Dead Space

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.

Dead Space

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.

Bloody Beautiful

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.

What HUD?

Dead Space

Dead Space

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.

Almost Perfect

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.

Rating: 4/5

Dead Space

16 Responses to “Dead Space”

  1. Played an hour or so of Dead Space at a friends house – or rather, I watched my friend play because scary games are beyond me. The visuals were nice, the concept of dismembering and not just penetrating worked well, the game truly is suspenseful and the lack of a HUD is a nice change (though the save stations pull you out of the game environment instead). My biggest complaint would have to be the tasks you're sent to do; in the first part of the game at least, you just run from point A to point B, do something, then go back to A… over and over again! Maybe I'm just not used to the genre (because King Kong was too scary for me), but ignoring the damn monsters jumping out at you, the game was ultimately pretty boring.

    • Well, your character is a mechanic and your team has been sent there to figure out what's going on – and to do that, you need to get the ship up and running again. So it's understandable why you're being bossed around. That's the extent of most of the missions, but they vary quite a bit.

  2. Great write-up, Matt, you summed up the perfect formula for Dead Space in your opening paragraph. What got my attention before launch were the videos interviewing the sound design team and how they talked about the differences of building up suspense with sound in games vs horror movies. The first few hours or so I found myself on edge because there were so many layers to the sound that I couldn't pick out which "might" be a creature about to attack. It's also the first game or horror experience I can remember where they used deafening noise to evoke the same fear you feel in absolute stillness. Right now it's my game of the year.

  3. I have been trying to get through Dead Space but with so many other great games out this month I'm finding it pretty difficult. I have made my way through the first 6 chapters and loving it so far.

    The only problem that I'm facing is the Map. You constantly have to refer to the map to know where your meant to be going, the problem comes when you open the map then a monster attacks you and you get the s*** beat out of you.

    The story line is OK not great. Watching the DVD and reading the comics helps give you a background to the Deadspace world as a whole (including details about the main character and his girlfriend) but you shouldn't really have to buy extra merch to connect to the characters.

    • Did you miss my note on the current objective pointer thinger?

      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!

      They mention that within the first 10 minutes of the game, but I actually missed it the first time. When I was watching a friend play, I picked up on it.

      • God how did I miss that. I never really pay much attention to the in game tutorials but missing it from your article, doh. Oh well maybe I can have a little more fun with the game now. Thanks for the tip Matt.

  4. I want this game and was really close to buying it yesterday, but I opted for Fallout 3 instead. You can probably guess my main concern after me ranting about it last month or so… It's sci-fi! Then again, I have been a tad addicted to Mass Effect, which was a total surprise. I love scary games though, and I just don't think we have enough of them on the 360. A definite future purchase.

    • I'm confident Dead Space will be another exception to your hatred for sci-fi. You simply can't deny a game as polished and refined as this. And yes, it definitely takes the survivor horror genre up a notch or two.

  5. Having completed Dead Space now, I've got to say it's a great game, but you're spot on with the criticisms regarding character development.

    The mute lead character seemed to be another thing borrowed from Bioshock, along with some general themes and plot exposition mechanics, but it just doesn't fit well within the Dead Space context.

    In Bioshock, the first person perspective and lack of identity are central to the whole concept. In Dead Space they're not and it really hinders the experience. The journal notes do flesh out some inner monologue from the main character but it's not enough.

    Anyway, rant aside, it's a very fun (and scary) game to play.

    • I think there's a reason why the lead character doesn't talk.

      Your playing by your perspective, for example, the producers want to know what you think about the situation, its like thinking what you think instead of what someone else thinks. Somehow your part of that character too. I would agree that it is very scary and I almost threw up(in a good way) of how disgusting it is.

  6. Dead Space's story is a bit confusing the first time you play. But it is very scary when you will never know when a creature is going to get you from behind.