Review: Dead Space
Yeah, Bishop should go. Go idea.
This may be the best games rush we’ve seen in ages but, after sequels to Fable, Far Cry, Fallout and Fifa, it’s very refreshing to see a brand new intellectual property on the shelves. Dead Space, as the name suggests, is a brand new space-based survival horror from EA which follows the now well-worn plot of rescue ship goes to stricken vessel (the ‘Planet Cracker’ USG Ishimura) and finds that the crew have all gone AWOL only to be replaced by scary-assed aliens or something.
You play the part of Isaac Clark (AKA Arthur C. Asimov), a systems engineer with an ex-girlfriend who, unfortunately for both of them, went to work on the Ishimura just before it cracked open Aegis 7, a planet inhabited by alien beings who kill humans and then mutate their corpses into Carpenter-esque spikey, fleshy mutants called Necromorphs. It’s all very Resi 4 meets Half-Life on the set of The Thing.
After the opening sequence and brief controls tutorial, Isaac becomes seperated from the other rescue ship members, thanks to a rather tense first meeting with the Necromorphs). From this point on he follows tasks relayed to him over the rather nice looking video messaging system (the screen is projected in 3D in front of you and moves as you do).
Actually, the whole game is rather lovely to look at from the big, clunky main character (think Gears of War with a Resi 4 viewpoint), the rather bleak Ishimura (all corridors and darkened rooms like the City of Rapture, but somehow much nicer to look around) and the Necromorphs that are grim, fleshy monstrosities who’s nastiness is matched only by the level of detail they are presented in.
That said, it’s a shame that the developers have gone with this type of enemy. The Aliens/Pitch Black type might have seemed a bit fresher seeing as how so many games and films seem to use the mutated humans approach. But overall everything is very pleasing especially the lovely touches such as the air being sucked out of airlocks and the liberal splatterings of gore every time you dispatch an enemy.
Interestingly, the game doesn’t want you to take out everything using headshots. Instead the best route to success is to lop the arms and legs of your foes using the game’s arsenal of weapons. Instead cutting tools tend to be a lot more effective than standard weapons (such as the pulse rifle and flamethrower) which makes the game feel a little different to the other third-person action games out there.
Thankfully EA have chosen to ignore a couple of the main genre conventions associated with survival horror. Firstly, ammo is plentiful. So much so that you’ll be storing it up in a safe most of the time (although there will be times where you find reserves running very low). Also, the game doesn’t involve very much backtracking. Resi 2 veterans will appreciate that and whilst your HUD contains the least useful map ever, a quick press of the right analogue stick causes a blue line to appear which will lead you to your next objective. This may seem like major hand-holding but considering the setting of labyrinthine gun-metal grey corridors this is an excellent way to keep you heading in the right direction.
Resident Evil 4 in space blah blah blah. Almost, but not quite. Taking its cue from The Thing, Event Horizon, Aliens and the aforementioned game, if you are a fan of horror you will love this.
While the visuals are bleak, visceral and gory, it is the use of sound that really stands out. As well as the ambient noises in the ship you will hear the Necromorphs wailing and screaming as they crawl around the ships interior whilst sparking fuse boxes and hissing steam pipes try to catch you off guard in moments of calm. Much like Bioshock and F.E.A.R., the story is told via audio/video diaries scattered around the environment and in my opinion it does this more successfully than those games. It all adds up and results in one of the most atmospheric games you will ever play.
Unlike Resi 4 you won’t be facing hordes of enemies at once, usually only a few at a time. They burst out of ventilation shafts, windows, the floor and even play dead in order to take you by surprise. Being required to kill them by dismembering their limbs is a nice change from headshot-after-headshot and adds an element of strategy to the combat. There are plenty of weapons to choose from and to upgrade throughout the game, I decided to stick with the Plasma Cutter and when upgraded fully it can take out most enemies in one or two shots.
If you are a fan of Resi 4 and survival horror games in general then I can’t recommend this highly enough. With stunning graphics, excellent sound decent story and at ten hours plus of playtime this is a genuine game-of-the-year contender for me.
Secondary Score: 9/10
Also, Dead Space isn’t afraid to steal from other games. The Ripper weapon may as well be a Gravity Gun/circular sawblade combo and the kinesis gun allows you to play with the game’s excellent physics engine which is even more fun in zero gravity. Clark also has a bullet-time gimmick in the shape of statis charges which he can fire at close range in order to slow any enemy down to an easily whackable crawl. Not wholly original but everything is well implemented and mostly welcome.
Sound is also rather excellent with all the usual creepy sound effects and jumpy music that’ll you be expected. Complete with key-changes that suggest imminent death. The voice acting is standard fare but nothing bad. Unfortunately Clark likes to remain the strong, silent type which unfortunately makes him seem a little bit dull and emotionless especially considering the circumstances.
After a couple of levels this game looked like being worth every point of its 89% Metacritic average. Unfortunately, after four of five levels of being set menial repair tasks (restore power, fix asteroid defences, restart tram system, fix the oxygen system) whilst being attacked by the same five types of enemy, the game got a little tired around the middle and became a chore to play. Indeed, this review even got delayed whilst other, better games vied for my attention.
The combat is fun for sure, the action is visceral and the game certainly has the ability to make you jump (without being quite as upsetting as a Silent Hill) but the game really is no more varied than something like Gears of War but, unlike Epic’s game, it overstays its welcome and could have easily stood to lose at least three of its levels and it’s such a shame because the game is just so well made. The engine is fantastic but deserves a better, more varied game. Sure, it’s not the dullfest that Bioshock turned out to be, but it’s not that far off either at times.
Hopefully next time (it’s EA so you know there will be) they’ll put a bit more meat on the bones of the engine and we’ll get to see something truly remarkable. Until then you’re better off waiting until the next summer drought when you’ll be able to pick this up cheap and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth but until then, fire up one of the many games you’ve probably bought recently.