First Jimpressions: Dead Space

If you’ve read previous articles from Destructoid, then you’ll know that EA’s sci-fi horror shooter Dead Space is one of our hottest picks of the year. While the rest of the staff kept talking about it, I had yet to try the game myself, but fortunately Electronic Arts was in London today to preview Dead Space and premier the accompanying animated movie, Dead Space: Downfall at the Apollo Cinema.

A full review of Downfall is on the way, but since we’re here to talk about games first and foremost, perhaps you’d be interested in how Destructoid’s “biased and negative” British writer got on with Dead Space.

I had plenty of time to dismember my way through three chapters of the grisly title on an Xbox 360, so come with me as we cast a critical eye over the Dead Space.

You should all know the story of Dead Space by now, but if you don’t, here’s a brief refresher course — you play the role of a chap named Isaac who has a thing for glow-in-the-dark helmets. He’s been sent to The Ishimura, a planet-cracking starship that has inadvertently been taken over by an alien menace. From there it’s a hall-stalking roller coaster of giblets and limbs as what starts with a routine investigation becomes, in layman’s terms, a really shit day.

The first thing you’ll notice with the game is how EA’s Redwood Studios have managed to create a real atmosphere. As you enter the Ishimura, you’ll find discarded cases and bottles lying around, effectively communicating the idea that this ship was full of life that just suddenly disappeared. The feel of Dead Space evokes memories of 2K’s BioShock in many ways, which are not discouraged with the use of recorded messages that you can discover throughout the game, adding to the backstory and further immersing you in Isaac’s nightmare.

Immersion is obviously very important to Redwood, and the developers have done all they can to make sure you are rarely taken out of the experience. Isaac’s health is represented by the glowing blue meters that run down his back, while ammunition is displayed as a holograph projecting from the weaponry you wield. Holographs also come into play when using the menu or receiving tutorials and other messages, appearing in real-time and remaining true to the game world. 

As far as the actual gameplay goes, Hamza said it best when he compared it to Resident Evil 4. Much like Resi‘s Leon, Isaac’s movements are precise and methodical, while his adventure is played out from an over-the-shoulder perspective. He’s sluggish when turning and walks slowly while aiming, which can sometimes make combat a little tricky but works very well to heighten the tension. The control scheme is pretty easy to grasp for anybody who has played a third person shooter before, with the usual trigger buttons used for aiming and firing, along with face buttons for healing and performing special abilities, which we will get to in a moment. 

The control scheme is practical and functional, although I found it a little awkward that the left shoulder button is used to make Isaac run. Apart from that niggle, you can’t complain about a tried-and-tested control scheme, unless you just really hate things that work. 

Your main enemies will be Necromorphs — the re-animated and mutated corpses of The Ishimura’s crew. Again, thoughts of Resident Evil 4 will float into your mind as you fight off waves of stalking alien zombies. Isaac’s primary weapon will be the plasma cutter — a futuristic handgun which fires off special slicing rounds that can be made to shoot either vertically or horizontally. This is handy because the only way to effectively kill a Necromorph is to dismember it.

In my time with the game, I have to say that blasting away the arms, legs and heads of oncoming undead wankers did not get old. Slicing off an enemy’s leg and then taking the head off as it crawls toward you is one of gaming’s most simple, yet consistently satisfying pleasures. You will be able to pick up credits and use them to buy further weapons in the game as well. I did save up enough for a flamethrower during my play session, but while toasting enemies has a certain charm, it’s still more fun to blow their legs away.

One issue I had with the combat involved the melee attacks. Isaac can both swing his gun wildly at a monster, or give it a curbstomp, but sadly neither of these work too well. If you are close enough to an enemy to hit it, chances are it’s already hit you first. It’s difficult to judge the proximity of your physical attacks and unless the enemy is already dead, you will probably manage to miss any stomp attempts. That said, it’s incredibly fun to put the boot to a freshly killed monster, just to punctuate a fight’s conclusion. You’re usually rewarded with a ridiculously plentiful spray of blood as well.

The only other big problem I had was with the inventory. Although you can put items away for later use in stores located throughout the game, a lot of time is still spent making decisions about what to carry and what to discard. Judging by the empty-yet-unavailable slots on display in the inventory, I am guessing you will increase your storage capacity later, but in the early stages it sometimes threatens to break the immersion that Redwood has been building. 

As well as gunplay, Isaac also becomes well-versed in a few other tricks, such as a stasis field which slows down time. This can be utilized to make doors that keep sliding shut on you take longer to close, and can also be used on enemies — something I neglected to do because I’m a moron. You also gain kinetic abilities, allowing you to move objects around, and you can walk on surfaces in anti-gravity. The anti-grav areas and the sections that see you walking around in the vacuum of space are very well done, even if they do make me wonder how tedious they may grow later in the game. 

Overall, despite some minor issues, this is looking damn solid. Your fights against the Necromorphs are reminiscent of classic sci-fi and horror movies such as Aliens and any number of zombie flicks, with a visual look to the enemies that can only be attributed to The Thing. The game’s art is terrific and visceral, while the sound truly adds a foreboding air. This might well be the most polished action game EA has ever put together.

As you’ll likely have already guessed, Dead Space is pretty much a merging of many things we have seen before — from gameplay fundamentals perfected in Resident Evil and an atmosphere that seems wholly inspired by Rapture to a style and horror chic that will be familiar to movie fans the world over. My early feelings on Dead Space is that it’s a game that doesn’t really do anything new, but what it does is done so well that it shouldn’t matter at all. It doesn’t act like it ever set out to break barriers and blow minds. It acts like what it is — an engrossing, spooky, blood-soaked shooter that ambushes you with cheap scares and some of the most fucked up monsters you’ll see this year.

And I like it. I really quite like it!

James Stephanie Sterling