Dead Space Review (Xbox360)
There are only three rules: everything that can go wrong will go wrong, nothing is sacred, and saving life is impossible. These are the rules that make Dead Space the horror that it is, a cruel, shocking space drama that employs these bitter ideals with new technologies and techniques previously unseen in games, and others that push the boundaries previously set.
The third person horror follows Isaac Clarke, an engineer sent to repair a broken communications array on the USG Ishimura, a mining vessel in an uncharted region of space. Following Murphy’s Law, their vessel crashes into the Ishimura leaving its crew to find the Ishimura deserted. Shortly after they are attacked by menacing creatures, killing the pilot and leaving only two other characters: Kendra Daniels and Zach Hammond, a technology expert and security officer, respectively.
These characters play a vital role in the progression of Dead Space’s plot, allowing Isaac access to different parts of the Ishamura, providing intel and giving direction and objectives. Through their narrative, as well as audio and text logs scattered throughout the ship, the events prior to Isaac’s arrival unfold, revealing a tale of corrupt religion, unimaginable anguish, and even incredible physical pain. Unfortunately, scenes and logs showing as much are not nearly vivid enough to create anything but a faux impression of fear, like the developers tried too hard.
|All the weapons are tools of some sort. Use them wisely to dismember enemies.||It's not called 'Dead Space' for nothing.|
One such scene is meant to be especially brutal, where an audio log has a prior crewmember of the Ishamura using one of Dead Space’s signature weapons, a cutting tool, to remove his own limbs to ensure he doesn’t become a creature himself. Horrifying to imagine, but the acting indicated the littlest pain expected from such a feat that any emotional duress players could have felt is easily dismissed.
Such instances occur throughout Dead Space, where truly horrific things are downplayed or occur far too randomly. Because of the second rule, there are instances when characters appear who simply cannot be saved due to some obstacle. Many of the crew of the Ishamura that Isaac finds alive kill themselves or die as he arrives, mostly due to extreme injury and exhaustion or insanity. At least twice such crewmembers succumb to nothing but the game’s inability to allow Isaac to save them or ‘put them out of their misery’, which is a sobering reminder that the experience is still just a game.
What horrors Dead Space properly actuates tend to be creepy or intellectually disturbing, not shocking. The most memorable scene is after several encounters with smaller, newer creatures who are a nuisance from far. The scene has Isaac pick up a text log that simply reads the names of newborns on the vessel, which upon reading registers where those small creatures come from, as well as much larger, fatter enemies which spew tiny creatures from their giant stomach pouches. Indeed, nothing is sacred in Dead Space, and the realism of that situation was exciting.
|The general rule is the uglier it is, the sooner it needs to die.||In a note EA passed along, we were told to die intentionally. Every monster has a few different death animations to watch for Isaac.|
Dead Space includes several unique gameplay mechanics, most notably what developer EA Redwood Shores has dubbed “Strategic Dismemberment”, the act of removing limbs from enemies to kill them faster. The premise is simple: enemies with less limbs deal less damage and die faster. One or no legs means they must crawl to attack Isaac, less tentacles means attacks are less frequent, etc. With the majority of weapons being tools of some sort, cutting limbs off is the only way to fend off hordes of enemies.
On top of several different weapons are two powerful technologies, Stasis and Kinesis. The former slows down objects and enemies for short periods, and becomes increasingly useful in later levels. The latter allows Isaac to move objects ‘telepathically’, as well as shoot them violently. Stasis has limited combat value since its function is singular and recharging with Stasis pods during battle is difficult. Stasis pods are also expensive and difficult to find.
Kinesis is just the opposite, infinite in use and usability. All objects within reason can be lifted and moved, but its real power comes from the damage done to the Ishamura. The damaged ship has luggage, equipment, sharp and explosive objects scattered throughout nearly every part of it. Anything can be thrown at enemies to deal damage, including their own dismembered body parts. Properly using Kinesis during combat, however, is a much greater feat. Dark rooms and poor visibility, as well as the looming threat of enemies and a gun in Isaac’s hand never makes Kinesis the first option for defense. It is a discipline that must be practiced to provide the most benefit.
|Surround sound is very, very necessary for Dead Space. Or just expect to die. A lot.||Twinkle twinkle little star...|
Why Kinesis is necessary at all is simple: limited resources. Stores that scatter Dead Space require money, which can only be found in storage containers or on dead enemies. Upgrading weapons and armor can only be done with power nodes, which are extremely rare to find and expensive. There is no way for players to earn everything the game has to offer in a single play through, and upgrades cannot be undone, so resource management becomes incredibly relevant within the first few hours of gameplay.
The use of zero gravity combat in Dead Space is also done remarkably well. Jumping from wall to wall is difficult at first, but it provides an array of interesting combat tricks and maneuvers that cannot be denied. Disorienting at first, a little bit of practice takes it a long way.
There is so much in Dead Space to mention that doing so would make this review very, very long. Puzzles using Kinesis and Stasis, timed events in airless zones, spacewalks across an asteroid-ridden hull, enough enemies to never leave players comfortable. If not for the submissive, cliché’d last two hours of the story and the un-dramatic terror-inducing scenes, Dead Space would be a rich, enthusiastic game for anyone to enjoy. Yes, its over-dramatized sound may startle the neighbors, but with so much packed into one game, missing it would be much, much scarier.