Have you ever watched the movie Aliens and ask yourself; ďHow would I handle this situation?Ē Would I be like Hicks and stay cool and calm under pressure, like Ripley and take command or like Hudson and panic. Iím pretty sure that I would be like Hudson. At the first instance of some real jacked up predicament Iíll be the first one to scream, ďThat's it man, game over man, game over! What the f**k are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?Ē In some ways this is how EAís Dead Space makes you feel. Youíre thrown into some hellish situation and you have to survive it.
Dead space is set in the distant future. The planet Earth has used up all of its natural resources and now entire planets have to be mined for those resources, then those resources have to be shipped backed to Earth. They use ships called Planet Crackers to get the job done and their most important one the famed USG Ishimura (might as well be called LV 426) has gone silent. A repair crew is sent to find out what happened to cause the communication breakdown. One of the crew members is engineer Isaac Clarke; unlike most of the crew he has another reason to go on the mission. This reason is Clarkeís girlfriend Nicole, whom sends him a rather cryptic message before the game begins.
After Clarke and his crew (involuntarily) enter the Ishimura the situation goes from bad to worse then to tits up. Clarke and his colleagues are attacked by strange creatures called Necromorphs. The Necromorphs are the reanimated dead bodies of the IshimuraĎs crew and come in some of the ghastliest shapes ever, but more on those later. Eventually the crew decides to go back to their shuttle and in Aliens fashion your only means of escape explodes and along with it every sense of security that you have. You only get about a second to shed a tear for your only means of escape. Then you grab your balls and throw yourself into the most nightmarish undead infested hellhole since Raccon City. By the end of the game Iím surprised Isaac doesnít unzip his suit and hose out the feces that must have been collecting in his suit.
Dead Space falls into the category of survival horror and plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. The only difference is that the Necromorphs seem to be deadlier and a lot more blood thirsty than the Ganados. For starters you quickly learn that a headshot really doesnít mean anything in the world of Dead Space. Youíll shoot a Necromorph in the head and it will fall off, but they donít die. Every time I did this to one they would swing their arms wildly and stumble into your general direction. The key thing that you have to learn is how to take out the wide variety of Necromorphs thrown at you. In order to do this you have to utilize strategic dismemberment. While at first I thought this was some meaningless PR buzzword, but you actually do need to learn this. For the most part you have to go for the tentacles on them or some other sort of appendage, but the question you have to answer is which appendage and the answer is different for each Necromorph. This leads to several chaotic situations especially when they throw new ones at you and several different types in one confrontation. These situations send your mind into a panic. You wonder which do I kill first? Do I kill the one thatís easier or do I do my best to kill the most powerful first? Granted you can try to make a beeline to a door, but they can always just follow you. One time I ran about four of these things came crashing through the ceiling to get me.
The weapons you use to combat these monstrosities arenít exactly weapons. Theyíre just tools used to mine minerals. But to be honest if itís capable of breaking rocks then flesh doesnít stand a chance. The three guns that prove this the most are the Plasma Cutter, Line Gun and the appropriately named The Ripper. The Plasma Cutter is the only one that you actually find. It has the ability to blast off chunks of flesh in either a vertical or horizontal path. Knowing which one to use and when is key to survival and ammo consumption. The Line Gun is almost the same, but itís limited to horizontal. Its secondary setting is a mine launcher. The Ripper launches saw bladesÖneed I say more. There are more in Dead Space, but these are the ones that stuck with me. In addition to these weapons you have the Stasis and Kinesis modules. Stasis acts like its own self-contained bullet time mechanic making that object move slower. It works best on the fast vicious Necromorphs, and it also plays a part in puzzle solving. The Kinesis module is pretty much just the Half-Life 2 gravity gun.
Each weapon and your armor can be upgraded using power nodes. Itís very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, but it was a lot more strategic. Since your weapon upgrades will carry over to another play through; it makes the most sense to upgrade one weapon at a time. The same goes for other equipment as well like the Stasis and Kinesis modules.
Another thing to take note of is; despite them essentially being zombies theyíre a lot smarter than the shambling Resident Evil corpses. They seem to realize that you have weapons that can hurt them and they do their best to not attack you head on. A lot of the time they will come bursting out of air vents. There have actually been numerous occasions where you actually hear them in the vents or even see them jumping into the vents. This all ties into the sense of atmosphere thatís provided. While skulking through the blood smeared corridors of the Ishimura your skin will crawl, the hairs on the back of your neck with stand up and you will become the most paranoid person in your house.
You walk through rooms with corpses strewn about. Every room looks like a warzone where the crew held their ground to the last man and inevitably lost. Youíll look at a wall and read words smeared in blood. Itís like they wanted to leave a last hint in an attempt to make their death mean something. Youíll occasionally read ďcut off their limbsĒ or ďdonít go near the vents.Ē And the dead seem to be the lucky ones. Anybody left alive (except one person) wishes they were dead, and they have no qualms hastening their departure to the afterlife while theyíre right in front of you.
There have been many occasions where I cleared Necromorph filled rooms, which lulled me into a false sense of security. Soon afterwards some monstrous contorted freak of an ex-human being crashes out of an air vent and gnaws off my head. One would think that Isaac would just fortify himself in some kind of room and let somebody fix the ship and establish communication with the outside world but he canít. This is because he is the one that has to do those things. There are a lot of times when you will get missions asking for stuff to either be repaired or just plain turned on. While this makes Dead Space feel a tad on the repetitive side you really donít mind. For starters itís because youíre a maintenance engineer, so it would be like a plumber complaining about fixing toilets all day. Itís also cool because there are a lot of different ways for you to fix or turn on said crucial apparatus.
One of the big hooks attached to Dead Space is the use of Zero G environments. These allow you use multiple angles to traverse the environment. This also plays a part in puzzle solving. There are numerous times when youíre ordered to clear a room full of hazardous materials. In order to do this you have to use your telekinesis gun to grab things and shoot the materials out of air locks or gravitation beams. While this is great for puzzles it does have an affect on combat. There are times that the camera will shift so you will have to take a second to get a grasp on what the new up is. Also the Necromorphs can and will use the Zero G environment to their advantage, making combat slightly confusing. While you get used to it, you might not like having some ugly thing launching at you from some unseen angle.
Most of the innovation in Dead Space lies in the HUD, or the lack of one. Your vital stats and other forms of useful information or found on the character itself. For starters your health can be seen as a segmented bar on Isaacís back. The ammo for your weaponry can be found on the gun. When you ready the gun a holographic readout will be displayed presenting to information. You will receive mission updates in real-time from holographic and audio transmissions. Your inventory layout is also in real-time. This is where you will find your health packs and ammo amongst other stuff. At first you rely on this to access health packs, but eventually you realize that they hot keyed it to the square button. At first you think that this takes away from the pressure of curing yourself, but it really doesnít because you tend to just attacked when you least expect it. Besides when you hear something wailing or groaning in the background while your counting health packs it puts you on edge.
Other than the small nitpicks Dead Space borders on perfection. It does an exceptional job of making its foray into the survival horror genre and should do a good job of holding people over until Resident Evil 5 is released.
The graphics in Dead Space are a sight to behold. From the interviews Iíve watched the development team said that the lighting is based on dentist chair lights. And if this is the case Iíll let my teeth rot out of my skull before I ever set foot in a dentistís chair. The lights cast everything in some sort of ominous glow. The lighting casts some of the most freakish shadows as well. Youíll look at one and just wonder if itís something that is capable of killing you. It gets to the point that youíll ready your gun with every new room you enter.
The creature design is just plain nasty. You can tell where a person is still a human, but then you notice the protrusions and fangs and claws and parts of the anatomy bent in ways that just donít seem possible. Then it just gets worse. You look at the monsters known as Brutes and say to yourself, ďThereís no way in hell this thing was a person.Ē Even babies lost their innocence in Dead Space. Thereís this one room on the Ishimura where babies are born and left floating in some goop. When you see them you donít say ďOh, how cute.Ē You say, ďWhat the f**k?Ē And when you see what they become under the influence of the Necromorphs you shudder.
The architecture in Dead Space has a nice attention to detail. The Ishimura seems to be meticulously detailed echoing numerous ships from other horrific sci-fi movies. Every room looks like it has a purpose and some of the rooms try to showcase it. There are numerous recreation rooms and you can even see posters to movies that one would watch on the Ishimura. It just goes a long way in showcasing that actual people used to inhabit this ship.
The use of gore is just insane. Not only does it play to the strategic dismemberment, but it teaches you a lesson. That lesson is, ďif you donít want your head ripped off, or get chopped into sections then learn how to shoot.Ē I have died in so many horrific ways that I lost count. And after seeing what happens to Isaac when he doesnít use something for shelter, while running across some open area in space, youíll see why the game was banned in several countries.
There are a couple of times that the shadows look horribly pixilated, but thatís it. Visually Dead Space does an epic job in showcasing one of the most nightmarish locations in the survival horror genre.
After about ten hours of hearing Dead Space Iím shocked that my hair isnít gray yet. Part of the reason is that you hear things, but you donít know whatís coming. For the most part the ambient noises are haunting. You can hear the creaking and the groaning of the Ishimura as it floats through the vast darkness of space. And that only gets interrupted when some things waiting to pry the flesh from your body appear. The music will pick up and go into typical horror movie fare. The only other thing you hear is Isaacís breathing. While Isaac Clarke joins Gordon Freeman in the mute protagonist club, he at least breathesÖand screams. His breathing seems to echo underneath that tin can that he calls a helmet. It sounds like his lungs are working over time trying to force each gasp of air out. When he screams itís just blood curdling and makes me wonder what they did to the voice actor to get him to scream like that. The voice work for regular dialogue is well done with actors that convey the right sense of panic and urgency. The same goes for the audio logs. Just like in Bioshock youíll find a lot of audio logs that help fill the story in. These things are so chilling and disturbing. The highlight of one for me was when you found one with a guy worrying about turning into a Necromorph. So to do people a favor he hacked off his legs. Dead Space is just chilling and haunting in itís vocal delivery.
Very much like Resident Evil 4 there is no multiplayer and it doesnít need it. Just mastering the game and upgrading weapons is enough to come back to it. Figuring out different strategies with different weapons for different scenarios is rather entertaining. The story is good and the atmosphere is nightmare inducing. Pretty much for anybody that has ran through Resident Evil 4 at least nine times and still continues to play it Dead Space is right up your alley.
Iíve never played a game that made me wish I had toilet built into my bed, but Dead Space is that game. Itís creepy, itís paced nicely and itís influenced by the right sci-fi horror movies. Dead Space handles beautifully and doesnít make the player feel like playing it is some kind of chore. Dead Space is a passion project from the developers at the EA Redwood studio. And I have one more thing to say. If EA Redwood has anymore passion projects then give them the money to make it.