Genre: Action Developer: EA Redwood Shores Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 14th Oct 2008 Platforms:XBOX360
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The Good bits
Smooth framerate packaged with crisp visuals
Holographic menu works a treat
Atmospheric surroundings with a daunting experience
The Bad stuff
Horror begins to wear off after a while
Not a big enough death penalty
Project Zero. Resident Evil. System Shock 2. All classic survival horror titles with some very similar elements. Under-powered player characters in horrific circumstances - and beastly enemies. Dead Space certainly has the right ingredients then - right from the very beginning.
You step into the suit of Isaac Clarke, an engineer who has been called to repair the Ishimura - a ship that is specifically designed to destroy planets and collect the remaining valuable ore. It's presumed the distress call is maintenance related so Isaac goes out to earn his keep.As Isaac's small ship approaches the Ishimura the pilot loses control and is forced to land at the Ishimura's loading dock. Finding the ship deserted you're now left with the task of finding out what's happening on this now deserted planet-breaker. It's a classic horror setup.
Right off the bat Dead Space is designed to be a fluid and cinematic experience - nothing emphasises this more than the stripped down HUD. Isaac's health, stasis, kinesis, oxygen and ammo can be clearly seen on the back of his suit or gun. This restricted layout led to EA creating an entirely new feature for the 3rd person shooter genre - a holographic projection menu. This menu displays unobtrusively in front of Isaac - and it's used for everything from explaining controls, showing maps, objectives, inventory, receiving video calls, audio logs viewing item details. It works flawlessly and adds vulnerability to the player due to the game not pausing - choose your inventory sorting time wisely.
You need to time your moves well thanks to the horrors which lurk on the Ishimura - the Necromorphs. We won't spoil what they're about, but we do have some advice - shoot the limbs. You have a large variety of methods for removing the limbs - weapons like flamethrowers, circular saws, rifles, energy beams, a gravity gun and plasma cutters - and strategic dismemberment definitely the quickest way to make them stay down. The Ishimura hosts a wide diversity of Necromorphs - each one being slightly harder to kill than the next. Don't let their size fool you, these things can be as fast, sneaky, and deadly as they want.
Isaac has the ability to slow down enemies or objects using stasis and can lift and move them with kinesis. With these abilities the game involves a satisfying amount of puzzles and gives players more combat options with enemy contact. Some puzzles Isaac faces early in the game will require little to no thinking - as you battle through the ship you'll reach a point where you’ll observe every object in the room before you touch anything. The puzzles are a great pacing tool to lull you before the next terrifying encounter - and they can be pretty challenging as well.
The space setting has given EA Redwood Shores an interesting option - Zero gravity and zero oxygen zones. There are areas in the game where you'll be working against your oxygen tanks to get things done or zooming across a room while debris floats around you - all while dismembering some space creeps. They're very cool and very fitting ways to break up the play - just be sure you know where you came from and where you're heading - standing on the ceiling can really do a number on your bearings.
The atmosphere in Dead Space is amazing and the detail in each and every room is phenomenal. The art direction really makes you feel like the Ishimura was once a living and breathing workplace but now an abandoned factory infested with who the hell knows what, and the use of sound to create tension is phenomenal - if the lurking shadows in the distance aren't already enough the squealing and the howling of the Necromorphs or the screams of the dying will turn your blood cold.
Unfortunately for Dead Space the tension doesn't keep up through the entire game. Most movies can't keep up tension after two hours - so EA Redwood Shores does well to maintain it for as long as it does. Eventually though the constant "leap out and scare you" style of horror becomes predictable and the game loses its horror edge. The story slows considerably in some chapters, and the horror nature of the game wilts and fades. Luckily Dead Space is a competent action thriller game - ala Resident Evil 4 - so you'll still have fun while playing.
Dead Space will play with your mind and keep your heart racing. While the horror element eventually gave way to action and thrills, I couldn't help but feel alert and ready for more the entire way through. It's an outstanding effort on EA's part to create a true survival horror game, but titles like the amazing System Shock 2 or even the supernatural Project Zero are a very hard act to follow. If you're after an atmospheric thriller with great action - get Dead Space. If you're looking for System Shock 3, consider this your warning.