What!? A newcomer to the survival horror genre, that offers a much needed twist to the stale pre-established franchises of the genre? While many companies may stick to the familiar, and take the “don’t fix what’s not broken” approach, EA Redwood Shores is doing the exact opposite. Dead Space challenges the genre taking it into unfamiliar territory supported with strong story elements, fresh game triumvirates, and plenty of scares that are terrifying enough to pull away fans of the other games in the genre and others and even make new fans of horror survival. In short, Dead Space is the new benchmark on “how to launch a new franchise.” EA has a winner here.
The story behind Dead Space takes place hundreds of years in the future where mankind is debilitated of its natural resources and has developed a solution to the predicament: a process result known as planet cracking. A celestial body is split into pieces, and is mined until its minerals are completely stripped, and returned to earth for consumption. Problem solved – if only it was that easy. One of the many ships in the mining fleet, the USG Ishimura which performs many planet cracks than any other vessel in the fleet. The ship cuts off all communication from galactic command, which is strange to everyone. To discover the problem, a small maintenance crew is sent to fix any problem the vessel may have or is.
Upon arrival, players take control of Isaac Clarke, a Systems Engineer (space welder) with a bad ass costume to wade it through space. Quickly, you learn Isaac has many reasons for participating on this mission as he has personal relationships with people stationed on the ship. Little does Isaac and his crew know, hell has broke lose on the vessel and its up to Isaac to search the halls, search for friends or survivors, while having to fix the many problems infesting the ship all while engaging in a very dangerous game of life or death all in the whirlwind of survival and horror.
Sorry space marine’s, Isaac isn’t an everyday hero in most Sc-Fi games; no steroids, no big bulky armor, no cheesy catch phrases, or any typical firearms (except one). The only real training Isaac has he uses in his own style, using his engineering training, which was once a tool for mining becomes a powerful weapon that can be analyzed and improved by rewiring them at workbenches. Even Isaac’s space suit can be upgraded with his engineering training such as, strengthening his suits armor or his all important air supply. A handy feature on his space suit is the ability to use stasis or kinesis modules, which can be used in a variety of way to combat the monsters on the ship. One of the key mechanics is dubbed “ strategic dismemberment” which essentially is weakening and effectively killing a monster by blowing off strategic limbs to your advantage. Unlike many monsters in other games, Necromorphs will take direct hits and keep coming for more. Blasting off their limbs is only way to cause enough damage to avoid harm, and you will have to aim direct and quickly at there weak spots. This adds a great deal of tension to the game when your surrounded by Necromorphs each with a specific weakness. The decision on what weapon on what monster becomes a pivotal decision to make and can more times than not be whether you survive a encounter or not.
When talking about tension, the atmosphere caters greatly to the sense of tension players endure as they walk about the USG Ishimura. There really is something eerie about space in general. Combine that with horrific shadows, many things at the corner of your eyeballs and then you have trouble. The moment we step on board of the ship, we can’t help but feel distressed and help but imagine what events unfolded to lead to such a disaster. EA Redwood Shore really took great care to immerse the player in the world. In fact, there is no HUD at all. Isaac’s ammunition is displayed via holograph above the gun, health bar is displayed on his back, and in game transmissions are displayed holographically from his helmet. This is done to keep you always in real time, meaning you can receive a message while being attacked by a barrage of Necromorph slashing at your throat. Because of this you really feel immersed in the world and a bit paranoid.
Like any other game, Dead Space isn’t without some issues.A minor issue but it’s a issue none the less, the zero gravity area’s can be a bit confusing at times, and the camera can sometimes be restricted to a certain angle, particularly if you’re on a wall or ceiling. Though rare, when the camera locks up, you may be getting attacked by a creature out of view, which is frustrating. Another issue isn’t a technical one it’s more of a bad choice on behalf of the developers, it regards the New Game+ Feature. Once you complete your first run-through of the game, you’ll unlock some features, one being a fourth difficulty mode previously not listed. You will also be able to retain all your previous upgrades and equipment intact, and ready to go making the game much quicker second time threw. However, here lies the problem, you will be locked at the level you chose when you first started the game, and wont be able to switch. This is more of a bad decision than anything else but would have been a major plus to be able to retain all your equipment and have the option to use the new difficulty given after completing your first play through. If you’re eager to use the new modes, remember you will lose all the upgrades and have to start from scratch, which can be a bummer for many – myself included.
One thing you can’t ignore is Dead Space’s breathtaking visuals, you will definitely be amazed by the detail in the world and gore. The amount of detail on Isaac’s suit alone is out of this world, no pun intended, the more I upgraded the suit the more detailed it became also, same can be said about the weapons, gaining new visual and audio. Another thing to note, each level truly felt unique never the feeling of copy and pasting the same area’s over and over. The visuals on the Necromorphs themselves is horrifically good, which appear to get drastically more stunning with each creature. The Necromorphs are seriously grotesque, same can be said about the graphical violence throughout the game. The holographic implementation is really well done as well.
Having great visuals is great but having excellent voice acting is a must, and Dead Space doesn’t disappoint. Isaac really doesn’t utter a word, but other members of the cast do a great job, whether its just holographic movie or a Audio Log. Lucky for me, I sport a really good 7.1 surround sound system that highlighted probably the most impressive aspect of the entire game: the sound. The game’s sound is eerie and intense that levels the sound design as fantastic and really pulls you into the game. If you are easily scared don’t play alone late at night with the lights off or you will be freaked out.
Dead Space is a wise man’s true horror survival game and does the genre great justice with intense gruesome action, engaging story, overused but extremely relevant violence, and a welcome new take on the survival horror genre. Dead Space is here to stay people and has the staying power to be a great franchise. Just remember to look at the moon while you’re playing from time to time, and really learn to appreciate the not so gruesome things about the stars at night.