Review: Dead Space

EA has been helping developers get a ton of new IPs out recently. Mirror’s Edge, Crysis, Boom Blox, Army Of Two, and now Dead Space. A survival horror set in the 26th century. You play the mute Isaac Clarke, an engineer sent to answer a distress call from the Ishimura, a giant mining vessel. The game opens with a message from Clarke’s girlfriend Nicole, a medical specialist aboard the Ishimura whom Clarke plans to reunite with aboard the ship.

Genre: Third-Person Action Thriller
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360. (Reviewed using PS3)
Players: 1
Rating: Mature
Developer: Visceral Games and EA
Publisher: Electronic Arts

As you and your small team prepare to dock, your transport malfunctions and must emergency land in the hanger bay. Leaving your badly damaged ship, you find out very quickly that not all is well, as there is no sign of life.

While searching for someone your team is attacked by grotesque monsters, leaving only you, Kendra a technologist, and Hammond a security officer, to fend for yourselves as you struggle to find answers.

Can’t have a horror game without a flamethrower.

The story stays strong throughout the game, and it’s not too bad. It’s your basic religious cult crazies are causing problems and it’s up to you to stop them, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The path through the game is linear and there are no side missions which really bogs down the experience. I would’ve loved to have met survivors along the way giving out mini-missions in exchange for rewards or credits (the game’s currency).

Gameplay-wise, it’s very similar to resident evil 4 and 5. The camera is positioned behind the player’s right shoulder and you use L1 to aim and R1 to fire. You can strafe fairly easily, allowing much more freedom of movement then RE5. It’s just enough restriction to know you can’t outrun every creature you come across, but it doesn’t make you feel stiff. You spend the majority of your time running around the ship to either fetch hardware or pull levers, it gets old fast.

The graphics and sound are definitely the best thing this game has to offer. The developers did an amazing job making the environments you traverse expressive and immersive. Lights flicker, barely lighting dreary corridors. The ship’s instruments quietly hum as you pass by control panels and various status displays. I found myself stopping multiple times thinking I heard footsteps only to realize it was me making them. Since the music changes when you’re in danger, sound is going to be your best defense here, letting you know when enemies are about to strike.

So what will you have at your disposal to defend yourself? Well, to be frank, I haven’t had this much fun with a game’s weapon selection since Ratchet and Clank. There is the basic assault rifle and flamethrower, but the cooler ones include a force gun that throws foes on their back, and a blade saw which shoots razor sharp spinning discs allowing you to effortlessly dismember your foes. Cut their legs out from under them, take off their arms crippling their reach, etc. This adds a bit of strategy to your attacks. It’s also evident early on that this game is gory, and violent. Limbs spurt out blood, weapons neatly slice through tissue, and mucus sprays out of the dying monsters.

Every weapon comes flashlight equipped.

Enemies you encounter are intelligently designed clumps of mutated flesh with fierce bone blades and sharp hooks askew, giving you a real sense of danger, knowing full well they can and will tear you to pieces. Great artwork has never been so hideous.

Thankfully, there is no real HUD. Your life bar is displayed on your character’s suit along with your special ability meters. Ammunition takes the form of a lit up ammo counter on all your weapons. Since there is no HUD blocking your view, you won’t miss any of the action or die any cheap deaths via a blind spot.

Repeatedly hitting the action button escapes grabs.

Quite a few things hold Dead Space back from being perfect though. The save system is checkpoint-based like that of older PS2 titles. There are no multiplayer features, a game like this could’ve been a blast hacking through baddies with a friend. The upgrade system can be frustrating, you really have to play through multiple times to fully upgrade anything. While this adds great replay value for the hardcore gamer, casual ones may be put off.
Enemies mindlessly run at you, disregarding every and anything you throw at them. It fits the story, but it’s just not much of a challenge knowing they’ll never take cover or attempt to dodge. Fortunately, there’s a decent amount of enemy types, some swipe at you with blades or blunt fists and others shoot organic material out of tentacles, hell some will just rip your head off with those same tentacles.

So if you’re looking for a superb action thriller, look no further. While Dead Space isn’t everything it could’ve been, it’s still one of the more original and well executed games of our time.

Rating: 4/5

*End Notes*
EA announced sequel, live action movie planned.
Dead Space: Extraction, a prequel to DP exclusively for the Wii, currently in the works.

-PC System Requirements
Windows XP SP2 or Vista
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz or equivalent
1GB RAM for XP, 2GB for Vista
7GB hard drive space
256MB video card w/ SM 3.0 (nVidia GeForce 6800/ ATI Radeon X1600 Pro)
DirectX 9.0c sound card