The Dead Space franchise is one that very quickly found an audience when the first game was released in 2008. It had been a few years since there had been a big Resident Evil release, with the fifth game a year away, and the last few Silent Hill releases had been pretty poorly received. Whilst there were some action and shooter games that were incorporating horror elements it was a pretty tough times for fans of survival horror.
As such, when a dark, claustrophobic horror game that pitted the player against monstrous creatures set to rip you to pieces it was met with huge acclaim. It also helped that Dead Space was also very, very good. Fast forward several years and the first game had become a modern classic, and the sequel was even more beloved. So, what was the third game going to do to try and top it?
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After the second game in the series became a critical success, but failed to become a financial one (an increased budget but similar sales to the first game led Dead Space 2 to make less money than EA wanted), the decision was made to take the planned third game in slightly different directions. Originally the team behind the game wanted to focus on the horror elements, feeling that the sequel had already introduced more action than was best for the series. However, with the popularity of high-octane shooter games at the time, management told them to increase the amount of action.
This resulted in a shift in the plans for the game, with some of the team seemingly aware that the increase in non-horror elements would lead to this being the final game in the series (this would be the last Dead Space game until 2023 when a remake of the first would be released). Many of the elements that were only hinted at in the previous games was brought more to the forefront in this, and the production team decided that they would include many of the answers to questions that fans kept asking for, such as what the Necromorphs were, and where they came from.
The story of Dead Space 3 begins on Earth’s moon, where series star Isaac Clarke (Gunner Wright) is living when the city starts to come under attack from Necromorphs, who have been unleashed by a cult that worships the Markers that create them. Teaming up with a small crew, Isaac heads off to the remote world of Tau Volantis, which is believed to be the home world of the Markers. Arriving on the frozen planet, Isaac and his new companion John Carver (Ricardo Chavira), must fight their way through hordes of undead alien monsters, and human cultists in order to find a way to defeat the Necromorphs once and for all, saving humanity in the process.
One of the biggest changes to the game was the inclusion of co-operative play, which resulted in the creation of John Carver, a former soldier. The original plan for the game would have followed series themes of exploring mental health and how the Markers mess with people’s minds, and would have put the second player in control of Shadow Isaac, a hallucinatory version of Isaac that would appear. However, Electronic Arts informed the creative team that they wanted to move away from these themes, and as such Carver was created instead, in part due to the popularity of soldier-based shooter games at the time.
Despite the inclusion of co-op play, the game still worked pretty well. Unlike other co-op games of the era, which would force the second player character to be there at all times, controlled by AI if no second player was present, Dead Space 3 didn’t do this. Instead, if the player chooses to play through Dead Space 3 alone they will be alone. Instead of having an AI-controlled partner running around on screen getting into difficult situations, Carver and Isaac simply get separated when they don’t need to be together for the story. This keeps the player on their own, and offers an experience that feels a little more like the first two games. However, the increase in action does mean that there are certain circumstances where co-op play is a welcome help, especially on the harder difficulty settings.
Perhaps the worst thing done in the name of trying to make more money, however, was the inclusion of micro-transactions. Micro-transactions and loot boxes are an incredibly predatory system that uses FOMO (fear of missing out) and other psychological trickery to prey upon gamers in order to spend more money. The practice has been criticised for years, and in some countries the practice has been classified as gambling. The way micro-transactions are designed are also specifically made to prey upon people with gambling addiction, mental health issues, and neurodivergent people. And these systems have sadly become so normalised in gaming that most people don’t even think twice about them, even though there have been studies that prove their harm. But, when Dead Space 3 was first released the practice was still quite new, and its inclusion in the game in order to charge player money for crafting materials they could find in game anyway was met with criticism. It’s ironic that a system that is so normalised and ignored now was for a while considered a contributing factor to the failure of Dead Space 3, and the end of the franchise.
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Despite the game receiving mostly positive reviews in a number of publications Dead Space 3 failed to meet the expected sales that Electronic Arts were hoping for, and it was estimated that the game made 20% less than its predecessor, Dead Space 2, did. The changes to the game, the difficulty in finding a balance between the new elements forced into it and the original vision, and the low sales, resulted in no further games in the series being given the go-ahead, despite Dead Space 3 ending on something of a cliffhanger (via the DLC) that would leave fans of the series in limbo for the next decade. However, the series would continue to remain popular, and a new remake of the original game has since been released.
Dead Space 3 was released in the UK on the 8th February 2013.