Dead Space Review

Dead Space Review
Prepare for plenty of limbs to go flying around!
Prepare for plenty of limbs to go flying around!

For anyone who’s played the two, you can’t avoid drawing comparisons between Dead Space and Resident Evil. It’s just kind of a byproduct of the game’s visual style and survival horror gameplay. What one could say however is that Dead Space is the game that all those people disappointed with Resident Evil 5 should be playing. It’s not quite Resident Evil 1’s “every bullet counts” scenario, but there is definitely a larger focus on conservation of health and ammo. Oh yeah, and also? The game is actually fucking scary.

Dead Space puts you in the shoes of interstellar engineer Isaac Clarke, assigned to a maintenance mission to a giant space-craft called the Ishimura. Contact with the ship has been cut off and Isaac and crew are sent in to fix the problem after a mysterious distress signal. Also on board the Ishimura is Isaac’s (possibly ex) girlfriend, who Isaac attempts to locate the whole game. By some freak chance the maintenance ship crashes (and later explodes) leaving the surviving crew stranded on the now obviously stricken and space-zombie infested Ishimura.

The set up is a little bit cheesy horror (Don’t go through that door! Don’t split up!) but the game delivers the situation quite well. The game also adds it’s own little tweaks to improve the originality and variety inside a very solid genre. The zombies you face in this game (or “necromorphs” as the game dubs them) can take an amazing amount of punishment to their torsos. In fact, if you were to attempt to kill them that way throughout the game you’d find yourself out of ammo. Dead Space advises you (in a blood scrawled wall next to your first weapon) that the way to put a necromorph down fast is to sever it’s limbs. Head, arms, legs, they don’t care, just get to amputating! You could possibly wonder why removing the arms of an infected corpse would hurt it so much more than shooting it front on, but you’d be ruining the fun.

Dead Space is an over the shoulder shooter (much like, you guessed it, the recent Resident Evils), which uses on-screen elements in the place of a HUD. Your health is indicated by a string of green lights leading up your spine, each gun projects it’s own ammo counter when it’s readied, if you enter a zero atmosphere area the oxygen tank on your back automatically kicks in and displays the amount of time you have left before you run out of air. Again, practically, that seems odd, but once again questioning it would just ruin the fun. All of your inventory and map functions appear real-time in the game, projected out from your chest so both you and Isaac can read them. The effect it achieves is drawing you further into the game, as just like reality, rummaging around through your stuff doesn’t stop the actions going on around you.

Kill it!  Kill it with fire!
Kill it! Kill it with fire!

Weaponry-wise, your selection is more geared toward the “industrial tool” side of things rather than military weapons. For example, far and away my favourite weapon of the game was the Ripper, a modified industrial saw that you could either hover out in front of you like a chain saw or fling blades across the room from. Think of it like a future chainsaw: Great fun, especially in zero gravity. On the effective scale, however, the Plasma Cutter you gain at the beginning of the game is probably the most practical piece of ordinance available (if you upgrade it a little and keep the ammo stocked), as via the secondary fire button you can alter the arc of the shot. This comes in most handy (most leggy too) when you’re trying to sever limbs that are quick on the move.

Oh, that’s another thing, this game also mixes things up by including sections of zero gravity and zero atmosphere combat. In zero-g you use you aim toward surfaces and then press the jump button to fling yourself across the room. The only problem being so do necromorphs, so you have to be on your guard. Zero atmosphere dampen all the sound you can hear, and force you to rely on the amount of oxygen stored in your engineer suit. This can create some high-pressure (figuratively) situations, but a lot of the larger areas will have convenient oxygen refill stations that never run out. I’d agree it would have ramped the difficulty way up in these segments to limit the number of refills available, but it seemed to me that if they were going to let you refill as often as you liked, then why bother in the first place?

Isaac is also equipped with two abilities to effect the environment (and it’s inhabitants) around him. Stasis allows the player to slow objects down, typically malfunctioning guillotine doors, but can also be used quite effectively on your foes. It’s not unlimited however, so it’s another resource that needs careful rationing sometimes. The other ability, Kinesis, allows the suit you wear to pick up and move large or heavy objects from a short distance away. This ability is also primarily used for puzzle-solving, but can be turned into a weapon by lifting and flinging various objects at your attackers.

The mating rituals of the necromorph are shrouded in mystery
The mating rituals of the necromorph are shrouded in mystery

This game is challenging but not frustratingly so. The only moment I had to have a lie down for was a section where you must avoid an unkillable necromorph before escaping. In the end I spent a lot of my hard earned cash on portable Stasis refills and just froze it over continuously until I could leave. Apart from that, the game offers a good sliding scale of difficulty as the game progresses. To combat this, players also have the opportunity to upgrade their weapons and suit as they play along using Power Nodes on the game’s multiple workbenches.

Visually the game is good, but of course a lot of the time you’re being directed down cramped and dark hallways, so they can seem a little same-same. The game tries to break this up by having you visit a variety of different places around the Ishimura, which combats corridor-bore to an extent. Other than that, necromorphs look scary as hell and the small amount of NPC contact Isaac gets is well scripted. Sound is also utilised quite well, with your classic violin-laden soundtrack and use of unlocatable little girls singing creepy nursery rhymes.

The verdict: It’s a scary, tense, violent and well made piece of survival horror. If you played Resident Evil 5 and thought they’d toned the franchise down from it’s origins, this is one step back in the right direction. Par excellance!

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