Developed By: Visceral Games
Published By: Electronic Arts
Reviewed by Firedancer34
Facts and Stats:
Dead Space is a survival horror, third person shooter game that was released on October 14, 2008 for the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms and then October 20, 2008 for Windows. It is a single player game with no multiplayer capabilities. Dead Space was favorably received by the gaming community garnering high scores from various reviewers upon its release and netting several Game of the Year Awards, most notably for the excellent work Visceral did in developing Dead Space’s nightmarish environment. This game is rated M for its gore, violence, and language, and most definitely lives up to its rating.
Dead Space takes place in the future aboard a mining ship called the USG Ishimura which has been taken over by a virus that has caused many of the humans aboard to go insane and then turn into alien like beings called Necromorphs that slaughter the rest of the crew. The events that lead up to the game of Dead Space can be seen in the graphically animated film Dead Space: Downfall which was released on DVD on October 28, 2008. Dead Space: Extraction, which was released for the Wii gaming console on September 29, 2009 also leads up to events in the original Dead Space game. While one can play Dead Space without needing the background of Downfall or Extraction, the storyline in both help provide some interesting details that add to the complexity of the game’s story.
Dead Space begins from the eyes of our main protagonist, Isaac Clarke, who is an Engineer for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (CEC). Clarke and several others have been dispatched in the USG Kellion to investigate why the company has lost contact with one of their ‘planet-cracker’ ships, the USG Ishimura. As the teams attempts to dock with the Ishimura which appears to be dead in space, there is a malfunction with the Kellion’s guidance systems and they crash into the docking area of the Ishimura.
The team abandons their ship and head into the Ishimura to find out what happened to the crew and to find another ship they can use for transport once they are done with their mission. Shortly after arriving in the main terminal however, the team is attacked by nightmarish creatures and you - as Isaac- are separated from the remaining two survivors as you flee for your life. Despite the fact that the three survivors now have an idea of what happened to the crew, Isaac is determined to not only find a way off the ship, but to locate the whereabouts of his girlfriend who had been assigned as a medical officer aboard the Ishimura. He crosses paths with her throughout the game and she helps him in several tasks as the few survivors struggle to create a means of getting off the infested Ishimura, but they are always separated by distance.
Finding a means of escape proves to be no easy task, as Isaac must battle with system failures and the frightening creatures. Along his travels, Isaac begins to find audio and video logs that piece together the clues of what happened aboard the Ishimura that led to its downfall. (As a side note, the film Dead Space: Downfall follows the actions of Ishimura’s Security Chief and her team during the ship’s final bloody hours.) A massive religious cult known as The Church of Unitology has infiltrated every level of government and business. They learn that an artifact of high religious value can be found on a planet known as Aegis VII and so they arrange for the Ishimura, who is captained by one of their followers, to be sent to the planet under the guise of cracking the planet and mining it.
The artifact, known as the Marker, is found and then transferred to the Ishimura. Shortly after it’s transferred, mass hysteria ensues within the mining colony on the planet as people begin to go mad and become violent to the point of killing one other. Some time later, this event begins to manifest aboard the Ishimura as well, and the Captain cuts off contact with the colony. Meanwhile, an alien virus begins to take hold of the stricken colony and the dead are transformed into horrific creatures called Necromorphs. These Necromorphs overrun the colony and slaughter all but a few miners who make a desperate attempt to escape to the Ishimura by shuttle. Unfortunately, the Necromorph’s were already aboard the shuttle and they are killed just moments before reaching safety. The shuttle crashes into the Ishimura, thus releasing the Necromorphs.
Things rapidly degenerate aboard the Ishimura from there, as the Captain succumbs to the madness and then is accidentally killed by the CMO. The rest of the crew goes mad or are killed by the Necromorphs, and only the CMO, who is also an agent for the Church, manages to survive. Isaac battles his way through the ship, desperately trying to restore several critical systems so he and his two other teammates can escape. However we find out during the course of events that one is an agent of the Church who has been sent to secure the Marker, while the other is revealed to be a government agent who is also after the Marker for totally different reasons.
The insane CMO who has been less than helpful most of the time, reveals that if Isaac takes the Marker back to the colony it should disrupt the Hive Mind that controls the Necromorphs. It is a struggle, but Isaac manages to accomplish doing that, but ends up in a showdown with the government agent and the Hive Mind. Isaac escapes, but the last thing we see is him being attacked in his escape shuttle by a stow-away Necromorph and then the screen goes black.
Even though Dead Space is a third person shooter, it has some differences that make playing this game a rather unique experience. Most notably is the lack of a Heads Up Display which is standard in nearly every other shooter. A player must refer to the small display on their weapon to see how much ammunition they have left in a clip, and a small strip along Isaac’s spine indicates your health levels. If you wish to find out how much you have left in your backpack, you must pull up holographic image that will also show any logs you have collected and your current objective. The drawback to this is that it does not stop gameplay, so a player must choose carefully when they decide to refer to this.
There are several actions that are hot keyed, which makes restoring health or using your ‘stasis’ pack very convenient. Swapping weapons however, requires the use of the D-pad which most gamers will tell you is not always very accurate. Thankfully, as you select a new weapon a small hologram pops up and highlights what you have just selected to help confirm your weapon choice. Another bonus is that if you run out of ammo on one weapon, you will automatically be switched to the next one.
The weapons of the game are rather inventive as well. Since Isaac is an Engineer and not a trained soldier, he uses the tools at hand…literally. Because Visceral Games deviated from the normal variety of guns that one sees in most shooters, a player enjoys the unique style and effects that the various tools have as you cut through the enemies. Visceral was also very imaginative with the development of the Necro’s, not only in the many types and difficulty levels of each, but also in the manner in which a player has to ultimate kill each one. Dismemberment is the theme of this game, and a single enemy may require a number of skillfully placed shots in order to be killed. Both your weapons/tools and armor can be upgraded as you go throughout the game, and there are stores along the way in which you can purchase new items or replenish dwindling supplies. The level of difficulty that you choose determines not only how tough the enemies are to kill, but the amount of free items you come across, thus forcing you to make every shot count.
What is most notable about this game is the development of its environment: both the graphics and the sound. True to any well done Hollywood made horror fest, the game is dark, gritty and packed full of blood and gore. It also has all the sound elements that enhance the whole experience, and are what garnered that game some of its highest praise. Through much of the game, there are long moments of dead silence…which makes accidentally kicking a trash can and hearing it clatter down the hallway a startling experience. It also makes the skittering noises in the air ducts above your head accompanied by the brief, sudden blaring of the discordant brass and string soundtrack that much more intense. Two things you learn early on, are that the Necro’s almost always make a very loud and startling appearance, and keeping your back to the wall isn’t necessarily a sure bet to staying safe. They pop out of the walls, vents, floors and ceilings. Graphics were also well done, with vivid attention to the character development…along with the gore involved in their subsequent deaths. The lightening, color scheme, and overall environmental design all lend to enhancing the game’s creepy and terrifying experience.
Let me start by saying that I was not normally a fan of the horror genre. I had played a few and never really got into them. Then someone recommended F.E.A.R., and it broke the ice for me (that is another review to come). So when Dead Space came out, I didn’t disregard it completely just because it was a game in the horror genre. I’d been hearing the great reviews, my buddy down at Gamestop raved about it, and a few other friends suggested I try the free demo that LIVE was offering. So late one night, I sat in my dark room slightly bored and decided to download the demo and give it a try. Two minutes into the demo I put down the controller and went to fetch my roomie to share the experience with me.
We sat huddled on my bed in the dark, jumping, screaming and laughing at ourselves the whole time. I died a gruesome death far more times than I can remember as the demo throws about half the different types of Necro’s at you in this one single room. As I was just eschewing death out all around me in desperation it took me awhile to realize that maybe I shouldn’t be cutting that one Necro in half and releasing all those creepy little face huggers that were tearing me to shreds. Finally getting the hang of the weapons, and understanding that certain enemies had to be killed certain ways I finally clear the room and with a sigh of relief, I feel my body begin to relax and head for the door to leave the room of carnage…only to have about ten years of my life scared out of me as I am greeted by a ginormous Necro that proceeds to kill me in gruesome detail. Much screaming ensued, the controller went flying and yes, I admit my roomie and I found ourselves clinging to each other and laughing hysterically.
I HAD to have this game.
Dead Space reminded me of the first time I saw Aliens, where I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time. I white-knuckled the controller the entire time, and the ending left me trying to catch my breath as I came off an adrenaline high. While some aspects of the gameplay were a bit repetitive, they changed the environments frequently, each task had its own set of problem solving puzzles that kept you on your toes, and you never knew what kind of Necro they were going to throw at you next. This also wasn’t one of those times where the trailer or demo has the best part of the game and the rest of it sucks. It was good all the way through to the very end.
There were several design features that I loved in the game, the unique tools that were my weapons being one of them. Some I really loved and stuck with throughout the whole, but as with any game there were a few that were fun, but not really practical in most situations and thus a waste of precious slot space. I normally don’t like third person games, but the nature of this game makes that viewpoint critical as no place is safe. A hallway you just walked down and thought was clear, may suddenly be filled with Necro’s and you may only have a split second of warning as you see a claw reaching for you from behind. One feature that was my absolute favorite and saved me countless times, was the Stasis pack Isaac picks up early on, that allows a players to fire a stasis shot at rapidly oncoming Necro’s, freezing them long enough for you to take several less desperate and better aimed shots at them.
One thing I didn’t much care for was that if you pulled your menu up everything continued in real-time, thus leaving you vulnerable to yet another surprise attack. And considering you don’t have a HUD (which I was fine with) you end up accessing your menu fairly frequently throughout the game. While it’s more realistic I guess you could say, it would have been nice that one could pause the game whilst looking through their pack and taking a much needed break.
As I’ve said before, I love games with captivating storylines, and Dead Space is definitely steeped in mystery and intrigue as you piece together what happened. Not everyone is who you thought they were, and there is a wicked twist near the end of the game that had me staring at the screen with my jaw on the floor. The graphics and character designs were equal parts incredible, creepy and terrifying. I have to agree however that it was the sound department that really made this game as intense as it was. I played the game on mute for awhile just to see the difference. While I was still startled at some points because suddenly a Necro was there, there had been no intense build up that created the stronger emotional impact that anticipation carries. One of the creepiest moments in the game is wandering an entire section with a child’s voice hauntingly singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. It completely messes with your head as every time you walk by a vent or air duct the voice grows just a bit louder and seems to center in one particular room that is filled with bloody carnage. In talking to others who have played this game we have all agreed on one thing, it’s almost impossible to play this game without getting sucked into the intensity of Isaac’s world. It truly is one of the few ‘edge of your seat’ games that lives up to that distinction throughout the whole game.
Overall, Dead Space is one of the best horror games I have ever played and amongst my top ten favorite games of all time. The game is heavy on the violence and gore, and the scare factor is not for the faint of heart or young ones. But if you are looking for a polished game to play or buy in this genre, then Dead Space is a must on your list. Its sequel Dead Space 2 has just been released on January 25, 2011, and having played a few hours into it already, I can tell you it’s a review I am looking forward to writing as well.
Rating on a scale of 1-10
Overall Gameplay: 9.5