Meta Review: Dead Space

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You may have heard about Dead Space. You might have seen how everyone is rating it pretty good, even those people who do not normally play survival horrors. There has been a lot of promotion and marketing for Dead Space from creepy as hell trailers, to a six part comic, and even an animated tie in.

The basics premise of the game is that you are an engineer going around a large ship called the Ishimura trying to fix things and not die while doing so.

First off, Dead Space is a mish-mash of all sorts of different horror and sci-fi games and movies. The three that come to my mind are Event Horizon, Resident Evil 4, and System Shock 2. If that makes it sound like you would love it, then you probably will. I was sold on Event Horizon meets Resident Evil 4 alone (I have unfortunately never played SS2).

The gameplay is some of the best I have ever experienced. The controls are as near perfect as any survival horror’s controls could be. Only a few times have I accidentally done the wrong thing and punched something when I wanted to shoot, or vice-versa. The movement controls are brilliant and modeled more on a third-person shooter than a traditional survival horror, making it much easier to get around and attack things.

This control scheme is very helpful because of the times when you have gibbering horrors running at you and swinging all sorts of deadly appendages. You need to be able to put them down fast. Speaking about putting down, I am very impressed with the method of killing in Dead Space.  Seeing how these enemies are basically re-animated, mutant corpses, it makes sense that taking their head off will only make them angrier and possibly more violent.

In order to put these ugly fuckers down, you have to take off limbs. Body shots do very little damage, but taking off a limb is very damaging. It’s simple, take off both dangerous bits and they die. Usually, this is pretty hard mostly because they are moving too fast or they are practically screaming into your face. Lucky for you, a quick shot of stasis (think localized short-term bullet-time) and with their inherent slowness, those hard shots suddenly become much easier.

This stasis skill is also a staple you’ll use in the puzzles of Dead Space along with the second skill, kinesis or telekinesis (think HL2’s gravity gun). The puzzles are another area where Dead Space shines. They are never particularly too hard, but are always rewarding. More often than not, the puzzles include some monsters trying to stop you from doing completing your task, whatever it may be. A lot of these puzzles take place in zero gravity, which is handled brilliantly. It is yet another place in Dead Space where the game just shines.

As for graphics, this engine (the one built for this game that EA says they would like to license out) does graphics so well. There is none of this super bloom or other bullshit that screams “WE HAZ GRAPHICZ” like so many games associated with this current generation. What you get are just damn good models and texture work with some subtle after-effects to make it look prettier. I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking games out at the moment and it makes all the gory bits that much cooler to see.

As for the level of tension this game creates, the creature design, AI, placement and all the other instruments of terror builds some fright, but the sound is what sets it off and loosens your bowels. It has been a while since a game has truly scared me (F.E.A.R. Was the last one to do so) but this one did. I tried playing it in the dark with my 5.1 and I just couldn’t to it…I was jumping at the slightest clink behind me and constantly on edge.

Another cool thing is that the Ishimura feels like a real ship as you wander around it. The medical wing looks and feels like a medical wing. The bridge is a large open place with a central elevator and consoles like you might expect. The engineering deck is FUCKING LOUD due to the engines there.

In fact, no matter where you are on the ship, there is always a constant thrum in the background as the ship is moving and working. The only time this is not noticeable is when there is no atmosphere and the only sound you get is from physical contact, much like it would happen in real life. The attention to detail in the sound is above and beyond what I would expect from a AAA survival horror so to see it in a smaller, unknown game is fantastic, to say the least.

The story in Dead Space is, despite it being quite derivative and very predictable in places, very good. It takes what was built before it in the comic and the animated short and goes further with it. There is some crossover with you finding a video log of a section of Downfall and a text log about a character from the comic. I liked how the story is basically you going around and fixing the ship up, or otherwise using engineering skills to progress. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am tired of playing as generic space marine of deadliness and was craving something different. I found that something in Dead Space and am so much happier for it.

The HUD, or lack of one, also helps to draw you in and really take part in the story. Everything from your health to your inventory and even comm messages is displayed through Isaac’s equipment. The health is on your back, as is your stasis amount. The ammo is on a little bit drawn on the gun and all other stuff is drawn in midair in front of Isaac from his suit. He even looks at it when you are using it, which is another nice little detail in a game rich with them.

The weapons, while on that, all of them seem to be based on some sort of tool. The plasma cutter, a basic pistol, is also a plasma cutter. The ripper could be used to cut through cables or bindings, the contact gun seems like it is meant to be used to tear chunks off of the rocks for mining. The pulse rifle is obviously a simple pulse system so it will work without atmosphere and so on. I ended up sticking with what I liked but every weapon has its place, even if that place is in your storage locker (the stupid Force Gun is so crap)

If I had any problems, it would be that the story is just way too predictable in places and that when you back up against a wall it is impossible to tell how much health you have because you cannot see the gauge. These are just small blotches on an otherwise near perfect and nearly 100% bug free game (at least, I didn’t encounter any bugs on my version). I really liked Dead Space and if you even vaguely like Resident Evil 4 or System Shock 2 and their kind, try Dead Space, you might just find you love it.

TL:DR section:

A great game with buckets of immersion and fantastic gameplay and weapons, even if it is all a bit derivative. The limb removal stuff works great and zero-G bits are a lot of fun. The story is a little predictable but otherwise well crafted horror sci-fi. Very few problems if any and overall, a fantastic game.

Rating: Thumbs way, way up

Dead Space: Downfall

Dead Space: Downfall is the animated film that serves as a prologue to the game and it starts much like the comic, with a recording of the main character saying that everyone is dead and that they are fucked. As a straightforward animated film, it isn’t fantastic at all. The animation is a lot like old 90s cartoons, which for some people is a giant turn off. Though I actually quite liked this film and thought that the slightly shit feel helped it out.

The characters are your basic run-of-the-mill and the story is pretty much a generic sci-fi space story that is very inspired by Alien and other movies of its kind. The only difference is that this contains more of the back story for Dead Space and what happened to the Ishimura (the comic deals with the colony on the ground)

Overall, I thought it fit in the Dead Space universe very well and was quite worth watching, even if it was so incredibly cheesy in places. I give this a thumbs up as well. If you intend on getting into the Dead Space universe, this will help and keep you entertained.

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