is a frightening game. I can vouch for this: itís taken me two years, one month and six days to complete. I suppose you could say that Iíd built up an irrational fear of it; the game seemed scarier in my head than it actually was on my TV. The game has been sitting on my shelf all that time, daring me to play it. Just put it in the disc-drive, press start, and see how scary it is now,
I told myself, after all, itís been two years
. And I did.
takes place on a titanic mining ship, USG Ishimura. The game starts with Isaac, our hero, an engineer, being flown to the Ishumura to repair it, after it mysteriously lost communications with Earth. The player, and Isaac, quickly realise that this isnít just a simple ďHave you tried turning it on an off?Ē mission, as it dawns that the ship is overrun with grotesque and fearsome alien creatures known as Necromorphs.
The atmosphere of the game really is superb. This starts as soon as you start the game up - I still insist that the main menu is one of the most unsettling parts of the game - the text and background violently flicker, the audio screams in tandem with the quick, vicious distortions of the screen - itís scary. Like the scares, the immersion starts then as well, as the blue holographic menus jump into life, beginning the futuristic-technology theme that Dead Space
never leaves. The player never leaves this immersion, as all of the menus (save the pause menu) and HUD is shown in holographic form in without taking the player out of the game - making for some frenzied scrambling to get access to a health pack. This eery, unsettling atmosphere continues throughout the game: dimly lit corridors; gently blinking lights; footsteps with no owner; illegible messages strewn across walls, scrawled with blood - these all add up to one terrifying game, and this is without any sight of the Necromorphs. This is often the case, as sometimes the scenes that keep your eyes fixed onto the screen, your palms sweating, are the ones with implied threat, not actual threat.
Which brings us onto the actual
threats, the Necromorphs. A unique aspect of Dead Space
is how you deal with them: engineering tools and dismemberment. This isnít the traditional aim-for-the-head kind of game, that tactic wonít do anything apart from wasting ammo (which is scarce throughout the first half of the game, before your money starts to pile up), you have to aim for the limbs and tactically dismember them. This can cause more problems than it solves. For example if you shoot the legs off one of the gameís vanilla enemies, they will fall to the floor and continue on, Terminator-style, except at a much faster pace - so it serves well to remember the most efficient way of carving up the monsters. The majority of the gameís scares are supplied by the Necromorphs, which come in two flavours: firstly, jumping out unexpectedly (although you learn to expect their advances when there hasnít been any action for a little while); and secondly, simply being trapped in a room which has been kindly filled with a mass of screaming, slicing and stabbing Necromorphs. When the player falls foul to one of these creatures, they are treated with a gruesome Ďdeath-sceneí which features a plethora of different animations, all filled with juicy decapitations, impaling, and general butchery.
The combat in Dead Space
keeps the pressure and fear factor up, but also makes the game worth playing - and incredibly fun. It takes a little getting used to, as Isaacís movement is slow and cumbersome, as well as his aiming - but this all accounts to standout moments in the game which induce genuine moments of panic. Luckily, Isaac has some nifty tools at his disposal. All the weapons (save the assault rifle) are kept in the context of Isaac being an engineer, as theyíre all tools that he would be accustomed to using - which retains the immersion that the player is wrapped in from start to finish. Theyíre also immensely satisfying to use, which is derived from the feedback the player receives - be it their raucous sounds, or the satisfaction of seeing their visceral results, theyíre simply fun to use. They range from gravity gun-esque tools, to vicious saw-firing machines. But there is non better than the Plasma Cutter. Itís the first and best weapon received in the game (in means of effectiveness, and in means of plain, stupid fun). I canít decide whether this is a good or bad, on one hand it makes sense to give the player an efficient tool at the start when they have no other means of attack, but it also gives a lack of progression when you're ending the game with the weapon you started with, albeit massively upgraded. But I donít care. The Plasma Cutter is just so good.
sound is still standout compared of most of the newest games Iíve recently played. The score of quick, stabbing screeches is a clichť of the Horror genre, but its use here is so well done that itís forgiven. But the sound-effects are what really stand out: guttural sounds of the monsters haunt the corridors; whispers fill Isaacís helmet; distant clangs of metal; the slow, methodical stop of boots. These are where the true scares of the game come from. All of it is excellent.
The plot, or lack of it, has received a fair bit of criticism. But I donít think thatís a weakness. The game thrives on isolation, itís just the player and Isaac walking through this ship, no oneís going to jump out and save you from the claws of a baddie. Itís all up to you. Sure, thereís occasional order of ďOh Isaac, go and fix this,Ē or ďIsaac, be a dear and plug the anti-gravitational-stratosphere-inducing-isotope back in,Ē down the radio, but these only serve as a means to move onto the next objective. But thatís just the plot thatís forced onto you, thereís plenty of audio-logs to find which unravel the final days of the Ishimura. I donít think the game would work as well with a big plot, complete with cutscenes.
The game doesnít stop being brilliant once youíve completed it, oh no. New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing the player to start over with all of their items. This makes the game really quite addictive, I wanted to start again as soon as I finished. This is probably due to the upgrade system: each weapon and function of Isaac's suit can be upgraded, but there aren't the means to fully upgrade everything in one playthrough. It seems simple, but it really does make a game seem so much more worthy of its price-tag. This should really be included in all games, they would see so much more playtime.
is a truly stellar game. It combines tight combat, plenty of shocks, immersing sound, visceral graphics, and a hell of a lot of replayability, all laced together with plenty of gore and lots of fun. Iím glad I finally played it, and I hope you do to. If you havenít played this yet, and youíre a fan of action or horror, you really need to get this. Plus itís cheap now, which is always great.
It really did take me this long to muster up the courage to play it.