Dead Space Review – Help isn’t coming

Dead Space is being called a “survival” horror game by the game’s developer, EA Redwood Shores (The Simpsons Game). Dino Crisis, Resident Evil, Silent Hill 2. Examples of survival horror at its finest. There is nothing like being given only a handful of bullets and a seemingly unstoppable enemy. That’s what makes these games “survival” horror games. Now, western developers always throw you in with hundreds of pushover enemies, and an RPG with unlimited ammo. Yes, there is a big difference between old school horror games and the new breed of action games with a horror theme thrown in. After spending sme time with Dead Space, I’m shocked at how close Dead Space resembles those old school classics. It is a terrifying experience that you won’t want to put down.

Dead Space follows the story of a small crew dispatched to fix the communications dish on the USG Ishimura, a mining vessel currently drilling a tiny planet. Upon arrival via a fairly hectic crash sequence (which in turn destroys your way off of the godforsaken ship), the several of you realize that something horrific has occured here. You play as Isaac Clarke, the engineer, the one designated to fix the communications dish. However, once you’ve been separated from the group, it quickly turns into a fight for survival. Staying in touch with the remainder of your crew, your new mission is to get the hell off the ship, while discovering what the hell happened to the ship altogether.

The pacing of the story is rather weak. The game starts off extremely fast paced, with all of these terrifying things happening around you, but the middle part of the game involves minimal story advancement. Luckily, when the story comes back to form, you’ll appreciate it much more, and the game ends with a bang.

The acting is fairly hit or miss. Redwood Shores took the Gordon Freeman approach for their protagonist, as he does have a face that you see about twice through the game, but you’d be hard pressed to hear him speak. A few of the other characters in the game have fantastic voice acting, but the animations they follow through with are pretty stiff. The overall story is an interesting one, one that will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s terrifying, it’s creepy, and it’s deep. It’s just the way that it’s presented that holds it back.

Now Dead Space can be called a third person shooter, but if that’s all it was, it would be a poor game. The shooting in Dead Space isn’t bad by any means, but it doesn’t have any flow to it. It feels very clunky. The weapons that you have control of as Isaac aren’t exactly guns. This is in the future, in space, on a mining vessel. That means the weapons you find or purchase throughout the game are highly unconventional. There’s such weapons like saws, or plasma shooters, and yes, even a flamethrower. The guns all have alternate fire methods, as well. None of them are in particular great, but they get the job done when you need to kill something.

In order to efficiently kill an enemy, you need to cut off their limbs. Simply aiming at their chest and blasting away won’t do much damage to them. It’s a different approach to the shooter genre, and it’s appreciated. The shooting action in Dead Space is by no means bad. It’s different, it’s unique, and it’s cool. It just feels a little bit bare boned. None of the weapons are fun to use, and the action can get very repetitive. The inability to change shoulders when aiming is a shame. Because of Isaac’s fatass helmet, you can’t see to your left when aiming, creating a blind spot. This seems like a bad design choice. With games like Uncharted and Rainbow Six Vegas 2, both with the ability to aim using both sides, no TPS should be without some sort of swtich system.

The fact that this resembles old school horror games, means that there are a lot of fetch quests. It starts off annoying, having to go here and get these, so you can go there and get this. It doesn’t stop being annoying, but if it weren’t for these sections, the game would take place in the same room.

The exploration and puzzles make up for the lackluster action. Some of the puzzles involve you using stasis, which allows you to slow down an object. This can be used to slow down your enemies as well, making them easier to kill, or allowing you to sneak by them. There’s also kinesis, which basically is the force grip in Star Wars: TFU. It’s ripped right out of its books. It works like you’d think, just not on live enemies.

Because this is a game set in space, it wouldn’t be complete without zero gravity sections. Isaac’s grav boots allow you to cling to any surface, so you can be on the ceiling blasting away at arms and legs. These are some of the more difficult sections in the game, because your sense of awareness is dampened when you don’t know whether you’re upside down or right side up.

The gameplay in Dead Space is a bit of a mixed bag. using kinesis is a blast, and games with zero gravity are always fun, but the slopped together shooting mechanics don’t leave much of an impression on you. Despite its shortcomings, it’s still a pretty fun game, it’s just that anybody expecting a run n gun space fest will be disappointed.

This game scares me half to death. Everytime I walked down a corridor, I’d expect something to jump out at me. Although this only happens about 3 times throughout the game, I still expected it. That’s a good sign of an immersively scary world. The enemy designs are all hideous, and you won’t want to fight them. You will want to run. Simply the act of fighting them is somewhat terrifying. The aura of the ship and the atmosphere are all noteworthy. This is the first true horror game on the Ps3 or Xbox 360. It’s about 4 times as creepy as F.E.A.R. There’s something to be said about finding an audio recording of the Ishimura’s crew being ripped to shreds. It’s just naturally terrifying.

The fact that there is no HUD keeps you immersed in the experience. Your health bar is represented by a neon tube built into Isaac’s suit. All inventory menus, maps, and objectives lists are all represented in front of Isaac as a hologram. Going into your small inventory and picking out an air can doesn’t pause the game, keeping you looking over your shoulder for bad news. It’s great, and puts you in the game world. As more and more games start to do this, it’s noteworthy to remember that Dead Space is the game that started this phenomenon. In 15 years, we’ll be saying that. At least I will be.

There are light RPG elements to upgrading your suit and equipment. Throughout the ship you’ll find power nodes, which can be used to unlock doors, but are mainly used as upgrade powerups. Much like the spere grid in Final Fantasy X, or the upgrade chart in Ratchet and Clank Future, the upgrade system in Dead Space is set up like a branching chart. You can upgrade everything form weapons accuracy, to your maximum health. Each node is one spot to move on the chart. This is so deep, that it literally requires 3 or 4 playthroughs to max out all of your stuff.

Dead Space is the type of game you’ll hate to play. Not because it is a bad game, it’s the opposite of that. You’ll hate to play it because you’ll be so terrified. This is actually a scary game with a complex story, tons of gore, and lots of creepy aura. You won’t recognize this at first, but when you find yourself running away from enemies, having trouble sleeping, or practically crapping yourself, you’ll know that Dead Space is a special game. Nobody can help you now.

~ by smithbubbajones on October 26, 2008.

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