Dead Space

Xbox 360 version

Dead Space, where even a soft whisper can make you pee yourself...

The Good
Dead Space is a Space Survival game set on the planet cracking Spaceship the USG Ishimura. Firstly before I start anything. This is an original IP from EA. A trend I really like. Yes, now it’s a success, there is the possibility that EA will suck the innovative life out of it’s unique qualities, this hasn’t happened yet. But we’re not here to talk about what could be with the Dead Space universe. We are here to talk about Dead Space as it is now, so lets get on with it.

Let me get the point of this review over and done with before I burst like a zombie with excitement: Dead Space is good. As long as you aren’t too squeamish, you’ll love it.

Ah, that’s better.

Dead Space has taken something we have all seen before, Space, Zombies and gratuitous blood and violence and made a game that takes you on a Journey that you won’t forget. You star as the woefully undeveloped Issac Clark, an engineer who is thrust upon the USG Ishimura with his crew when the communication’s go dead. All hell breaks loose when they crash-land onboard. Most of the crew are dead and there is an unusual growth creeping over the entire ship. The dead are rising and have become something unholy. And all Issac has as a weapon is the heel of his foot and a device called a ‘Plasma Cutter’ designed to cut through rock. Not Flesh.

The world that EA Redwood have put together is really engaging with over 160 different audio logs, a downloadable graphic novel (available free on Xbox live as videos) and text logs that perforate around the ship. The back-story and history that the characters live in is deep and real and really adds to the weight of Issac’s journey.

As Issac you receive missions from your living comrades, trying to figure out what has happened to this ship as it floats above the broken planet below and how to get out alive. Initially your arsenal is small, just the ‘Plasma Cutter’, but quickly you can buy other weapons and ammo, obtain new suits to beef up your armour. On top of all that you can upgrade your weapons and suit to maximise your survival potential. There will be moments as you play where you’ll look at the two shots of ammo and the one single bar of health. One room between you and the next store and you know it’s going to be tight. The tension builds within you. It’s so good and the Dead Space plays on this beautifully.

One thing you’ll really notice when playing Dead Space is that there is no HUD (Heads Up Display). The game is HUD-less. It wasn’t dismembered in an unusual smelting accident or lost in a game of cards, it’s a design choice; an immersive one. Everything you do in Dead Space is in the environment and it’s a fantastic. The health bar is along Issac’s spine, the meter for your status module (a device that lets you slow time on an enemy or object) is on his back, even the amount of air you have left is displayed when you need it ticking away to you death if you don’t move fast. All of your actions feel real, it’s another level to the immersion. When you get a video message it projects in front of Issac as a hologram, when you look in your inventory it pops up too; but doesn’t pause the game. Often when you need to play with your inventory you either have to be bloody fast or find somewhere safe to do it. It builds the tension beautifully.

All this tension, all the creeks of the ship, all the growling of alien necomorph beasts, all of it adds to the breathtaking and pant wetting Atmosphere. Dead Space has the atmosphere down. If EA Redwood have done anything it’s Atmosphere.

It’s obvious that the development team took their cues from film and music, the quality at manipulating the player into being really scared of walking around a corner is impressive. The Ishimura will creak as parts of the ship shear off, blood lines the walls merely suggesting the massacre that has befallen the crew. Violins will shriek only to reveal an empty room, or is it empty? Even the audio logs can make you jump as communications is sporadic at best sometimes your fellow crew will just pop up loudly in front of you holographically. It’s all very clever and they owe me a new pair of pants. I can’t wear them again and I’m too ashamed to take them to a professional cleaner.

On the subject of the crew and characters, the voice acting is really good. Not only from the crew you landed with but from the audio logs that are scattered around the world. In a very Bioshock move, you can discover more about what befell the USG Ishimura by collecting and listening to audio logs. All of these tit-bits add to the atmosphere as they play as you walk around. Sometimes giving a hint to the horror that awaits around the next corner. You can instantly relate to the characters and they genuinely add to the world that has been layered before you.

Between fighting the animated and disfigured dead and exploration there is some light puzzling ranging from picking up power cells and putting them in wall slots to moving in zero G and moving yet more objects, it’s a nice change from the constant fear of attack, but as always sometimes it isn’t even that; dealing with a puzzle while trying not to die? Tense fun…..

The weapons predominantly are not designed to be used against enemies, they are designed to cut rock, move large deposits of metals and minerals not for cutting the limbs off the re-animated corpses of the ships crew. Which gives these weapons a certain overpowered charm. Yes they cut through rock, but they also don’t have much in the way of ammo. Adding to the ‘ohmygodimgonna****myself’ vibe this game has.

On the subject of these weapons and the killing of the necomorphs. They are afterall the living dead brought back in a new form from one or two or seven corpses. This means that the enemies all have different behaviours. One behaviour that seems to be universal is not going for the headshot. They get angry. Usually becoming faster and harder to kill. In Dead Space dispatching the enemy is all about dismemberment, cut off an enemy’s legs and they will crawl slowly towards you, cut off their arms and they won’t do as much damage. Eventually the necromorph will ‘die’ it’s flesh no longer useful for it’s purpose. It’s really satisfying and forces you to think and get better at aiming.

The upgrade system and is based on the idea that everything has a nano-chip and by upgrading various chips on weapons and on your suit interface (which upgrades every subsequent suit you buy from the shop not just the one you are wearing) you can shoot harder, breathe longer in no atmosphere (these sections can be particularly tense) and have a longer health bar. It’s all based on how many ‘nodes’ you have these are added to the nano chip and expand it accordingly.

This small part is one of the reasons for a second or third playthrough as there aren’t enough Nodes to upgrade everything in one playthrough.

So Replay-ability is high. In a very ‘resident evil’ fashion, you can carry over your items to the next playthrough but only on the same difficulty, only through a glitch can you use the best suit in the impossible difficulty setting. This is a bad move, the completionist in me finds this really jarring. Yes maybe impossible won’t be impossible with all the stuff I had. But who wants to play an impossible game? There is no joy in failing repeatedly. None.

The Bad
Dead Space is not without flaws, it’s save points and recharge stations are placed in such a way that sometimes the surprise of an event can be spoiled.

“Oh look there seems to be an air refuel station here, hmm likely that this room will be without atmosphere at some point.” Etc…

But even with it’s minor camera problems , the main protagonists undeveloped personality and history and a difficulty scale that can vastly change, there is enough balance between fighting and puzzles and you’ll enjoy exploring and hopefully saving your skin on the USG Ishimura.

The Bottom Line
It all boils down to a brilliant story, fantastic atmosphere and a really solid engine that brings this game to the top of the crop. The weak of stomach however need not apply.

A definite buy. Go forth and dismember.

Note to EA: I hope that EA sees that a new IP can be really profitable as long as it’s done well and given time to complete. Take note EA we like change so long as it’s good. No more than three Dead Space games please, I warn you I have a powered up Plasma Cutter and I’m not afraid to use it…..

by BinaryDragon (18) on November 4th, 2008

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