Everyone knows how the saying goes, but to try and apply it to Dead Space is pointless.
EA’s first foray into “survival horror” is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. Assuming the role of engineer Isaac Clarke (who is named after two famous science fiction writers), you are despatched to the USG Ishimura, a massive planet mining ship that is not responding to attempted radio contact.
Things start peacefully enough as you move around the deserted ship, getting used to the controls, but it’s not long until things go to hell and you’re battling against the “Necromorphs”. These chaps use the dead Ishimura crew members as hosts, growing sharp claws, tentacles and all sorts of things to kill you with. They’re really, really nasty.
The game isn’t for the faint hearted. There is gore and shocks aplenty. There are dead bodies everywhere, the enemies can be blasted to bits and poor Isaac isn’t safe from the horror. Some of the death animations are incredibly shocking. The developers, bizarelly enough, looked at car crash victims to try and make the violence look as real as possible. All this from a company whose previous releases include Sims 2: Pets.
The story, which is revealed by text and audio logs found around the ship, is a great sci-fi yarn and has a few twists along the way.
Dead Space basically takes the template laid down by Resident Evil 4 (quick, intelligent enemies, fun combat and over the shoulder camera) and applies it to a science fiction setting. Taking cues from Resi, Gears of War, Bioshock and films like Alien and Event Horizon, Dead Space is an amalgamation of all the best bits and its own great ideas.
The first striking thing about the game is that there is no heads up display. Typical games will have displays of information in the corners of the screen, like a health bar or ammo counter. Dead Space has done away with this and integrated everything with Isaac’s RIG (the game’s name for his suit). The inventory screen and various logs you find appear as a hologram, the health bar is a long blue tube on Isaac’s back and the ammo counter pops up on all the weapons you use. Oh, the weapons!
Using the “tools” you find around the ship as your weapons, Dead Space takes typical action game fare and puts an industrial slant. All the old favourites are here, pistol, shotgun, heavy duty laser and gaming’s in vogue weapon, the flamethrower.
You also get “stasis” and “kinetic” modules, which allow you to slow down time and control objects by gravity, respectively. Throw in a “curbstomp” and a melee attack and this amounts to quite the toolset to try and stop the marauding Necromorphs.
The last ace you have up your sleeve is the much heralded “strategic dismemberment”. This is the concept where you will conserve ammo if you take an enemy’s limbs off, instead of blindly firing into the bodies of your foes. It’s a nice twist on the convential “headshot” mechanic.
Dead Space’s other excellent ideas come in the shape of the Zero G and vacuum sections. In Zero G, you can stick to any surface, and this can lead to some mind bending puzzles as your bouncing from every side of the room. The vacuum sections are incredibly tense. The only sounds you hear are your oxygen meter depleting and the very quiet clink of your footsteps. It’s very effective.
Technically, Dead Space is excellent. The graphics are first class, and are very effective at conveying the abandoned ship and the horror of the events that happened there. The sound design is also a new high for this generation of consoles with the right balance between music and ambience. Everything sounds as it should: grating clinks, air whooshes by you as pressure is lost in the room you’re entering, bodies squelch and squish. It’s cracking stuff.
In the normal yearly flood of games, Dead Space may be in danger of being overlooked for other titles. This would be a huge mistake because it really is one of the best games of this year and a fantastic example of what the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 can do. Remember, no one can hear you scream…