When I first caught wind of Dead Space, I brushed it off pretty quickly. It seemed like we were in for yet another dark shooter set in a stagnant industrial environment, with loads of ugly alien beings jumping out at you. Actually, that’s exactly what it is, but in a really good way. Think Doom 3’s environments, Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder camera angel, storytelling via audio and text logs ala BioShock, the level of satisfaction you receive from obliterating your foes in Gears of War, and Metroid Prime’s boss fights – that’s Dead Space in a nutshell, but creepier, more gruesome, and more intense than the sum of those games.
Within the last few months leading up to Dead Space’s release, a series of developer interviews began to surface, and that’s when I started to take notice. From the moment I heard the phrase “strategic dismemberment”, I knew we were in for a treat! But I refrained from getting my hopes up until the game was actually released. With the Canadian release date being a couple days being the US, that gave me a couple days to get really excited about it once the glowing reviews were published online. Right from the get-go, Dead Space grabbed me and hung on tight until the last plasma shot was fired.
Surprisingly, I was taken back by the visuals on a number of occasions. A lot of it takes place in tight metal corridors with flickering lights, but some areas are just huge, well lit, and extremely detailed. I was definitely impressed with the variation from chapter-to-chapter, as the tram system leads you to different sections of the distressed vessel you’re exploring. Enemies look exceptionally disgusting, and break apart spewing blood in every direction gloriously. Dead Space is without a doubt, the bloodiest, most gruesome game I’ve played to date.
“I’m Freaking Out, Man!”
There were moments in the game that genuinely upped my heart rate. And it wasn’t from things jumping out from dark corners – that shit gets old real quick. The atmosphere set by the moody ambiance, partnered perfectly with chilling moans and groans from the ship and its inhabitants truly create a frightening setting. The developers did a fantastic job of anticipating what the player is expecting, and saving it for later. Many times I walked into a room that appeared to be setup for a certain situation, but ended up being vacant. I’d run through and lower my guard, only to have the next room kick my ass.
Another aspect of the game that I just loved was the complete lack of a heads up display. Your health is presented as a vertical meter running up the spine of your character, while your ammo is shown on a small holographic screen above your weapon. Both are a blue/green colour when fully stocked, but turn to yellow then red as they are depleted. Everything else is displayed in a similar fashion – incoming video feeds will pop-up in front of you, and even your inventory is accessed via a holograph. You’re never taken fully out of the game, except at the save menu, which leads to some very intense moments when you need to replenish your health in the midst of a fight. But the absolute best use of this non-HUD, is your active objective. When you’re not sure which way to go, clicking the right thumbstick makes your character stop and raise his right hand, projecting a beam of light to the floor, then in the direction you’re meant to go – brilliant!
Tools of the Trade
The arsenal you’re packing in Dead Space is an interesting one. The standard weapon is your trusty Plasma Cutter. It sends a beam of plasma in a short horizontal or vertical line (can be toggled quickly) which cuts through flesh, dismembering limbs and other precious body parts. Through-out the ship, you’ll acquire Power Nodes which you can use to upgrade weapons and armor. It’s a pretty nice system that allows you to beef up the weapons of your fancy, while discarding those you’re not so fond of.
Who Are You and Why Should I Care?
The weakest aspect of the game is the story. It’s not bad, but it’s not mind blowing by any means. The character you play doesn’t speak a word, yet you’re supposed to connect with him and care about his love interest. There just isn’t enough character development for you to give a shit about this guy, or his lady.
Dead Space was a very unexpected treat – especially considering the publisher (EA), who typically sticks to pushing out annual sequels than gambling with fresh new IPs. Regardless, I would say Dead Space is in my top 5 games of 2008 and highly recommend it.