- Title: Dead Space
- Platform: Xbox 360
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: EA Redwood Shores
- ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
- Genre: Action/Horror
- Pros: Great graphics and sound; zero-g sections; cool story; solid gameplay; no HUD
- Cons: Not terribly original; shooting asteroids sucks; a bit predictable; Murphy’s Law
The story in Dead Space is classic horror/sci-fi. A mining vessel has cracked a planet open only to be overwhelmed by an alien infestation. A maintenance crew answers their distress call, only to crash into the ship and have to fight their way through the aliens to try and get the ship running again. The story overall is very cool and is told through radio communication and recordings left by the crew.
The gameplay in Dead Space is very solid. It is played in a third-person perspective where the camera is looking over your character’s right shoulder. The movement is very fluid, and the shooting is incredibly precise and very satisfying. The handful of new tricks Dead Space throws at you are also well done. Some rooms don’t have any air, so you have to carefully monitor your air supply. Other rooms don’t have any gravity and you can jump and walk on any surface. You also have the ability to slow time or use telekinesis to move objects, and in combat they are very cool. Dead Space also throws a unique twist at you in that enemies don’t die when you shoot them in the head or chest. You have to shoot off their arms or legs instead, which is why the precise shooting is so important. The foundation laid out in Dead Space is very promising.
It is just too bad that the world your character, Isaac Clarke, exists in is so predictable in pretty much every other way. Dead Space uses pretty much every survival horror cliché in the book, and if you have any experience in the genre it is hard to really be surprised or scared by anything. First, everything you do is loud. Opening doors, picking up items, activating switches – all of it comes with some sort of loud noise to make you jump. Second, the enemy placement is awful. Windows, vents, suspiciously placed holes in the walls or floor – you can bet that 9 times out of 10 an enemy is going to come out of them. Likewise, you always know that flipping a switch or picking up a suspiciously placed item will trigger the enemies to start pouring out of the walls. Also, the game gives you audio cues to know that enemies are around, so whenever the music picks up (or you hear an enemy screaming its head off around the corner) you know to expect a fight. I’m also not really impressed with the mission layout. In each chapter, you move to a different part of the ship in order to fix something. So, you ride the train to the new section, collect crap, fix whatever is broken, and then take the train to the next section. After a while it just gets ridiculous that, literally, everything on the ship is broken and you’re the only one that can fix it. Dead Space is just a really predictable game. It is still fun and worthwhile, but nothing really new.
There are a lot of things I like here too, though. The difficulty settings make it almost like two different games in one. On Easy difficulty, Dead Space is incredibly easy, which is good for genre newcomers of sissy babies since you can actually play all the way through and see the end. It plays more like an action game on Easy than a horror game. On the higher difficulties, it is much more of a survival horror experience since every bullet counts and enemies do a lot more damage to you. The atmosphere and overall creepy feeling is very well done in Dead Space, and like I said, it just drips with classic horror/sci-fi themes. The gameplay is also still very enjoyable even though it is predictable. Shooting stuff and just exploring is a heck of a lot of fun, even if it isn’t all that scary.
There is no question that Dead Space is the best looking survival-horror game yet. Your character as well as the enemies are very detailed, has very good animation, and just look great overall. The ship is also great looking and each section has distinct features and lighting that make each chapter unique. Also, when you occasionally get a glimpse out into space either through a window or a hole in the hull, the game is absolutely breathtaking. The game would have really benefited from more space shots and less hallways, but it all still looks great. It is also worth nothing that there is no traditional HUD. Instead, your health and oxygen levels are displayed on Isaac’s back, which is very cool.
Sound is always the best part of good survival horror games, and Dead Space doesn’t disappoint. Solid dialogue. Great enemy sounds. Good music. And creepy creaks and groans and rumbles of the dying ship around you. This game wouldn’t be nearly as gripping if it didn’t sound so amazing.
Dead Space is a near-masterpiece. It is easily the most polished survival horror game yet, and looks, sounds, and plays exceptionally well. I also really love that the Easy difficulty is actually really easy which will allow many gamers to see it through to the end. In my experience, survival horror games tend to either be too hard or too scary or you just plain run out of health/ammo at some point and a lot of people don’t ever finish them. This makes survival horror kind of hard to give a full recommendation to because you don’t want people spending $50-60 on something they’ll get frustrated with and not finish. Dead Space doesn’t have that problem, so I can happily recommend it to hardcore survival horror freaks as well as regular gamers. Dead Space isn’t without some flaws such as repetitive mission design and being rather predictable (and a terrible asteroid shooting sequence in Chapter 4 that almost ruins the game …), but the presentation and atmosphere and solid core gameplay more than make up for it. Dead Space has solid enough replay value and is such a good game overall that I highly recommend it for a purchase.