Dead Space

Okay, I lied. I was in the mood for a post, and my queue is seriously stacking up, so I decided to get on a public computer and write up a quick post. This one’s for Dead Space.
Dead Space is another new IP from EA, among the likes of Army of Two and Mirror’s Edge. It’s a survival horror game, and a good one at that. You play as Isaac Clarke, a mute engineer who arrives as part of a small maintenance crew visiting the USG Ishimura (a gigantic colony-class mining ship) for repairs. However, the group arrives to find the ship is not only in serious disrepair, but has been infested by something that’s turned most of the crew into zombie-like horrors.
The group soon learns however that it’s not a virus that struck the ship, but a race of hostile aliens that invaded from the planet the ship was mining. These aliens, known as Necromorphs, are capable of converting human corpses to increase their numbers. They are influenced by an ancient artifact known as the Marker, a large stone buried beneath the planet’s surface. The crew of Ishimura, believing the Marker to be a holy artifact of sorts, seek out the planet and extract the Marker. They quickly learn that the Marker was the only thing pacifying the deadly aliens hiding out on the planet, and once it’s removed, these creatures strike quickly and begin to spread.
Though this whole deal isn’t much of a concern for Isaac and the crew. Isaac joined the mission primarily with the hope of seeing his girlfriend Nicole once again (who was a crew member on the Ishimura), and the rest of the group is more concerned simply with surviving, and unfortunately that means the aliens trying to kill you are the least of your worries, for the moment. For example, the ship’s engines are out of fuel, and the gravity centrifuge is offline, meaning it won’t be long before it’s pulled out of orbit and crashes into the planet. Even more pressing of an issue is the asteroid belt the ship is headed for. The automatic cannons are offline, meaning the ship will likely be shredded to pieces by bombarding space rocks before long. Of course, once a few repairs are done, the crew realizes that the aliens are a much bigger problem than they initially estimated. Without the Marker to control them once more, the Necromorphs will continually spread, and eventually consume all other humans in the universe.
But Isaac’s an engineer, not a soldier. Nearly all of the weapons you use throughout the game are fashioned from typical tools of his trade, including a flame torch, hacksaw, and precision cutter. And his melee attacks are a joke, consisting of him flailing his arms about and curb stomping downed enemies into oblivion and beyond. Not only that, but the Necromorphs aren’t your typical enemies. Their warped physiology prevents shots to the head and torso from being at all effective, meaning they’ll keep going just fine even after being beheaded, for example. So you have to go for the limbs. Fortunately, as an engineer who’s used to cutting things, Isaac and his tools are suited to this. But these guys are persistent. Even after shooting their legs out (for example) from under them, still they persist, dragging themselves toward you with their arms.
Necromorphs come in varying flavors. There’s the little ones spawned from human babies, that shoot projectiles. There’s the tall and quick grunt enemies with large bone blades sticking out of their wrists. There’s the fat enemies filled to the brim with swarms of smaller bugs to further discourage you from aiming for the torso. And of course there’re the converters, which look like little pterodactyls but have face-hugging tentacles for conversion.
With enemies like these, of course Dead Space (and a name like that) must be a horror game. And it is quite scary. For the first hour or so. After the tutorial (which has a LOT of scripted events that are truly terrifying), the game quickly runs out of tricks, and becomes predictable.
Here’s a list of tips that outline some of the more noticeable patterns.
-If you encounter a dead necromorph you do not remember killing, it’s probably faking it.
-If an enemy falls after only losing one limb, or after a couple shots to the torso, it’s probably faking it.
-Make a mental note of all fan vents you encounter. Enemies have a shocking tendency to jump out of them.
-Be very wary of open areas. They almost always have ambushes waiting.
-You aren’t safe while using Benches or the Store. The game will personally remind you of this occasionally.
-Be wary of long corridors.
-When an enemy attacks, before even fighting it, consider turning around. 70% of the time a second enemy will be trying to attack you from behind.
-Long elevator rides are also known as ambushes waiting to happen.
-Keep your gun up. You can still pick up items and open doors while aiming, and enemies jump out at you ALL the time. Don’t even use the run button unless you’re backtracking or are sure you’re not going to run into something nasty.
Simply put, this isn’t a really scary game. Creepy, definitely (those flesh walls? Yikes). But not all that scary. But it’s also not an easy game. You’ll always be on the hunt for more ammo and money, and the entire game feels like a race to upgrade your weapons and equipment so you aren’t outpaced by the enemies (which also grow in toughness and numbers). Upgrading is done at the Bench (version 4.1), where you spend power nodes (which can be either found or bought for a lucrative price) to upgrade various aspects of your weapons and tools. You can upgrade your health, increase the clip capacity of your weapons, and enhance the effectiveness of your tech abilities, among many, many other things. Though there’s a shiny gold trophy for it, it’s impossible to fully upgrade all your stuff in one playthrough. Fortunately, there’s a convenient New Game+ feature that lets you replay the game with all your stuff and access to a powerful new suit.
Though the Metroid-like in game map and various side rooms (some of which are locked) gives off the feeling that Dead Space is based heavily on exploration, it’s actually quite linear. The Ishimura is divided into several departments, each of which are accessible using the tram system (once you get it up and running again in the first chapter). Each section of the ship serves as a chapter of the story, with you starting the next chapter as you get on the tram to head to the next area. Though you will revisit certain areas, it’s always for a totally different reason (and the place is often different, or you get to enter places you didn’t previously have access to), and rarely feels like backtracking. Breaking up the 3rd person shooting that makes up quite a bit of this game are a couple minigames to mix up the pace. These include a shooting gallery and a bit of Z-Ball (basketball in Zero-G gravity), as well as zero gravity sections.
Dead Space is also a a very well presented game. The graphics are crisp and easy on the eyes, and the lighting and shadows contribute significantly to the horror elements and overall “creepy” factor. Audio is done just as well. Though Isaac unfortunately doesn’t utter a single word (only minor sounds, like Link from the LoZ series), the small cast of other characters are, for the most part, well voiced and the BGM once again contributes perfectly to the intended atmosphere, with the game, with (for example) the game playing along when a necromorph plays dead by instantly calming the music, and then striking up with gusto once more when it springs back up to surprise you. Dead Space also runs beautifully, with no slowdown or freezing to speak of, and minimal glitches (I did once go back through a door to find the game had apparently failed to load the previous room, resulting in a blank world of black). The corpse physics can be a little wonky sometimes, though. Load times are few and far between, occuring only once a chapter and when you first load a save, but sometimes you’ll notice that doors take a little longer than usual to open, so the game probably does some “micro-loading” on a room-by-room basis.
Overall, Dead Space is a great game. It’s easy to see a lot of effort was put into it, though it’s not as scary as I thought it would be, and it’s difficult to identify with Isaac and his situation since he doesn’t speak or really show much emotion. The plot is paced well enough but beyond expanding on the background story, doesn’t really go far, ending with a pretty sudden cliffhanger. Replay value is surprisingly high, with the Platinum trophy requiring no less than 2-3 playthroughs, and plenty of upgrades to toy with. There’s even a New Game+ feature and a fourth Impossible difficulty setting. An 8.5/10.

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