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Dead Space puts you in the shoes of engineer Isaac Clarke sent on a mission to repair the planetary mining ship USG Ishimura. After excavating and retrieving an ancient alien artifact known as “The Marker”, workers on a space colony begin to, how shall I put it… completely lose their freaking minds. Meanwhile, an unknown alien species begins killing, infesting and subsequently mutating all the denizens into bloodthirsty “Necromorphs”. The USG Ishimura gets caught up in the mess while retrieving the artifact from the colony and very promptly, everything heads out on a one-way trip to f#©ksville. This is where Isaac Clarke comes in to unwittingly repair the failed systems due to all the chaos.

Engineer Isaac Clark as he navigates the USG Ishimura.

As you’ve probably already guessed, Dead Space is a survival horror game… IN SPACE! This is not very common territory for the genre, but I’m a hardcore survival horror fan, pretty much having played almost every single game in the genre, and so my attention was immediately captured by all the media and info regarding the game. Can this newcomer stack up to the successes of the survival horror forefathers?

The Good

Horrific Style

Dead Space’s graphics and art direction are top-notch. Despite it’s overall metallic and cold environment, the various locales aboard the USG Ishimura look great and each have their own distinctive qualities which keeps things fresh, despite being inside the same ship for most of the game. Also, the game’s enemies are absolutely gruesome and will definitely stay in your mind against your own will. The developer’s graphics team actually researched photos of car crashes for inspiration in enemy and ship victim design.

Some of the nastiest monsters in space.

Amazing Sound Direction

Very rarely can one say this about a game, but Dead Space’s sound direction (yes you can hear things in space!) absolutely shines above anything else. Whether it’s the sound of a piece of equipment clanking in a far off corner of the room or an unseen Necromorph stalking you, it’s the sound that really keeps you on the edge of your seat in this game. The game also uses silence very effectively when entering vacuums. In these areas you can only really hear your Isaac’s heartbeat and footsteps on the metallic floors of the ship and that goes a long way towards instilling the sense of vastness and emptiness of space. I don’t have a surround sound system, but if you do, you’re in for a treat, as the game will sound even more amazing since it was designed with surround in mind.

For more information on the amazing sound, check out this interview with Dead Space’s audio director to find out more about what went into making the game sound so great.

Innovative Interface

Dead Space does a great job of keeping you immersed in the game by having a holographic HUD that is displayed by your suit. Instead of pausing the game to look at your map or sort your inventory, Isaac’s RIG suit displays everything in real time. Also your weapons display ammo counters while in aiming mode. Aside from looking really cool, this really helps in streamlining the clunkiness of other games’ map/inventory checking, which often breaks up the experience, while also adding to the tension since you can still be attacked at any moment, even when checking your objectives and such.

Fun Gunplay

If you’ve played Resident Evil 4, you would know that its move from traditional survival horror overhead “tank” gunplay to a more action-oriented control scheme with and over-the-shoulder perspective, was a huge step forward for the genre and the developers of Dead Space were definitely aware of this. That being said, you should feel right at home blowing the arms and legs off of the rabid Necromorphs. This brings me to the strategic dismemberment touted by the game’s developers pre-launch. Basically, it adds a layer of finesse to the combat in that pinpointing and blowing off enemies’ arms and legs not only physically hinders them, but does extra damage, which is good because the game does a great job of giving you just enough ammo where you should be concerned about how you use it. Of course, you can always buy more ammo at the in-game store, but that just means less credits (the game’s currency) for you to use on power nodes, which are used to upgrade your weapons and RIG.

The Bad

Weak Plot and Characters

There aren’t many (living) characters in the game, but the living ones that you do interact with are just plain boring and basically only successfully relay information to you on your next task. There are many audio and video logs to collect that reveal some of the events leading to the demise of the crew of the USG Ishimura, but they are often clips of the token survival horror final journal entries of the victims. What’s also disappointing is that the writers’ attempt at having you sympathize with Isaac outright fails. Isaac’s wife Nicole was apparently on the Ishimura as well, so he has a vested interest in the mission, but despite this he never utters a single word. It’s a bit counterintuitive to try to make players connect to a character that well… has no character!

Have you seen my wife? No? QQ

Repetitive Scares

Dead Space, by no means fails to scare players, but after a couple of hours of play, you‘ll realize that the game pretty much falls back on the old monster-pops-out-of-a-vent trick repeatedly. I’m not going to lie. I’m currently replaying the game after beating it on hard difficulty and I’m still scared when a Necromorph pops out of something or miscellaneous machinery gives sets off a false alarm, but it just seems a bit uninspired considering how much effort went into the keeping players scared via thevisuals and sound.

Lackluster Bosses

The boss battles fail to deliver with regard to gameplay. While the bosses are somewhat large in scale, the battles themselves are fairly simplistic, save for one boss fight that takes place in zero gravity, which keeps things a bit interesting. Honestly, battles with regular enemies are far more entertaining given the claustrophobic locations and their rabid pursuit for your tasty human flesh.

The Ugly

Getting stabbed in the chest repeatedly and then being filleted six ways to Sunday by the Regenerator Necromorph.

In an industry flooded by sequels upon sequels, EA (no stranger to game sequels) proudly heralded Dead Space as a shining example of it’s shifted focus towards generating new and original IPs, but ironically gave us something very familiar. You might say that a survival horror game in space is something uncommon (to which I would agree), but many of the excellent elements of Dead Space have been borrowed from other well-known properties, which is a bit disappointing given the way the game was marketed pre-launch as a kind of new revolution within the genre.

Wait a minute… this looks familiar..

That’s not to say that Dead Space isn’t a great game. It is. Dead Space is a blast to play and succeeds in keeping you guessing what all those sounds are that you hear when you finally go to bed after playing. . After beating the game, you can load your cleared file and play a New Game+ where you can start over on the same difficulty, but with all your equipment from the previous play-through. Also, if you’re a trophy whore, you’ll find plenty of reason to play the game again and again to max out your weapon and suit upgrades (impossible to do in one run-through) and beat the harder difficulties.

If you’ve never played a survival horror game before, I can whole-heartedly recommend Dead Space as a good place to start. For bloodstained season veterans, Dead Space is definitely worthy of a space (Ha! See what I did there?) in your collection.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 at 7:42 pm.
Categories: Video Games, Videos.

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. nice review. This game looks awesome, looks like its flying under the radar, I havent really heard a lot about it. I think the main character looks funny with that helmet though.

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