When Dead Space was released in October of 2008, I had no real desire to try the game out. I was working on a limited budget, and I had always been happy with Resident Evil’s place in the gaming world as the go-to game for survival horror. When I finally began pulling in more money and the price of Dead Space had dropped, I figured it was time to give the game a try and see what this game, which is soon to be receiving a sequel, was all about. It wasn’t long before I realized that Dead Space was bringing something that a lot of games in the survival horror series had never brought before, and that is survival horror itself.
Constantly low on ammo and scavenging through limited supplies, it’s Issac Clarke’s job to find out what is going on with the mining vessel named the Ishimura. A distress signal has been received and a team dispatched to find out what’s going on; to make matters worse Issac’s wife is one of the crew members of the Ishimura. You are on a quest to dig through the remnants of the mining ship to find out what went wrong on it’s journey and to find Issac’s wife. You soon realize that something is very wrong and it isn’t just a screwed up communication relay, why would you have bought the game if it was, but it appears as if the the ship has been overrun by…aliens. Here is where your mission begins, and if you can’t survive the horror it may be where your mission ends.
Dead Space does a lot of things great, but its strongest points are the setting and the story. When you are thrown into the action you quickly feel the hopelessness of the situation and an eerie sense of solitude all around you. To make matters worse med-paks and ammo are a delicacy. The ammo to enemy ratio barely favors you, leaving a small margin of error. The Ishimura looks, feels, and is desolate, but your company is kept by the necromorphs that have infested the ship and all of its crew. The impression of your weakness is only intensified by the sound of the necromorphs resonating in the walls and air ducts above you. As you navigate the area you soon find yourself confronted by the disgusting creatures and, with plasma cutter in hand, begin blasting away at its limbs, ripping it to shreds as it crawls towards you. This is the theme of the game and the tactic you will use for each enemy.
I believe that “delimbing” your enemies is one of the biggest things that set Dead Space apart from other survival horror games and shooters alike. Most players are familiar with pulling off precise headshots or giving baddies a shotgun shell to the chest; but quick kills in Dead Space require you to defeat your enemies by ripping them apart limb by limb. Having a moderately large arsenal at your disposal and giving gamers weapons that are innovative and clever are what set Dead Space apart as a shooter. The fact that you are on a mining vessel gives you access to many of the tools that you may find in such a place. Some of the weapons you will run across are a plasma cutter, the line gun, and even a force gun. Each gun in Dead Space gives you a line of fire, much like the laser pointer effect in games like Resident Evil 5, which shows you the range of your shot. Aiming your sights at the arms and legs of your enemies and firing away allows you to delimb them and in turn slow them down or kill them. Throughout the game you will find nodes which can be used at work benches to add upgrades to armor, weapons, and special abilities such as stasis. This helps keep the inventory items to a minimum, and gives the player a sense of customization that works very well with different styles of play.
Navigating through the world and inventory is a breeze with HUD and gameplay controls. Finding direction to your next objective is as easy as clicking in the right analog stick, which brings up a path showing you to your destination. The inventory menu is also innovative; without having to take a break from the action you can pull up a “holographic” menu to sort through inventory or check your map. While this may sound like a pretty cool idea, it falls short because some important items in the game can only be accessed through the inventory screen and not by using hot-keys. When a battle is getting heated and you have used up all of your stasis you can not simply press a button to refill with a stasis pack, you will need to pull up your inventory and manually select the stasis pack and activate it in order to refill. This is frustrating considering that the whole time you are trying to navigate through a menu, you are having to avoid getting slaughtered by necromorphs. It was a poor design idea by Visceral, and we all hope they fix the issue in Dead Space 2.
While the team at Visceral may know how to make intriguing story lines and atmospheres, they fall short when it comes to supporting them with engaging missions. While you are on your journey in the Ishimura you will find that most of your missions and objectives involve going from one place to another to turn something on or grab an item. Though this may not be a bad thing, it doesn’t do anything that sets itself apart from other games. I would like to have seen some interesting objectives that involved a few more puzzles or missions that required you to protect a point of interest.
If you were to mute the television while you played, there would be very few horrifying moments, but crank that volume up and you will find yourself white-knuckled clenching the controller as you sit in a puddle of your own urine. Sounds of necromorphs crawling through the ventilation shafts will give you the feeling that you are never safe no matter how close you are to a save point or store. Mysterious music mixed with moments of pure adrenaline make the perfect combo to keep you on the edge of your seat and in constant fear. The graphic quality plays on the aspect of fear as well by using beautifully executed textures that play on the hopelessness of the situation at hand.
The game is well worth checking out if you haven’t explored it yet. For those who are fans of the survival horror genre, this is a definite must buy. Though it may not be on my list of favorite games of all time, it has helped define standards for the survival horror genre and seems to be leading the way in what may become the best series in the genre’s history. Dead Space is definitely a game that you will be revisiting long after the completion of your first journey.