A gigantic, derelict starship floats in space among the debris of a planet that has been cracked open like a clump of dirt. You and your team have been out of contact with the colossus planet harvester Ishimura, and are on task to discover what has happened. After a botched landing into the docking bay of the ship, you find that there is no one to be seen. As you and your crew explore deeper into the Ishimura you are crowded into a claustrophobic room when the lights are killed. In the shadows you see gangly, gored creatures with scythe-like limbs creep upon your allies. You watch helplessly from behind protective glass as half your team is literally torn to bits, leaving macabre debris strewn about the room much like the asteroids floating around the ship. You flee for the elevator as one of the impossible abominations shrieks and chases you down the corridor. Welcome to Dead Space.
You are Isaac Clarke, a quiet engineer tasked with repairing the immensely out-of-service space vessel. The surviving crew guides you remotely through the Ishimura as the ship’s interior slowly becomes more and more alive. Dead Space’s atmosphere is one which penetrates your mind, takes root, and suffocates you with ambient noise, intense music, and lurking shadows. Blood writing smears the walls and it is not uncommon to accidently trip over a severed leg; human or otherwise.
The creatures you battle are the reanimated, mutated, and deadly corpses of the former crew of the Ishimura, called Necromorphs. With your trusty plasma-cutter in hand, your goal is to unlearn the classic zombie-killing headshot. The Achilles’ of these creatures is truly the heel, or the leg, or the arm, or the spiked tendril jutting from it’s stomach. Dismemberment is the name of the game as you immobilize and neuter these zombies of their deadly appendages. Your view of the carnage is fixed over the right shoulder of Isaac, much akin to the shooting mechanic founded in Resident Evil 4.
In fact, Dead Space borrows heavily from the 2004 classic, but in a way that every good artist should borrow from Dali or Da Vinci. The use of laser-sighting allows for responsive, pin point accurate amputations, and a fluid analog control scheme allows for attacking multiple foes with ease. The plasma cutter is a very efficient weapon, but should you desire variety there are other weapons purchasable in one of the game’s many “stores.” Yes, you collect credits and valuable items that can be used to buy weapons like a futuristic power-saw, flamethrower, or concussion rifle. Perhaps detracting from the difficulty of the game (should you so chose) is the option to purchase all kinds of ammo, medical packs, and even the precious “power nodes.” Power Nodes are used on work benches to upgrade weapons, armor, and other useful equipment via customizable grids. The store also has a helpful, bottomless safe in which to dump all your surplus items just like the trunk system from the classic Resident Evil days.
When you’re not slaying Necromorphs or perusing the store, you’ll probably be on one of your superiors’ fetch quests. Dead Space sticks very closely to an, “acquire item A and bring it to location B,” formula. This can seem a bit monotonous at times, but your motivation is bolstered by acquiring more credits and ammo, exploring the new and horrific sections of the ship, and diversions like gunning down asteroids, a shooting gallery, and even zero-gravity basketball. Also the game uses the time warping “stasis module” to slow down foes or dangerous objects, and also a telekinesis-like item that lets you pick up and throw items from a distance.
Because you are in the cold reaches of space, naturally you will experience air vacuums, zero gravity, and generally inhospitable environments. The zero-gravity segments of the game allow for variety in the way you deal with any given situation. Having trouble getting around obstacles on the floor? Why not take advantage of Isaac’s “gravity boots” and jump to the ceiling to find a better route? Though the gravity boots are useful for staying planted to the ground, it would have been interesting and innovative to experience free-floating zero-gravity while attempting to dispatch foes. The possible mechanic of your weapon’s recoil pushing you through weightlessness would have been a welcome and innovative mechanic. The air vacuum segments offer pressured, time sensitive segments in which hastiness is a necessity for survival, though sometimes it can be challenging to see Isaac remain oxygen levels displayed on the back of his space suit. This is due to the games insistence of maintaining a HUD-less display.
The immersion into the Dead Space world is achieved in part by the stripped down look of what is displayed on screen. Character health is displayed on the spine of the space suit, ammo appears on the gun itself, and even accessing the map and inventory is all done in real-time. That’s right, there is no pausing to reassess the situation while you guzzle down a few health packs, you’ll need to find shelter and navigate your inventory while an irate Necromorph stalks after you. Fortunately, the game does not attempt to modernize its save feature. The game demands that the player hunts down “save stations,” similarly to finding a typewriter in Resident Evil 4. The game lacks any sort of cutscene, taking a page from Bioshock as it tells its story through engrossing radio and video transmissions. Though this method is vital for keeping players in the action, it would have been nice to see some of the game’s breathtaking visuals from a more cinematic angle.
Even though the perspective of the game is constrictive, the story delivers. The tale and its twists are all well executed and original, save for some predictability. You may see one or another character’s death coming a mile away, but I promise there is at least one event that will give you a huge surprise. The game also manages to tell its story relatively shortly, as the game can be thoroughly completed in approximately 12 hours.
Dead Space is decidedly creepy and atmospheric, but despite how brilliantly the horror aspect of the game was designed, I was never truly scared. Trust me, I did everything I could to heighten my experience from the onset. My room was pitch-black, it was late, I was alone, and I had the volume way up. Despite my efforts to be consumed with fear by this masterful game, I maybe jumped once or twice. The game may be working against itself in this aspect. I never felt “out of control” when I was playing, as the gameplay is solid and consistent. What made survival horror juggernauts like the early Silent Hills and Resident Evils was the feeling of helplessness caused by their notoriously shoddy control schemes. Because Dead Space has such polished controls, I never felt like I was faced with an impassable obstacle. The game wasn’t that challenging on normal mode, but the game remedies this by offering a “hard” mode from the onset and “impossible” mode after your first playthrough. These advanced difficulties will definitely have you scraping the bottom of your safe for some spare plasma rounds.
Basically, Dead Space is Resident Evil 4 in space, with space zombies. This is a very good thing. The team at EA Redwood Shores has borrowed heavily from one of the greatest games of all time, and truly made it their own in execution. I hope everyone that owns a gaming quality PC, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 gives this game a shot. It could definitely be completed in a rental, but if you like to spend countless hours unlocking costumes and upgrading weapons then this game will have very high replay value for you. I found myself immediately starting “round 2” just after the credits finished rolling. It’s that good. So grab your plasma-cutter and steel yourself, Dead Space is waiting to eviscerate you.
Thanks for reading!