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Retro Review: Dead Space 3 (Xbox 360)

Is Dead Space 3 truly the black sheep of the trilogy? Or is it a shining gem, wrongly torn apart for shifting genres?

Although Dead Space took the world of survival horror gaming by storm when it first breached our atmosphere in 2008, its subsequent sequels began dividing fans by placing a larger emphasis on action. While Visceral Games and EA found a healthy balance of action and horror in Dead Space 2, the third entry saw a full shift in genre. In a move almost as controversial as Capcom’s shift to action in Resident Evil 6, Dead Space 3 left mixed tastes in the mouths of both fans and critics. Ultimately, this game closed the books on one of the most unique franchises in video game history with a bittersweet ending that left many wanting more.

Going into Dead Space 3 for the first time, I knew all too well about the game’s shift into action. Therefore, I went in with an open mind and changed my expectations for the title. After all, based on the story established in the first two games, the shift makes sense from a narrative standpoint. Isaac began his journey as an engineer with no combat experience thrust into an intergalactic nightmare, by now, he is more than equipped to deal with the Necromorph threat.

So, from a first-time player’s perspective, how does Dead Space 3 hold up today and stack up against the previous two entries? Does it provide a satisfactory conclusion to Isaac Clarke’s story? Or does the action-packed finale feel like it still needs another boom?

Find out as we unthaw the frozen depths of Dead Space 3!

Stranger in a strange land

Dead Space 3 sets its tone early on in the prologue. Opening up on the snowy planet of Tau Volantis, we take on the role of a soldier stationed there 200 years ago when Earth Gov were conducting experiments on the Markers. The action-packed sequence also introduces us to a new yellow-eyed Necromorph, as well as the game’s rappel mechanics, which you’ll use quite a bit later on.

Following the grave finale of the prologue, we meet back up with Isaac, a few years after the events of Dead Space 2. Right away, we get thrust into the action as Isaac gets recruited by a team of EarthGov soldiers on a rescue mission to find Ellie and her team, who went missing near Tau Volantis. In addition, the universe is under threat again as the Unitologists, led by Jacob Danik, seeks convergence by unleashing the Markers. Did I mention that they specifically also want to kill Isaac?

As the story continues, Isaac and the soldiers regroup with Ellie, who is on a mission to destroy the Markers on their home planet. Upon meeting her, the game also sets up the sub-plot of a love triangle between Ellie, Isaac (now Ellie’s ex-boyfriend) and Ellie’s current boyfriend Captain Norton.

In addition, the game also introduces the new character of John Carver. Although Carver’s character gets a lot more depth in co-op, he plays more of a side role in the solo campaign. My playthrough was solo, therefore, I won’t have too much to say about him. However, to learn more about Carver and how the Marker affects him, you can check out this great montage on YouTube that details both his and Isaac’s hallucinations in the game.

A frozen wasteland

Visually, Dead Space 3 features an environment as stunning to look at as ever. Early sections of the game show off Luna, the space city Isaac settled in and marks the only time in the series where we can see what the “normal” world in that universe is like. However, in typical Dead Space fashion, chaos ensues as both Unitologists and Necromorphs attack, thus leaving our interactions in the city brief as we head into space.

The sections on the ship also weigh on the shorter side, but they are some of the most visually beautiful sections of the game. I’m especially referring to the times where you leave the wrecked spaceships and float through zero-gravity in the open space. Seeing the wrecked parts orbiting over top of the large white planet beneath, while surrounded by the endlessness of outer space on every corner really makes the isolation of being in such a lonely area with vast nothingness around feel all the more impactful.

However, the heart of the game truly begins after you crash land onto Tau Volantis. The frozen landscape, marked with constant whiteout blizzards does a great job of distinguishing itself as the most different setting of the Dead Space franchise. I will admit that the color palette of constant white from the snow outdoors with a constant dark grey on the indoor sections unfortunately makes for some of the least interesting settings of the trilogy as well.

Kill or be killed

Regardless, the environment is only one small aspect of a video game, and the real meat comes from the actual gameplay. Like the setting, Dead Space 3 distinguishes its differences from the previous entries in terms of gameplay early on. Most notably, while action elements got introduced in the second game, this title fully makes the shift away from horror.

One of the key differences comes in the form of enemy types. Although you definitely face no shortage of monstrous Necromorphs, you’ll also contend with armed human enemies in the form of Danik’s army of Unitologists. The game clearly establishes this early on by placing you in intense firefights with these crazed cult members, who you’ll also face off with throughout the whole game.

As a result, the game introduces two new mechanics including dodging and crouching. Implementing these new maneuvers alongside human enemies into gameplay makes certain elements feel very much like a standard third-person shooter which leads to the main point of contention between fans. However, I believe Dead Space 3 works incredibly well as an action game.

Additionally, I think the moments when you get thrust into three-way battles against both Necromorphs and Unitologists make for some of the most fun and challenging combat sections in the whole game. The game does a great job with its intelligent AI, who will adapt on the fly to combat scenarios. In turn, there are numerous situations where Necromorphs will fight the Unitologists who will then shift their attention to shooting back at them. It makes combat feel more dynamic and introduces a greater sense of immersion during these encounters.

Hurdling through space

Another action element Visceral Games expanded upon from the second game into Dead Space 3 is the inclusion of quick-time events and action set pieces. While we had some in Dead Space 2, we have a ton within the third game. For the most part, these segments are fun and do a great job breaking up the standard gameplay.

However, while there are some cool cinematic moments within some of the quick-time events, some of them also become overused throughout the game. Most notably, there’s a recurring sequence that sees you hurdling through the air while dodging obstacles. Another recurring sequence is the trope of rappelling up or down a cliff while also dodging various obstacles. While fun and interesting in the first sequence, by the end of the game, each of these quick-time sequences begins to feel stale and repetitive.

It’s time to craft

Another ambitious change to Dead Space 3 came in the form of the overhauled upgrade system. In the past, players would collect power nodes that you could use to upgrade your suit and weapons using the bench. In addition, you would pick up currency known as credits that you could spend on items in the store.

This time around, however, the game offers a very deep crafting system that replaces both previously mentioned systems. Throughout the game, you’ll collect raw materials, such as scrap metal and gun frames, which you can use to build custom weapons, as well as craft items like ammo and med kits. At various benches and suit kiosks, you can combine the parts you collected into unique custom weapons which you can upgrade with special circuits.

At first, I hated the feature completely. It felt like the upgrade system got overcomplicated and any cool combinations and upgrades were pure luck. Ambitious as the system was, I never felt compelled enough to really learn any recipes, and the concept felt out of place for the series, as crafting feels much more at home in an RPG.

However, as the game progressed, I grew smarter about how I used my resources. Instead of playing guess-and-check to hope I created something worthwhile every time I would pass and visit a bench, I started saving resources. In later sections of the game, I would be select on how often I would visit the bench, and I also began using the scavenger bot frequently to collect even more resources. Ultimately, the system grew on me, and by the end of the game, I built a powerfully upgraded plasma cutter, as well as a hybrid weapon between the ripper and javelin gun.

Defeat the moon

One of my favorite things about Dead Space 3 was the return of boss fights. As you may recall from my last review, I was immensely disappointed by the lack of iconic boss battles in Dead Space 2. Fortunately, the third game delivers in all the best ways.

In total, the game features three bosses and five battles (three are against the same enemy). Each encounter feels unique, and each gargantuan creature offers a satisfying challenge that requires you to learn their respective patterns and weaknesses. The snow beast offers the greatest challenge of three encounters, with the final requiring you to use the environment to your advantage to defeat it. Later, the hive mind returns with its own distinct patterns and weak points.

However, the game saves the best for last by sticking you against the all powerful moon for the final boss. The creature itself looks amazing with its Lovecraftian design, and the way you defeat it requires careful precision and patience. Its weak points are on its eyes, and you must use your kinesis ability while standing on the boosting platform to launch Markers into its eyes while they show. In addition, you’ll have to contend with swarms of Necromorph that the moon spawns in, as well as destroy the tentacles it uses to try to pull you in.

A noble sacrifice

After all the carnage comes to a close upon defeating the moon, Dead Space 3 offers one of the most satisfying conclusions in gaming. That statement may come as controversial to fans, so let me explain.

The first Dead Space is about Isaac’s failure. In that game, he’s just an engineer thrust into a nightmare he knows nothing about in hopes to save his girlfriend Nicole. Unfortunately, she dies long before Isaac could ever reach her, and he must somehow continue living with that knowledge at the end.

The second game deals heavily with Isaac’s guilt and focuses on his journey of moving on. Using the Marker’s hallucinations as a motif for guilt and introducing the character of Ellie as a new love interest, Isaac overcomes his grief of not saving Nicole and accepts his loss while looking forward to the future.

Dead Space 3 concludes Isaac’s arc by offering him an opportunity at redemption. He couldn’t save Nicole, but he could save Ellie, and ultimately the universe as well. To do this, he sacrifices his own life by destroying the Marker using the codex and the alien machine. Overall, Isaac goes from just some guy to a hero willing to die to save the woman he loves along with all of humanity. It’s a beautiful ending that seals the story of Isaac Clarke.

At its core, Dead Space is a cautionary tale of the consequences of both greed and blind devotion. Depleting the resources of planets led to the Markers becoming uncovered. Experimenting on them for power and energy awakened the evil signals they contained. And the blind devotion of the Unitologists for the idea of convergence as a solution against humanities greed only led to further bloodshed and destruction. Ultimately, only a selfless sacrifice could save humanity.

Awakening a disjointed aftermath

Now that I got my praise out of the way, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the ending of the Awakened DLC. This DLC not only retcons Isaac and Carver’s deaths but destroys any of the resolution delivered in the base game. By the end of Awakened, we learn that the Brethren Moons are awakened and are already attacking Earth.

Maybe that wouldn’t have been bad if we could have gotten more closure with a Dead Space 4, but obviously that game never came to be. Thank you, EA.

However, I personally don’t think continuing that arc would have been a great idea to begin with anyway. As I stated previously, the ending of the base game is a phenomenal conclusion to the trilogy. I couldn’t think of a more perfect ending if I tried, so I won’t.

As far as I’m concerned, Dead Space 3: Awakened doesn’t exist and the series ends when the credits hit for the base game. Is that a hot take? Maybe. However, without a Dead Space 4, I prefer that conclusion over letting things end with Awakened’s non-conclusion.

Concluding thoughts on Dead Space 3

Ultimately, Dead Space 3 is the most different within the entire trilogy. Backing away from the horror that defined the first game and shifting fully into the action introduced in the second game makes the third and final entry within the franchise the most controversial among fans. However, if you go into it with an open mind, and play it as an action game, it does a great job of providing an intense gaming experience incomparable to any contemporary third-person shooters on the market.

Sure, the new crafting system can be hit or miss, depending on whether you want to take the time to learn its intricacies. And some of the quick-time events become stale rehashes of fly through this linear course while shifting slightly to dodge a barrage of debris that insta-kills you if you even graze it. Yet, beneath its imperfections lies a fun and brutal sci-fi action game with intelligent AI and three-way battles between you, the Unitologists and the Necromorphs.

In addition, the story is tight and does a brilliant job giving the trilogy a definitive conclusion fitting for Isaac’s character arc (as long as you ignore that Awakened ever happened). If you followed Isaac Clarke’s journey from the first game to the last game, you see his journey from some random engineer guy to a full-fledged hero.

What do you think about Dead Space 3? Do you agree with my takes? Or is my opinion way off? As always, let us know what you think in the comments! And check out my reviews of Dead Space and Dead Space 2 in case you missed them.




Ultimately, Dead Space 3 is the most different within the entire trilogy. Backing away from the horror that defined the first game and shifting fully into the action introduced in the second game makes the third and final entry within the franchise the most controversial among fans. However, if you go into it with an open mind and play it as an action game, it does a great job of providing an intense gaming experience incomparable to any contemporary third-person shooters on the market.

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Sam Fronsman

A writer with a love for video games, both new and old. A collector of games, CDs and DVDs. Can sometimes be found behind a camera or playing guitar. The X-Men games for SEGA Genesis will always hold great memories.
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