Spoiler Warning: This post is very specifically about details of the Dead Space series as well as the ending of Dead Space 3. Read at your own discretion.
Despite having received the game as a gift in 2013 and being a big fan of the series, I only just completed the storyline of Dead Space 3. The game continues a series of sci-fi horror video games developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts.
Something I heard consistently from friends and family that had played through it already was that by the end of the game far too much was explained about the source of the Necromorphs, the undead monstrosities that assault the player-character Isaac Clarke, and the Markers, alien spires that are the source of hallucinations, violence, and the spawning of these nightmarish creatures. Having now played through it, I’m not sure how I feel about it.
I spent much of my time anticipating what my friend crudely called “the game taking it’s sci-fi concepts and going up its own ass with them,” and I feel that may influenced my expectations a little too strongly.
I do have my problems with the game, to be sure. Many characters behave in cringe-worthy ways that throw off the tone, the plotline is drawn out and weaker than previous entries, and this game has horror take a backseat to the action, which leads to a lot of instances where swarms of enemies crowd around you far too much. This last part became particularly grating as these experiences were no longer fun to play, but became gratuitous and uninteresting.
On to the ending. The planet that you descend upon, which is supposedly the Marker home world, turns out to have been the home of an alien species that fell plague to the Markers, just as humanity have begun to. They froze their planet with a massive Machine in an effort to stop the advancement of Convergence; the ultimate end game of the Marker’s influence.
As it turns out, Convergence has all Necromorph creatures merge into one giant creature the size of a moon, which goes on to consume all life on the planet. This process was interrupted by the aliens of this planet using their Machine, but it’s function was not completed, and only by turning it back on can Isaac successfully destroy this moon by crashing it into the planet, stopping the Necromorph plague in its tracks.
Having written this all out it does in fact sound quite ludicrous, but I was never taken aback by what I experienced. A lot of what is established raises a lot more questions than it answers, and it doesn’t wholly take away from the horror that the Necromorphs represent by explaining too much, but instead makes the scale bigger than we thought. It’s an unusual epidemic that creates planetary bodies, which presumably move on to consume more by planting more Markers, but there’s a lot to this process that is not understood.
Nothing in the ending revelations changed the series for me because the scale of the game was established as bigger from the onset. The previous two games were more self-contained and personal stories, where Isaac is isolated and forced to survive in horrific circumstances he doesn’t understand. Dead Space 3 has the cast of characters actively pursuing the Necromorph threat to bring about its end. Knowing this from the beginning gave the game a context where further explanation was more appropriate, despite being tone-deaf to the series’ previous entries.
As for the greater truth about the Necromorphs and Convergence, absurd though it may be, I still liked it for what it was. It gave the story a stronger Lovecraftian air to it, as the existence of this undead blight spreading across the universe and their having enough awareness to transmit the idea of “Turn it off” (the Machine) to the living leaves me to believe there is a horrific cosmic entity — or entities — beyond our comprehension at play. It does get ridiculous that Isaac actually fights this thing and wins, but from a lore standpoint I didn’t mind it.
Dead Space 3 had a lot of problems, but I’m happy that the lore didn’t get too far away from itself for me, which is what I had been led to believe would happen. The Necromorphs are still as horrific as ever, it’s just the story’s approach to them that changed. While I did not like the narrative approach, which sacrificed a lot of horror and betrayed the point of Isaac’s story in the previous games, the revealed information worked well enough.