Dead Space

October 27, 2008

Much of the commentary on Dead Space focuses on its mentors or inspirations– a shame considering it’s a bit of a step forward for games as an immersive and engrossing experience. Those with fine taste or a large mental catalog of movies and games may not be able to help faulting Dead Space for “lack of originality”, but originality was not EA’s intention, nor should it be the litmus test by which it is judged. Dead Space is a game about aliens, space, blood, rescuing, surviving, weapons, and ships. How much room for originality is there in such conventions in the first place?

In the name of convention, then, the game starts with a small rescue crew composed of a computer specialist , three soldiers, and an engineer; they are investigating the USG Ishimura, a planet-drilling ship that has lost its ability to communicate. You play the engineer, Isaac Clarke, who is soon predictably separated from the rest of his crew in a typical “we’re all going to die” kind of situation. You are tasked with assisting the rest of the crew get off the ship while they investigate what exactly happened. Assistance is dangerous and Isaac must fight off hordes of extremely gross and nasty creatures with excessive amounts of flesh, blood, exposed body parts, and sharp points.

Other tired conventions set in quickly; the plot is dragged out through repeated quests where Isaac must use his engineering abilities to press buttons and fetch important ship components. And not too far into the game, you will gain the ability to predict when you will be attacked and even how severe the attacks are likely to be.

Gore and shock may be traditional horror tactics but rarely, if ever, have they been so well-executed. The ends Isaac can meet are numerous and varied, even if most of them come from trudging through hordes of enemies with power guns. The gameplay here is not supreme, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. The controls take some time to get used to: three often-used moves are done by pressing the left trigger and another button, and there are no options to change them. Those who are FPS or survival-horror purists may fault Dead Space for not doing the combat according to their respective forms, but Dead Space is good enough to warrant its own standards. The lower the lighting, the higher the volume, and the more important the scene, the less likely you are to notice. The numerous zero-gravity spaces are golden and highly polished; they will literally make you sick and challenge your sense of gravity; sometimes it will take the utmost concentration to figure out or remember which way is up, and some people will get utterly lost. Dead spaces which drown out the noise and give you a time-limit on your air supply are also tense; it’s shocking the first time you see a huge…thing that’s always been summoning shrieks, wails, violins, and brass suddenly not have any sound accompanying it.

The ending and backstory are kind of clichéd, though the expected plot twists aren’t. Without giving it away, I’ll simply say that the story heavily borrows, but does so intelligently. And the bosses, while not challenging, are highly memorable. Dead Space may not scare as much as some people like, but that is only the truth for those who have developed a strong resistance. To all but the most hardened and critical, Dead Space is thrilling.

ESRB: M for language and extremely bloody and gory violence. This is the kind of game you take extra precautions not to let other people see, especially if they are young or squeamish.
Plays like: nothing like it; best summarized, it’s an adventure/survival horror with third-person shooting, weapons, and viewpoint
Pros: Very well-told story; high production values; engrossing; cool weapons; unique zero-gravity and dead space sequences are nerve-wracking
Cons: Some clichés and repetition; easy bosses but difficult simple tasks; influences and scares are sometimes so obvious it may distract experienced gamers or horror buffs

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.