Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Age rating: 18
Release date: October 14, 2008
Electronic Arts hasn't got a particularly good reputation for producing original games. Every year we get lots of sequels to EA's sports and racing titles, so it was nice to hear that it was putting its financial muscle behind a brand new franchise. The result is Dead Space, an over-the-shoulder survival horror game set on board an empty mining ship. If all that sounds a little bit familiar, that's because Dead Space is a number of games and films rolled into one. It plays like Resident Evil 4, it looks like Doom 3, it moves along like Bioshock and it reads like Event Horizon. Be that as it may, Dead Space shouldn't be ignored, because it borrows the best bits from its influences and adds a few nice touches of its own.
The game begins with a team of engineers responding to a distress call from a space ore mining ship. You board the ship but find no signs of life. As Isaac Clarke - an engineer - you pop into the next room to fix something, when all of a sudden the lights go out and the things that go bump in the night appear. Separated from your team, you must make your way through mazy corridors, repair broken machinery and unlock doors in order to survive and reunite with your comrades. As you go you'll find Bioshock-style audio logs, which more often than not detail the dying moments of the former crew members while explaining the origins of the bloodthirsty aliens.
As previously mentioned, the gameplay is similar to Resident Evil 4. The camera is mounted over your shoulder and you hold the L1 button to aim your weapon and R1 to shoot. The enemies come thick and fast, but despite this, gamers should beware - it is still a survival horror game and ammo needs to be conserved. The conservation of ammo makes combat very interesting. Strategies such as freezing the enemies and then bashing them with your weapon become very important. Other strategies such as shooting canisters and using a gravity style gun on alien body parts come in handy, especially when the game forces you to clear a room full of aliens before you can move on.
The aliens themselves aren't particularly unlike anything you've seen before, but they are well realised and scuttle towards you with a real sense of hunger and purpose. As soon as you pick up your weapon you are confronted by a blood-scrawled message on the wall, saying "Cut off their limbs". The limb-slicing element is an important part of the Dead Space experience. Enemies must be slowed and weakened before you can kill them and the only way to do this is by aiming for their limbs and slicing them off. Sometimes the enemy will adapt to their amputations and sans arms and legs will discover new ways to travel towards you at speed.
The slicing of limbs isn't the only nice new feature the game offers. With a press of the L2 button, the in-game HUD is projected as a 3D hologram in front of your character. Not only does this look good, but it is an efficient and easy-to-use way of presenting all of the relevant information. Another nice touch is the objective trail, which can be bought up by clicking the R3 button. When pressed, a blue trail appears in front of your character which presents the route you must take in order to reach your objective. This is a simple touch that has been lacking from many corridor-based shooters. The amount of backtracking would often prove a chore without this feature, but fortunately the designers have addressed the issue. Another minor, but welcome, touch is the lack of a traditional health bar. Instead, Isaac has a lighting system on the back of his suit that gets gradually smaller as you take damage. Again, this isn't a major gameplay mechanic, but rather a small touch that makes the game look and feel a little bit more immersive.
The graphics in Dead Space are a great example of how the next generation can handle survival horror games. Everything looks great. The shadow effects add a great deal to the atmosphere and the industrial surroundings do legitimately look like a working environment gone wrong - complete with tools and boxes scattered about the place. The characters also look smooth and life-like, although for some reason Isaac looks like a bounty hunter from Star Wars instead of the ordinary mechanic he's supposed to be. The sections outside of the ship also look very detailed and show that there is a little bit more to Dead Space than corridors.
Despite including outdoor sections, it's the abundance of corridors where Dead Space goes wrong. The outdoor anti-gravity sections are great when you get to them, but they are too scarce. Most of the game plays out in similar (albeit very well drawn) locations. It is very reminiscent of Doom 3 in this aspect, but for the wrong reasons. Considering there is over ten hours of gameplay here, you will get to the end and be sick and tired of the sight of corridors. Perhaps a shorter, slightly more focused game would have been better. The designers would probably suggest that anything other than a confined corridor environment would feel less claustrophobic - and in many respects they would be right - but with a game that borrows so heavily from other sources it would be nice if they came up with something slightly more original to add variety to the locations.
The zero-gravity sections, as welcome as they are, also come at a price. They can be a bit annoying, especially when having to navigate smaller leaps because you are unable to jump to other sections. The camera also becomes a bit of an issue in these sections. It can be quite restrictive and sometimes causes you to suffer surprise attacks due to your limited perspective.
The complaints with this game are fairly minor and it has to be said that EA's Redwood Studios has done a great job in creating a title that can constantly make you jump and hold your interest (despite lacking variety) for such a long time. Knowing EA this will probably get a sequel, and it will be interesting to see what they add to a game that has little in the way of gameplay issues, but a lot in the way of unoriginality. If you're looking for a game to play this Halloween then you won't go far wrong with this, and even though you'll have seen it all before it will still make you jump. Just remember to shoot the limbs.
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