Dead Space Review 22/06/2010

Dead Space is the new benchmark for survival horror games. Utterly brilliant in almost every way.

Dead Space always looked intriguing whilst I followed its development but it’s so hard to know whether such games will be any good, especially in the survival horror genre where games like Resident Evil reign supreme. It’s all very well throwing vast amounts of blood at you but the amount of gore can’t be a measure of the amount of pleasure you get from a gaming experience. Dead Space aims to go down a different route however, creating a feeling of fear and dread and being something more than a space zombie/mutant shoot-em up. In this game, set in the 25th century, you play an unlikely hero, Issac Clarke, a humble space ship repair engineer with a small crew who are flying out to the furthest reaches of the solar system to respond to a distress call by the USG Ishimura. The Ishimura was the very first of a class of space ship called planet crackers, which means they go to other worlds and moons and tear them to pieces bit by bit in the search for minerals and fuels in general. This vast mining ship was mid planet crack when something went seriously wrong and it called for help. Clarke and a small crew onboard the USG Kellion, arrive at the Ishimura’s last known location to find the ship structurally intact but with no power and no one answering their radio transmissions. The automated docking guidance system malfunctions when they attempt to land on the Ishimura and the Kellion crashes into the dock. The crew survive but the Kellion is broken beyond repair. As they make their way into the Ishimura they soon discover that not one crew member is anywhere to be found, and signs of a struggle and panic are everywhere. Issac and his colleagues are then attacked by a grotesque mutated crew member, called a necromorph, that brutally kills everyone. Issac, Hammond, the security chief, and a technician called Daniels escape, but Issac is separated. What follows is a long and terrifying journey through the small tight corridors of this vast and broken ship where horrific mutated crew members and epically huge repulsive beasts are constantly trying to tear you limb from limb, the whole time Issac is trying to find his girlfriend, who was an Ishimura crew member, discover what the hell happened here and ultimately escape. The story is far deeper than it initially appears, with a government conspiracy, a crooked captain, illegal mining operations, discovery of alien organisms, a strange religious artefact and several other crazy twists that keep the tension building and has your nerves on a knife edge until the end.

What’s good?

It is possibly the most terrifying game ever. Obviously fear is hard to quantify, by generally being opinion based, for example, I do not fear snakes or mice but a lot of people do. Dead Space amplifies a feeling of dread by being more subtle than the obvious copious amounts of gore. Of course it spills blood, organs and limbs constantly as Issac has to butcher everything that moves but it’s the subtle stuff that makes this very scary. From the truly terrifying opening sequence, where you get chased by screaming necromorphs down a pitch black corridor whilst completely unarmed, the feeling of not being safe at any point never leaves. Even when you get a weapon it never lets up. It does this by never really allowing the game to pause, even when you are at a shop, or viewing your inventory the game doesn’t stop and you are still open for attack. Often the horrific beasts that roam the ship will attack you when you least expect it, from all angles. They will burst out of ventilation shafts behind you, from the ceiling on top of you, come screaming out of locked doors at the end of a corridor, from absolutely everywhere and you have to constantly have your wits about you. You will be persistently forced into narrow corridors and small rooms where you will be stuck for a certain time in a confined space while shrieking beasts drop from the ceiling one by one. As I say, it is more subtle fear than simple blood and guts and quick cheap moments that make you jump. That stuff is there but it is just the starter. The real terror comes from working on an upgrade bench, to turn to your right and a multi-limbed beast that produces copious amounts of slobber, is standing next to you about to attack. Having severed a repulsive mutant’s legs it starts to crawl towards you with its arms along the floor, still crying for your blood, whilst you frantically reload your weapon. How about being stuck in a small room, with dwindling ammo, trying to keep at bay a mutant that cannot be killed, merely slowed down by blowing off its arms and legs, which it will regenerate shortly after? Finding dismembered crew members that are still alive, but then commit suicide in horrific ways in front of you, clearly driven mad by fear? It is the most panic inducing, feeling of dread and vulnerability enhancing, claustrophobic stuff of nightmares and your first play through will be one of the most inch by inch excruciating and terrifying experiences in gaming. But I assure you, it is brilliant fun, incredibly exciting and deeply satisfying when getting through everything Dead Space throws at you.

The action is fantastically paced and incredibly inventive. “Action” is possibly not the best word as it invokes thoughts of “Modern Warfare” but Dead Space does deliver it in its own unique way in spades. Firstly the necromorphs have to be killed in a specific way which is severing their limbs. The problem is, is that they are already dead, so you can blow off their heads, punch huge holes in their chests and it wont stop them, which adds to the fear factor. It’s in cutting off their arms and legs where you will defeat them basically disabling their movements and attacks. I’m not sure this has been done before, but it adds a new dimension to Dead Space as you constantly have to aim for the limbs, and even if you blow off both legs they often still come at you crawling along the floor. Being dead, this means they will also come at you in any situation, even when you’re in a vacuum or zero gravity. Issac’s space suit allows him to survive in a space, but only for a short time until his oxygen runs out but the necro’s will still attack then, but it is much more eerie and quiet when in a vacuum as all you can hear is Issac breathing. There are also areas with zero gravity where you are kept on the ground by your magnetic boots (which come off and on automatically) and you can leap to any surface, often fighting monsters on a ceiling or vertical wall. It’s disorientating but adds more fear as the enemy can literally drop down on you from above and generally come at you from any angle. There are several scenes where you will have to man anti meteorite guns to blast away unwanted things hitting the ship or a beast the size of a mansion. You will also get thrust into cut scenes, where you will round a corner and a huge tentacle will grab Issac’s leg and slowly pull him towards certain death, so you have to quickly shoot it in a specific place before you are mercilessly killed. It is not relentless but it constantly keeps the tension building and keeps you guessing what is coming round the next corner.

The weapons and tools are awesome. There is only one gun in the whole game, a military assault rifle, which is basically a futuristic machine gun, that makes possibly the most awesome noise ever, but it is not the best weapon. What you have instead is mining equipment, but before you laugh, this is 25th century deep space mining equipment, massive industrial looking lasers, saws and cutting tools designed to hack up the toughest of deep space moon rock. Taking one of these to a person, even a horrifically mutated one is going to cause damage and that it does. You get a basic plasma cutter initially, which is like a small laser shot gun, but you will soon unlock bigger and better equipment. There is the mighty line gun, a much bigger and more powerful version of the plasma cutter that basically will sever through anything it fires at, but has limited ammo. The fantastically destructive contact beam, which is designed to fire a charged up bolt of energy that will burst a piece of moon rock to bits and easily splatters grotesque monsters into molecules. The evil ripper, which fires spinning saw blades that literally hack the enemy into any shape you want. The force gun (which I didn’t particularly like to be honest) that is designed to blast things away from you and the classic flame thrower. All these weapons offer Issac inventive ways of fending off necromorphs and putting them down for good. Issac also gets some cool futuristic tools to help him through this nightmare. There is a stasis unit that slows down time on specific objects, which is used to repair parts of the ship, but also can be used on enemies so you can blow legs and arms off more accurately. He also has a kinesis module that can be used to pick impossibly heavy items to simply remove them from his path or, more enjoyably, hurl them at charging necromorphs. You can even combine the two, by using stasis on a necro, blowing off an arm with razor sharp bone on it, then use kinesis to grab that arm and blast it back at the necro. You can be as inventive as you like when it comes to splattering mutant space monsters all over the ship.

Necromorphs are a brilliant and challenging enemy. There is huge influence from the films “The Thing”, “Alien” and “Event Horizon” in this game, and the result is a seriously intimidating and panic inducing enemy. They look repulsive for a start, barely recognisable as once human, with large knife like bone structures jutting out their arms, often with bits of human heads and other limbs hanging off them. The normal guys look mainly like mutated people and generally walk towards you screaming, which although scary is nothing compared to what Dead Space throws at you later on. There are also small creepy looking babies that burst tentacles from their backs and shoot projectiles at you. Things with no legs and large yellow explosive sacks on one of their arms, which are basically suicide troops that if get anywhere near you will try and clobber you with their mutated arm and explode Issac into little bits. Dog like creatures with no legs and a long spine like tail with spikes on it, that hurl themselves at you from afar through the air. Often you won’t know they are there until they fly out the darkness teeth and claws ready. Then there is the terrifying mutated soldiers which move at lightning speed and constantly twitch and spasm (The first time one of these comes at you, you are going to shit yourself) and lots of hideous multi tentacle beasts that nearly always come sprinting at you screaming. They are horrible. Dead Space also goes for epic boss battles as well where you have to fight a huge blob the size of a house called the Leviathan (why does every game these days have to have a boss called a “leviathan”?) an enormous beast that you have to blow to pieces with anti asteroid cannons and the end of game boss is the size of a sky scraper, with as many tentacles, mouths, teeth and ways to slice Issac up you can think of. Necromorphs are unlike anything you will have encountered in any game before and will scare, intimidate and challenge the whole way through. Its dam good fun blasting their arms and legs off though.

The story is fascinating and brilliantly detailed. The story is really intriguing in Dead Space and clearly has not been thought up in a lunch break. You gather clues of what’s happened on the Ishimura as you go through the ship in text, audio or video format and it will keep the story building until the end. It’s impossible really for me to comment on the story without ruining everything, but rest assured it certainly puts most of the current Hollywood dross to shame. There’s lots of familiar themes such as how heartless and inhumane big faceless corporations are, mans inhumanity towards man, how religion derives absolute power and corrupts all and several other things that give Dead Space far more depth and intrigue than the simple bullet fest it has so cleverly avoided.

The graphics are particularly fantastic. It is possibly the best looking game ever. Even though it came out in 2008 and we have had games such as Resident Evil 5, Modern Warfare, Uncharted 2 and many other visually imperious titles, Dead Space still stands out. As is always the case in visually excellent games it’s in the details, the finer things, that really make it stand out. When you kill a necromorph, for example, take a look at it and you will see the level of detail it goes into. Teeth, eyes, blood, veins everything is accounted for. The insides of the Ishimura is all incredibly well thought out, with decks for medical, engineering, engine rooms, plant life (for oxygen), habitation decks, a bridge, all the aspects of a vast deep space vessel have been thought of and executed flawlessly visually. It really is stunning.

As always, there is lots to customise and upgrade. Not having an upgrading and customising experience in a game these days is clearly heresy, and Dead Space is no different. Firstly there are shops scattered around the Ishimura where you can spend credits or sell unwanted equipment for money. Credits, ammo and various tools are generally found scattered around the ship, so make sure you always have a good look round, and the store is the place to spend it. You only find one weapon, the plasma cutter, and every other tool of decapitation has to be bought from the store. You can also buy further ammo, as on the harder difficulties you will not find enough scattered around the ship to keep you going, and extra medical supplies. There is also the mandatory upgraded suits which offer more armoured protection and larger inventories and you can store things such as additional weapons (as you can only have four at any time) or first aid kits etc that you want to save for later. Then everything you buy can be upgraded using workbenches. These are also scattered around the ship and although you can’t buy upgrades as such, you apply power nodes to them. These are fairly rare and expensive to buy, so don’t waste them, and can be used to upgrade your weapons to make them more powerful or hold more ammo, upgrade your suit to make the oxygen tank bigger, give you extra life etc, and make your stasis unit last longer. As predictable as all this is, it’s incredibly necessary, executed very well, there is a noticeable difference when you apply greater damage to a weapon for example, and you will never be able to upgrade everything even after several play throughs, so its incentive to keep on playing.

What’s bad?

You don’t get to keep any of your upgrades if you play again on a different difficulty. Dead Space does not do a lot wrong, but one thing that did irritate me was the fact if you play again on a different difficulty you have to start from scratch. It takes at least 3 or 4 goes to get all your weapons and tools upgraded to a fairly decent level, by that time you will probably be finding your current difficulty a bit too easy. But if you try a harder difficulty you lose the lot and have to start over. Admittedly this is better than losing everything every time you play through but it just seems such an odd choice. Also, it might just be my copy of the game, but on several occasions it allowed me to keep my fully upgraded suit but got rid of all my weapons. I can only assume it’s a glitch or something, but it’s a strange decision nevertheless.

All heads up displays are totally useless except your inventory. On the heads up display you have a map, two objectives/mission pages and your inventory but not at any point will you need to look at anything other than the inventory. “Big deal” your thinking, but it is a big deal as, whenever you hit select, it always takes you directly to the map and you have to hit R2 to click to the inventory. This may not sound so bad but you can’t use things such as first aid kits or stasis pack recharges until you go into the inventory and select to use them. When a horde of psychopathic mutant killing machines are trying to hack you to bits, as remember the game does not stop when you look at menus etc, the last thing you need is to have to switch from your map every time. The map itself is incomprehensible to look at and why do you need two objectives screens? You never need to know any of this stuff anyway as you have an automatic guidance system by pressing R3. This shows a line on the floor of where to go next and points Issac in the right direction automatically, which is a bit annoying, but the point is you can never really get lost anyway. They just should not have bothered with it, made it an inventory only or at least have the map etc somewhere else.

Several of the weapons are not great and their secondary fire is crap. Considering you can only carry 4 weapons at a time, you will quickly realise that the only ones worth having are the plasma cutter, line gun, assault rifle and flame thrower. The force gun seemed so utterly useless to me as all it does is emit a blast, that doesn’t really harm enemies, just sends them flying, where they will get up again and continue their onslaught. Only if it is fully upgraded will it do anything great but you are far better off severing limbs, which it doesn’t do. The ripper as well is not much good, as fun as it is to slice monsters up, because it takes too long and you have to be really close up to use it. Getting close to these monsters is a bad idea as they can generally only attack you up close. The flame thrower, although vital against some enemies, has a lousy range as well and takes too long to kill. The whole time you are incinerating a necro it will attack you, so it’s not good. All weapons have a secondary fire as well which is not much help either, particularly the assault rifle which sprays bullets in a circular motion and always hits bugger all. There’s nothing here that takes anything away from the game, but they certainly are not great.

Conclusion

Dead Space is not perfect, but it is so close it seems daft to pick up on the few small things that irritate. If you like survival horror games, sci-fi games, scary games, gory games, games with fantastic stories, games with lots of varying action that looks fantastic, then Dead Space is for you. Infact, if you have a PS3 and don’t give this a go you’re an idiot. It is unbelievably good. As terrifying as it is, its incredibly thrilling blasting the legs off a grotesque looking space mutant as it sprints towards you, screaming and slashing its knife like arms and it simply just executes everything incredibly well and is very well thought out. I can’t say enough good things about it. Its closest competitor is Resident Evil 5, an excellent game, but I found the story in Dead Space a lot more interesting, it’s much gorier, much scarier, and the control scheme is not nearly as infuriating. If you have not played Dead Space yet buy it immediately, and if you don’t, get rid of your PS3 as clearly don’t like games! CA.

Summary

Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.0

Very easy to start off with, control scheme is very instinctual, and there’s lots of help menus that pop up and guide you. Will take a few play throughs to get used to the panic inducing terror though (which is a good thing).

Is the story any good? – 10.0

Possibly the best in gaming I have played so far. Nothing cheesy, uninteresting, or expected anywhere, just pure intrigue and excellently thought out plot.

How does it look? – 9.5

Again, possibly the best in gaming so far. Just check out your environments and the finer details on everything. It’s not perfect, as it does have very occasional slow down when lots happening on the screen at once, but generally it’s a visual feast.

How does it sound? – 9.0

No music as such, but the sound effects are immensely creepy and executed excellently. The shriek of a necromorph will send shivers down your spine and all voice acting is spot on.

Is it good to play? – 9.5

Very scary, lots of moments that make you jump, and it often goes out of it’s way to make it even scarier. Ever played a game that’s focused on severing limbs? Me neither, but blasting horrific space mutants into tiny pieces, using deep space mining equipment is incredibly good fun, as well as the varying action set pieces throughout, from defending the ship from a meteor shower, to blasting a beast the size of a house, it’s all seriously exhilarating stuff. Some of the weapons are a bit lame, but it takes nothing away from the entertainment value.

When will I get bored? – 9.5

It’s a single player campaign only, but it will take a really long time to do initially. Realistically you could do it in 12 hours or so, but you will be so petrified the first time round, doing everything inch by inch, so it will take far longer. Even when you’re done it takes quite a few goes to fully upgrade all your equipment and buy/use all weapons so lots of incentive to keep playing. I just wish you could keep your equipment and upgrades if you decide to try a harder difficulty.

OVERALL – 9.5

Review created by C. Armstrong.

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