Game Review: Dead Space – A Good Sci-Fi Horror Never Dies
Do you love horror? Did Condemned have you on the edge of your seat, and Resident Evil’s zombiefied masses make you quiver with glee? Is your lust for gore matched only by your desire to blow things to pieces? Well you’d probably love Dead Space; one of the best survival horror gaming experiences to be had. With it’s sequel less then a year away, lets take a look back on what made the original so great.
(For the TLDR Crowd)
* Fantastic visuals, in both environment and character models
* Excellent Sound and Music
* Interesting story, backed by great characters and exceptional voice acting
* Well designed levels, still manages to offer a range of different environments
* Unexpected and fun side games
* Cool Bosses
* Powerful, inventive and explosive weapons
* Plenty of choice when it comes to upgrading your weapons and suit
* Enemies genuinely creepy and horrific, and dismemberment killing method is unique
* Suit is an awesome HUD
* Completely bug free and polished!
* Story, though good, is not the most original
* Slow paced at times
* Essentially linear (but thankfully has a lot of choice and diverging paths)
* Levels can be quite dark
* Not all the weapons are as useful as they may first appear
* Horror aspect wears off towards the end
* Only get enough credits and parts to upgrade a few weapons, and upgrading the wrong ones can result in end level being near impossible
* Isaac never speaks, so it’s very difficult to connect with him as a character
In Space, No One Can Hear You Squeam
Dead Space is a survival horror that takes place aboard a massive planet-mining ship called the Ishimura. You play as Isaac Clarke – a “spaceship maintenance man” – who has been ordered, along with a few others, to go to there and discover the reason behind their communications black out.
This is where the game begins. The flight towards the monstrous mining ship is… well, breath taking. You can’t help but be taken aback by the visuals even in the opening. Such pretty light, such a realistic feel to the characters and outside space.
Naturally, the calm is fleeting. You’re very quickly forced to make an emergency landing in the Ishimura, and it doesn’t take long to realise that the ship has far bigger problems then a broken relay.
Every deck, room and hallway is literally strewn with blood and body parts. What’s left of the crew is either clinically insane or mutated into various kinds of lethal creatures, hell bent on using your corpse as another potential host. Every system on the ship from life support to engine capability is mere hours from going offline, and you’re soon involved in a desperate rush to fix it all, discover what happened to the crew, and get out of there alive.
It’s a great way to begin the game, and hooks you immediately. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
It’s a Horror Story. Cut It Some Slack
Dead Space’s story and premise is in no way unique or original. It’s a mish-mash of dozens of different medias, including Event Horizon, Aliens, Red Dwarf, Resident Evil, and even the age old “Asteroids” Atari game. Many people have pointed this out, and twisted it into a negative for the game. I’m here to say different.
You see, the developers readily acknowledge that the game was inspired by all these sources. They didn’t try to say “We’re making something completely unique here that you’ve never seen before!” They told us what to expect from day one. This is the key point; this is what stops Dead Space from becoming a blatant hack. Instead, the entire game now fits into the ‘homage’ category.
Though we’re too wary to admit it, many of us have watched a cool horror movie in the past and thought “Gee, I wish someone would make a game out of this”. We just know how those ventures usually turn out (i.e. freakin’ awful). Well, for once they’ve done something right, and Dead Space is it!
Sure the game may resemble Event Horizon in many ways, but is that a bad thing? We only watched that movie, now’s our chance to be part of it! And even though all these media’s influenced Dead Space’s team, they’ve still put in ample amounts of their own ideas, and created enough of their own universe to make it feel in some way unique.
So if you do play the game, I implore you to view it in this manner. It’s not just something “we’ve all seen before”, it’s the best parts of all those things, wrapped up in a package of awesome that we now get to play. What more could you ask for?
This Is How We Shoot It
Dead Space is played from a third person perspective. You spend most of your time looking over Isaac’s shoulder, blasting away at zombies and other putrefied creatures. Occasionally the camera will move around to provide us with a more cinematic view, which lends new perspectives and tension to scenes.
We have twelve “chapters” to explore, most of which revolve around a section of ship, and the only load screen you’ll see is at the beginning of each new level. That’s right, no loading screens for the rest of that chapter! Awesome stuff.
Each level has a few objectives, and even though the main story is quite linear, you’re free to tackle these tasks in whichever order you wish. I usually looked at which way I was supposed to go, then did the exact opposite. Thankfully, this doesn’t spoil or mess anything up, as the game will compensate for you doing one thing before another. You may even find a few items earlier, like blueprints for your suit. Yay!
It’d Be Eye Candy… If I Still Had Eyes
The graphics in Dead Space are superb. As mentioned earlier, the first time you start the game and watch the sun shining through the asteroids as you advance on the Ishimura is overwhelmingly beautiful.
Once inside the ship, things get a bit more metal and grey, but it’s still bearable. There’s enough variety to keep you from getting bored, such as the sterile whiteness of the Science labs, the organic green of the bio-complex, and the huge, open-space view from the bridge. Even when you think you’ve explored all the ships sections, something will “drop in” and you’ll have a whole new area to explore.
Character models are fantastic. Isaac will never stand still like some kind of manikin, preferring to fiddle with his weapon, observe his surroundings or check his suit if left idle. All his movements are smooth and realistic. He’s also subject to a lot of normal human emotions, such as extreme panic or fatigue, making his body act accordingly. Every upgrade will also improve the look of the suit, adding extra armour pieces on the vital areas until he eventually resembles an unstoppable scrap heap. (Must weighs a ton by the end!)
Isaac’s comrades look great, moving with much the same amount of detail. Facial animations are close to amazing, even rivaling that of Crysis or Half Life 2, but they really look their best in the pre-rendered video transmissions. Watching these eerie holograms can provide some chilling moments as you wander throughout the ship.
And finally the gore. Oh, the gore. It’s everywhere. You swim in it. Every blast squirts blood, every corpse can be stomped in an explosion of innards. But the best part is when an enemy gets too close to Isaac, and activates a “mini encounter”. This usually involves the camera taking a cinematic position while we frantically hit a button and watch Isaac fight them off, stomp on them, or tear them limb from limb.
In fact, the camera’s so smooth and cinematic at times, it’s almost something you’d expect from a blockbuster movie. The final fight is especially impressive. Be sure to let the boss kill once!
Walk For Your Life!
Due to the need for careful aiming, and the lethality of your opposition, I have to warn you now that Dead Space is not exactly “fast paced”. Most of the time you’ll find yourself creeping around slowly, preparing yourself for a surprise attack. The whole game has a heavy feel about it… whether it’s the way Isaac clumps about in his iron boots, or the sheer power behind the mining tools he’s firing, you definitely get a sense of weight.
This all adds to the atmosphere though, and considering the game lasts about 13 hours (on normal), it’s not exactly designed to be blasted through. Which brings me to my next point:
A Rewarding Journey is Long and Hard
Play this game on Hard. This is a game that you need to be challenged on, or you’ll find the horror and scares wear off fast towards the end. I played through on normal for my first go, and even though it was scary for the most part, by the halfway point I’d gotten so good at aiming it just wasn’t as tense anymore.
Upping the difficulty to Hard – or Impossible after the first play through – greatly increases the fear factor. Having to blow ALL the limbs off an enemy, instead of just one or two, suddenly makes conserving ammo and self preservation far more important. Guaranteed to make the game (but maybe not your underwear) last a lot longer.
That said, I thought that games length was quite reasonable. 13 hours on normal is longer then say, Call of Duty 4 or Star Wars: Force Unleashed, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome, like Bioshock. You can also reload the game after you’ve finished to play through it again with all your weapons and the highest level suit. It won’t let you go up a difficulty, though, which makes choosing a harder difficulty from the beginning an even better idea.
The Suit: You Wears It
The main item you’ll use in the game is your suit. It acts as your HUD, since you don’t have one otherwise. Your life is displayed on your back (no auto-heal here), and inventory, video and voice transmissions all appear as holographic images, much like Isaac would see inside his visor. This is actually a very cool function; you can move the camera around the holograms and admire how they float in the air, and Isaac will “browse” while you’re organising your inventory.
Other suit features include:
* A stasis ability – Let’s you freeze (or slow) objects and enemies in the game. Integrated quite well, and doesn’t feel like just a gimmick.
* A kinesis ability – Let’s you move objects around alla Gravity Gun style. Not quite as useful, or as well integrated into the game.
* Tracking Beam - With a press of a button, a beam of light will shoot from Isaac’s hand and show you exactly where you’re supposed to be go. Ensures you’ll never get lost if you wander off the beaten track.
* Air Storage – At certain points in the game, you’ll come across space-vacuums, and need to rely on your suits air supply. During these times, all sound will fade out, or become muffled, meaning you need to stay extra alert in case something is creeping around behind you. You’ll also need to monitor the air supply, and top it up with either tanks from your inventory, or wall mounted dispensers. These areas are quite intense, and add some awesome gameplay value.
* Anti-Grav Boots – You will also encounter parts where the gravity has gone awry. Here you can jump from wall to wall, walk on ceilings, and send objects flying in all directions. Pretty sweet places… until you realise that you’re now open to attack from all sides. Yikes.
* Upgradeable – You can upgrade your suit at stores, using power nodes and schematics you find lying around. This is important to keep in mind, since schematics can be found at any time and upgrading is an expensive process. Do you risk spending all your cash on weapon enhancements, or struggle on and save your cash for the next big suit improvement? Decisions decisions.
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