Dead Space was something that I originally heard of a long time ago when I was going through videos for something to watch and it ended up sounding like the perfect mix of survival horror and sci-fi. The sequel had just come out, so inherently, I delved deeper into the rabbit hole to see where it all started; and that’s exactly how we ended up with this latest addition to the Review Vault.
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Release: October 13th, 2008
The main menu is nothing to be marvelled at but for 2008 there wasn’t a lot to expect or any sort of current standards. Although there isn’t a lot to behold, the options menu is plenty good enough, with the ability to cap and uncap framerates, adjustable sliders for volume and even has the ability to run at 4k, something which some games don’t even do now. The only problem that I ran into was some horrendous mouse smoothing, but this would only be apparent on the PC version and because of this, I recommend using a controller.
Hosting an amazing cinematic opening to greet you to the experience that you’re about to go through shows how beautiful that this game is. Yes, I do mean present tense, because it still looks great once it has been brought up to the current generation resolutions. Story wise, you control Isaac Clarke, an engineer who has been sent on a mission to investigate a distress signal that the USG Ishimura, a ‘Planet-Cracker’ ship, has sent out. More importantly, you volunteered for the mission since your girlfriend, Nicole, is onboard. On docking, you find out that everything is basically “Dead on Arrival”, with lovely gore, scribbles and other senses of distress littering the floors and ceilings. If you’re anything like me, you’ll go around picking up the audio logs, listening to them for back-story and eventually following directions and turning systems back online. This is when you finally get introduced to the culprit of this massacre; the Necromorphs. However, with nothing to aid you in a fight, you can take one look at that handsome chap and then make a swift exit to keep your head firmly attached to the desired shoulders that Isaac was born with. In the next couple of rooms you’ll find the most memorable weapon in the entire franchise; the Plasma Cutter, with the loving blood hand painting of “cut off their limbs”. Even in their last moments, the crew are still being helpful, which is always nice. Service with a smile!
I adore the gameplay of Dead Space. It’s tight and responsive, animations are fluid whilst still being snappy, controls are mapped well enough and they won’t be forgotten once a bit of time has been invested. Gunplay is on point as each weapon feels like it belongs to an engineer and isn’t some obscure creation. Each weapon also has an alternative firing mode for when the moment calls for it, so even if it may seem like there’s a lack of weaponry, each can serve multiple purposes. You also get a Kinesis module to give Isaac the ability to pull and move items to your advantage such as ripping spikes off of downed enemies to impale the next and to also solve puzzles from time to time. It’s the same deal with Stasis system, allowing you to slow doors and any other fast moving contraption or creature.
The RIG system is used for the in-game HUD and it’s one of the best things to have been included for extra immersion. It shows your health meter and Stasis on the back of Isaac as blue gauges, with ammo and inventory being shown as a screen that Isaac controls naturally, meaning the games runs without having big blocks at the bottom of your screen dominating it. Having a system like this doesn’t pull you out of the experience that you’re having but it presents enough information without having to go out your way to check anything, like vitals. Navigation around the ship is easy whilst using the locator as it works as a breadcrumb sort of trail, so finding your way to the next objectives is extremely easy. If you avoid using the locator and make your own way around exploring every inch of the Ishimura, you’ll be rewarded with crucial items for survival and upgrades.
Dead Space might have the most gruesome enemies and splatter systems that I’ve encountered and it’s beautiful. Forcing you to dismember your foes feels like it’s straight out of The Evil Dead and is something that definitely didn’t get boring in the 9 hours that it took me to complete this game. It’ll take longer than that on a first-time playthrough, mind you. The Necromorphs also remind me a lot of the Deadites because of the way they have to be taken down as well the fact that they’re so unrelenting, it really does make them feel like a force to reckoned with. Whilst the normal Necromorphs do provide ample challenge and fear factor, the feeling did wear off for me after awhile. However, new enemies quickly come into play, like a raging tank creature, although the creepiness of Dead Space reached a new level when I met these slender, more humanoid characters later in the game; they had this horrible feeling aura about them. A.I wise, they’re pretty clever. The enemies constantly tried to cut me off in multiple scenarios when I was trying to run away as my ammo count was lowering, which is a crucial feature to have a believable and frightening enemy.
Whilst all of this sounds like an unrelenting torrent, ‘soft’ saves are present so you don’t end up losing half an hour’s worth of progress if you forgot to save and end up being served up like a fresh main course at the five-star Necromorph restaurant. However, I still recommend using the manual save points since it’s a survival horror. I played this on Hard, like all my games, and the difficult really held up on multiple occasions; I did feel myself boil up a bit in certain scenarios but I’m aware that not everybody would run through at hard for the first time. The boss battles are up there with my some of my favourites, the Zero-G fight was on such a large scale that it required timing with the use of previously learnt techniques and this is where this game really shined through. Jumping around whilst dodging attacks in Zero-G with body parts floating around the area really makes this game worthy of the Dead Space title.
EA really does deserve a massive pat on the back for producing this game as it feels like a perfect formula for a horror game. An extra plus is that it has the backtracking element that has been in a lot of previous gen titles but without it ever feeling forced or necessary. The setting for Dead Space actually feels believable, for sci-fi anyway. Areas have been barricaded off with visible signs of distress and areas have been littered with items being knock over or last rites etched into walls. When it comes to horror, it succeeds fantastically simply because the shadows are perfectly placed to aid or throw you off, flickering lights and creaking vents make your hairs tingle and thus this makes the atmosphere the overall king of this game.
All of this has been backed by a brilliant sound design. Each gun has a distinctive sound and noise when hitting an enemy in and out of space, you didn’t think we were going to stay inside the comfortable corridors of the Ishimura, did you? Voice acting is brilliant and all of the audio bounces from ear to ear when using headphones. Probably the most unsettling part in the entire game is the singing or whispering that can be faintly heard in the background. Since I was playing this in the early hours of the morning, I’ve never felt my body tighten up so much in a long time.
I’ve never been this tense when playing a game. Every little noise had me stop in my tracks and wait for something to come out and leap on top of me; my button mashing skills were ready. I never really ran anywhere when exploring the Ishimura because I was tense about running head first into a fresh batch of danger. Luckily, you don’t have to dread every single combat encounter because there is always something new and enjoyable. When looking back at older survival horror titles, this was a genuine issue for me as a lot of times; zombies didn’t feel like they were a big threat and you had to wait until later into the game to find some decent, however, that’s when enemies become more difficult and still not that enjoyable. The story is pretty solid but it has definitely been done before as it’s the typical “don’t play with something you don’t know” type of alien origin. Taking away the soft saves that I mentioned earlier would be a good way to add to the fear of failure since, currently, you’re not punished in any way. You won’t have to play as cautiously as you could do and if this situation was a reality, it would be a given to have a careful step.
Dead Space came and completely reworked my thought process on survival horror games. The atmosphere is the true king here and it’s very reminiscent of older horror games such as Silent Hill. Ambient noise is where the main scares come and even though the game includes jump scares, they can get slightly tiresome after a while. Isaac feels like the perfect character to be in this situation; no previous combat experience and is simply just an engineer. It really puts across the sense of survival and how he has to adapt to be able to use the weaponry at his disposal. Combat feels fluid and houses a tonne of different options to use with each weapon. Overall, Dead Space is definitely up there and stands alongside the best of the best. It houses some amazing horror ambience along with great combat.