October 14, 2008
If you have ever experimented in the kitchen, trying to mix different elements of your favorite dishes together, then you have an idea of how “Dead Space” came to fruition. Many times, you come away with something that has its high points, but in the end is somewhat unsatisfying and unfocused, something that is missing just that little extra flavor or attention to detail that could have pushed your experimental dinner over the edge.
On occasion though, you will do everything just right, adding just the right amount of flavors and spices to a dish and coming away with something that defies your expectations and, in some ways, rivals or surpasses the products you were borrowing from in the first place. Luckily for developer EA Redwood Shores, “Dead Space” is much more of the latter than the former, a triumph in the field of survival horror and a game that no one should miss out on during this pre-holiday influx of top-grade titles.
The title borrows heavily from some heavy hitters in gaming’s history: the atmosphere is ripped straight out of “Metroid Prime,” though in a more mature and gory setting. Your manipulation of items through the use of telekinesis is very much like having “Half-Life 2″‘s gravity gun at your disposal, especially since anything you grasp with your suit’s powers can be utilized to slow and injure the enemies that give chase.
Cut scenes come from the in-game engine, which allows your character able to walk around the area freely much like Gordon Freeman did in both Half-Life titles. Enemies pop out of corners and from behind you, much like in “Doom 3”-mercifully though, your meager flashlight comes from your weapon, meaning you can both shoot and see at the same time. The balance between action and survival horror is something anything who has played “Resident Evil 4” knows well, especially late in the game when everything except for enemies to dispose of is at a premium.
You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who is supposed to be on the mining ship Ishimura in order to do some maintenance. His name comes from a combination of science-fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke-the developers at Redwood Shores have impeccable taste in sci-fi, if you could not tell by now-and, much like the aforementioned Freeman, ends up being pretty useful when his back is against the wall against mysterious creatures looking to cut his mortal coil. He’s placed in an incredibly gory setting, one that helps to make the atmosphere more mature than the titles it borrows ideas from.
After you are attacked by the Necromorphs, the alien creatures who seem to be all over the ship, you and the surviving crew of the shuttle you came in on attempt to get the Ishimura working once again, while holding off the creatures in order to stay alive long enough to accomplish this task. Clarke is also looking for his girlfriend, who was on board the mining ship and is seen via video in the opening sequence prior to landing the shuttle.
One of the first things you may notice when you gain control of Isaac is that there is no on-screen menu. Your health is on the back of your suit, or “rig”; your remaining rounds for your current weapon are displayed via hologram when you take aim and your inventory is accessed in real-time via hologram as well. There is a shortcut button that is easily accessed in order to use health while in the midst of battle, so as long as you remember to hit that you won’t be killed while rummaging through your inventory, but it helps to keep you immersed in the experience and puts you further into that survival horror feeling.
This game is gorgeous; yes, it’s full of colors from the darker end of the color spectrum, but that makes sense given the whole thing takes place in space in a half-destroyed space ship. Almost everything is well detailed, and the attention paid to Isaac’s suit and movements is delightful and is something you will notice throughout the game. The enemy creatures are designed wonderfully as well; you will catch yourself admiring the art design and genuine frightful nature of the beasts as they sprint towards you for the first time, before remembering that yes, you need to mangle them-and fast-if you want to live to admire later variations.
There are various ways for Isaac and the Necromorphs to die, and you will more than likely get a chance to view a few of these on your first play through. Many of them are too good to be spoiled by a review, so you will have to trust me when I say that you will at least be entertained when you fail to survive a mission. These deaths are as gory and detailed as anything you can do to the Necromorphs-and this is game where your right trigger defaults as a “melee curbstomp” button.