Dead Space PS3, Xbox 360 Review

The horror genre has been set up into some well built franchises. The first ones that usually enter your head when you think of the genre are Resident Evil, Silent Hill and maybe Project Zero/Fatal Frame. It’s not often you see a new title enter the genre, but Dead Space is trying to push its way through. A surprising thing is the title is from a group that you wouldn’t associate with even trying a horror game… EA. Yes that’s the publisher that brings you all those license games and sports games you see in the charts. You do have to give credit when due though as EA over the last year or so are really trying to get into new genres. You’ve got them publishing Mirror’s Edge, which comes out later in the year, but what we really want to talk about is this surprisingly grand entry into the survival horror genre by EA Redwood Shores.

It’s a shame that Dead Space has come out at the time it did. There’s going to be a lot of people that are probably going to shun it to the side because there’s a large amount of great games coming out from now till the end of the year. It’s a title I can see selling more later on in time, due to word of mouth, and it should sell too because it’s a game that deserves any horror fan’s attention.

Dead Space takes place hundreds of years in the future, on a “Planet Cracker” ship, so as you might have guessed, the game is sci-fi based. The story for Dead Space revolves around an engineer called Isaac Clarke. Mr Clarke works for C.E.C, that’s Concordance Extraction Corporation in case you wanted to know. The C.E.C comes into some problems when one of their biggest “Planet Cracker” class ships sends out a distress signal. A “Planet Cracker” is a ship that’s sole purpose is to extract minerals and resources from planets, it cracks them apart funny enough.

It’s now Isaac’s job to go and see what’s up on the USG Ishimura. Isaac and his team travel to the USG Ishimura assuming that the problem is a mechanical failure. All is not what it seems when they finally arrive there. There’s also something else on Isaac’s mind. His lover was also stationed on that space ship. With an unpleasant last video from her in his hand; he has a goal himself to see what exactly is going on in there. We knew it wasn’t going to be something as simple as that, it’s a horror game and we’ve learnt that nothing goes right in the horror genre.

The story might seem like a bog standard affair and that’s probably a perfect saying for it. Overall when you look at Dead Space, it doesn’t really do anything that much different from other horror or 3rd person shooting games. It’s the way it presents itself as a whole that makes it shine out with high splatters of gore.

This is seen from pretty much the get go with an awesome interface system. There is actually no HUD (Heads Up Display) for Dead Space. Instead everything is represented by what you see displayed on and around you. The back of your suit’s spine has a blue colour running down it. This is to act as your health gauge. The less blue that is shown on your spine is to let you know that you are closer to death. The ammo for your weapons is shown on the display of your gun. The best thing though is how you look at your inventory and maps. A simple press of the triangle button brings up your interface to look at items, maps and other bits and bats. It comes up like a hologram display. The map is done in 3D also, something that Metroid Prime fans will be used to, and it really does smell of a Metroid Prime interface when you look at the map features.

It’s not just the map that has a hint of Metroid Prime. The way the game plays out is also similar. There are locations scattered around the ship that you travel to and from on a rail system. Apart from these parts, there is actually no loading during a chapter. The loading is done behind doors just like how Metroid Prime hid its loading times. Some of the locations on the ship would feel right at home in a Metroid Prime game. I wouldn’t be a surprised if some inspiration came from that series.

Another thing about the interface is that it will not freeze the game. This means if you need to use some medi-packs, you can’t take in the safety of knowing the game will stop everything while you heal. Dead Space wants to keep you on your toes, so the only time you can heal is when it’s not hectic around you. Try to heal yourself while you are in a fight with some alien hybrids will most likely result in you having your head sliced off. You do have the ability to move around while you have the interface up, but you need more than two hands if you want to dodge and select items all at the same time. It’s a great little touch that makes you feel you are still in this atmospheric grip that Dead Space has on you while playing it.

It really does have you grasped too. You feel as if some hands are coming out of your TV and grabbing you by the neck, forcing you to keep watching the game. Everything about it is done to the point where you can always just sit and be taken in; you never feel there’s a moment which pushes you out of the game’s tone.

The designers at Redwood Shores have given the enemies steroids or something. Normally in games you can just blow some bullets into enemies and once their hidden health is depleted they die, not in Dead Space. Things that might seem dead are probably not going to be in a couple of seconds’ time. Blasting at the body or taking a head shot doesn’t mean instant death here. There’s been countless times where I’ve blown some Nercomorph’s head clean off in one shot, only to see it act like a chicken with its last body instructions still acting out as it comes slashing after me. To really be effective against the Nercromorphs, you have got to dismember them. It might sound gimmicky but it works well. You have to look at it as if you are trying to make them bleed to death instead of simply blowing them away. It gives the enemies that sense of randomness, which keeps you on your toes. It beats seeing the same enemy die the same way, which is what you get usually in other horror games and even on wider scale, most other shooters.

You’re going to need lots of tools to protect yourself against the Nercromorphs. The game features some design twists compared to your standard collection of guns. The first weapon you come across is the Plasma Cutter. It’s a kind of weirdly shaped pistol with three laser aiming points. It packs a mighty punch and is like a compact shotgun made into a pistol. It’s devastating for a starter weapon and it shows because you will still be using it towards the end of the game. The rest of the weapons are found as blueprints around the ship. If you find any of these luscious blueprints then take them to the shop. Once you arrive at the shop terminals, the blueprints will be uploaded and then that weapon will become available to buy.

Shops are also useful for other reasons. I always found myself running out of ammo for my favourite weapons. Shops sell ammunition for guns, which you buy using the money you get from enemies and locations. They also sell health packs, oxygen, stasis packs and power nodes.

Now, since the game is set in space, you are probably wondering if you always need oxygen to stay alive. The game has some sections; stuff like walking outside of the ship, where once you are in those zones, a timer will appear on your suit telling you how many seconds you have left to live before you die of suffocation.

The oxygen is one of the few game mechanics that pop up over the course of the game. Another one is the zero gravity sections. These are fun areas of the ship where you have freedom to jump around from wall to wall, running up on roofs and so on. These sections are featured quite a bit. They start from simple solutions to get around, to more complex ones which might blag your head a bit. One fantastic part of zero gravity is when you are dismembering enemies. Their parts float freely around the area. In some sections where they are a high amount of enemies, some areas are just so pack with floating body parts that you have to push them aside when you are jumping from one part of the room to another, it’s grotesquely great.

It seems that games nowadays need to have some sort of gravity or time effecting devices. It’s the new hip thing at the moment. Dead Space has both of these used to change the flow of gameplay. The stasis packs you gain are used to allow you to slow-mo the enemies. Isaac has the ability to send a wave at the enemies which traps them in a stasis lock, bringing their speed down to a level that would even give an old age pensioner a chance to win a 100 metre sprint. This makes it a lot easier to pop their arms and legs off. It’s kind of a sadistic way to have your revenge on these ugly alien life forms.

Isaac has a gravity tool on his right arm. It plays a bit like the gravity gun from Half-Life 2 and is used to solve some puzzles that require you to slide things around that might be a little heavy for Isaac. It’s also used to throw things at enemies when you run out of ammo, which trust me happens a lot. It actually comes in handy and gets away with just been another “it’s cool to have a copy of the gravity gun” because of the uses it has.

Dead Space isn’t all smiles though. It is EA’s first attempt and you can never be perfect on your first try. For starters there is a fair bit of backtracking. I don’t mind backtracking and the game kind of just gets away with it. It wouldn’t help though to have some extra places to visit on the ship. I know it is a ship and there’s certainly a variety of locations to explore, but more can never hurt if it stops backtracking.

I said earlier that the story wasn’t exactly anything exciting. This also affects that main character you play as. To say that he is worried about his lover, he doesn’t seem to have any emotions. He doesn’t speak at all and you hardly ever see his face. It seems that EA decided to go for a Gordon Freeman type character. This doesn’t work at all though because the interaction with other characters is always mostly through videos. The fact that the camera is 3rd person takes away the feeling that you are the character. He doesn’t react to anything that is said. He instead just listens like he doesn’t give a crap. Half-Life 2 got away with a silent protagonist because of the first person view.

Don’t let that turn you away. Dead Space as a horror action game is simply good. Screw the story and play for the action and you’ll enjoy it. The graphics at times can be really beautiful, with some gorgeous architecture in the design of the rooms. Sometimes it can look a bit rough around the edges when you get up close to stuff. Some of the surrounding facilities, for example toilets, look a bit iffy, like they couldn’t be bothered making them look good. It’s either that or in the future we are all sitting on square toilets, guess it must be something to accompany the three shells.

Immersion is one of Dead Space’s top specialities and the sound follows suit. Exploring the Ishimura is a pleasure to the ears in a sort of freaky way. They are pipes clanking, weird screams, bangs and other spooky sound effects. This is always happening throughout the game. It never ever pauses in the sound department and this is what grabs you. The only thing that could probably make this better is the true HD sound that was featured in Battlefield: Bad Company. Even without that though, a good sound system will supply great suspense to your playing.

I think I have gone over everything that is needed to be said. Dead Space is a well made action horror shooter. If you are a fan of the genre then you should really take this advice and check it out. It is a short experience, lasting around 8-10 hours depending on how experienced you are. It does give you the option to replay with the same upgrades you finished with, but apart from Trophies/Achievements, there really isn’t any incentive to do so again because it’s quite a linear game.

Still you should buy it. I even think fans of general shooters should check it as well. It will most likely fulfil their needs with the gore fest action that it brings along. This isn’t a slow game.

Dead Space is welcomed with open arms here and to think EA have brought this a long is a nice surprise. Another thing we know is that EA love sequels and we can expect to see Dead Space 2 next year or at some point in the future. I sit here waiting to see what they do because this franchise can really be created into something memorable.

8/10

by

Version tested: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: EA Redwood Shores

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: Action Horror