bad game, it is without a doubt the weakest of the three main Dead Space games.