"Dead Space 3" doesn't know whether it's an action game or a horror game, so it's pretty good at being one and terrible at being the other. For a game to generate horror, it has to go all in; all action requires is a way to aim and a way to shoot.
The identity crisis at the core of this franchise stems back to the first "Dead Space" in 2008. That game's concept, "Resident Evil in Space," was more than a gimmick. When your character, a regular Joe fighting off the undead, went out of airlock to walk on the outside of the ship, things turns freaky. All sound dropped except for the breathing inside your character's helmet, and enemies could noiselessly drift toward you for a real scare. No game has captured the desolation of space so effectively.
But for every one part of spacewalking terror, "Dead Space" was three parts of generic corridor-clearing shootouts. The game was "horror" in that cryptic messages were written on walls with improbable amounts of blood, but most of it was no scarier than "Duck Hunt," and hardly more sophisticated.
"Dead Space 3," strangely, continues to give its namesake short shrift. An awful lot of it doesn't even take place on spaceships or space stations. The game begins on a moon colony that uncannily resembles modern-day New York City, down to the scratched-up Coke machines, even though the year is 2514. Most of "Dead Space 3" takes place on an icy planet that's a constant white-out of snow. It's hard to think of a setting less suited to showing off the series' strengths.
|'Dead Space 3'|
|» System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|» Price: $59.99|
|» Rating: 3 out of 5 stars|
The nail in the horror coffin is a computer-controlled character who sometimes joins your fight. First "Resident Evil" gave you a fear-destroying companion, and now "Dead Space" has done it. It's a mystery that the developers of two flagship horror franchises don't realize that you can't be surprised by a bad guy if your partner is already shooting him. Haven't they heard of "safety in numbers"?
Even if horror is dead in the world of video games, action is alive and well. Whether you have a friend next to you on the couch to control the second character or not, "Dead Space 3" is a competent over-the-shoulder shooter with fun guns. That may not sound very ambitious, but it's a combination that many an action game with no pretense of horror can't pull off.