Monday, 18 July 2011

Dead Space Review

My my, we certainly are not being current now are we?  Yes, Dead Space came out all the way back in 2008, and I've only just (finally) beaten it.  See, I got it for the ridiculous price of 7 or 8 dollars on a previous Steam sale some time ago, got a little over halfway through the game, then lost my save file, making me less than motivated to retread old ground immediately.

So, after some time, I decided to jump back into Isaac Clarke's magnetic engineer's boots and blast some necromorphs into tiny, gruesome little pieces.  Suffice it to say, it was well worth going back to.

For those of you living under a rock, Dead Space is a 3rd person survival horror game that takes place in...wait for  Specifically, on a derelict 'planet cracker'; a massive ship with a very large crew that has suddenly gone silent.  You play as Isaac Clarke, the Link-esque silent hero who is sent to repair the damaged vessel.  However, quite quickly, it's apparent things have gone wrong.  Blood, guts, debris and the reanimated corpses of the dead crew litter the halls of the USG Ishimura.  The necromorphs themselves are pretty hideous creations, obviously thought up by someone with a messed up childhood.  They are essentially space zombies (if far more menacing), but whereas you dispatch zombies with headshots, the opposite is true of necromorphs; you must rip them limb from limb in order to kill or disable them.  Head and body shots, particularly on harder difficulty levels, do next to nothing.  However, there's a strange and rather grotesque satisfaction in taking enemies apart in such a manner, making the combat in Dead Space both incredibly visceral and rather unique.

So now that we've established what most gamers probably already know, let's move on to the specifics.


Since I've already explained the basic premise of Dead Space, there's little unbiased information I can add to it without including spoilers, so I'll simply say that the story, while not overly complex, has a number of intriguing twists and turns, ending up with a solid conclusion.  Isaac ends up being a great character (regardless of the fact he doesn't speak throughout the game) because he's an everyman thrown into an implausible and horrible situation.  However, he's actually believable as an everyman, and you'll likely sympathize with him as he struggles, panics and fights his way through the game.

In terms of how the game is presented, well, you're immediately treated to a creepy opening EA logo followed by a rather unsettling combination of sounds and visuals on menu.  The menus themselves are fine, but I must say that something about the PC port makes the mouse cursor overly sensitive, and yet causes it to lag slightly at the same time.  It's not game breaking by any means, but it just feels incredibly awkward and cumbersome.  A very small issue, but you'll notice it when navigating menus or saving your game.


Seeing as how Dead Space is primarily a survival horror title (albeit with some heavier action segments), you probably want to know how it handles the horror element.  To put it bluntly, very well, for the most part.  In certain sections of the game, horror takes a backseat to some seriously intense action sequences, or just plain cool moments.  But aside from those moments, the game can range from edgy, to terrifying, to panic-inducing.  Without spoiling anything, there are sections of the game where you will be forced to run while under attack.  Other parts of the game will manage to lull you into a false sense of security, making you feel safe, dropping your guard, only to have something horrific barrel around the corner and into your face.  If you're playing this game alone, in the dark, with headphones on (as I did), these segments are about as scary as I can imagine fictional horror to be.

This game is rather gory, in case you hadn't gathered.
The combat really shines as well, which is refreshing in a survival horror game.  While you may well be on the edge of your seat, eyes wide and heart pounding, you can also take comfort in the fact that you've got some pretty serious (and seriously fun) firepower to chose from.  All the weapons feel unique in their own way, all have a secondary fire, and all can be upgraded in numerous ways as you collect special items throughout the game.  My personal favourite is the Line Gun, which does what the name implies, firing off a wide line of energy, cutting a swath of gory destruction through necromorph ranks, turning limbs and appendages into ground beef.

A very interesting mechanic that is quite unique to Dead Space is the zero gravity segments.  Often you'll find yourself navigating large rooms, dealing with the sense of vertigo as you walk on walls and ceilings, all the while fending off flailing, floating necromorphs and trying to solve puzzles.

If I had a complaint it would be that the melee attacks feel unreliable and difficult to judge.  The argument to that is that Isaac is not a trained soldier, and is indeed just flailing around in a mad attempt to get necromorphs off of him.  Which is very true.  But nonetheless, it's something of a slight irritation in an otherwise great combat system.


Well, the game is now 3 years old, so judging the graphics obviously has to account for certain allowances.  That said, it's aged very well.  Sure, there are a few blurry textures here and there, but what they managed with lighting effects and environments more than makes up for slightly dated technology.  This game is very atmospheric.  I'm not sure if I'd quite put it on the level of, say, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but then again, what game can match that level?  Dead Space is certainly in the same league, however.  There are parts of the game where you won't fire your weapon for minutes on end, but all the while you'll be sweating buckets from the tension created by your surroundings.

Everything just looks and feels like its only purpose is to make you have long, sleepless nights.
On the artistic side of things, I have to say I'm a huge fan.  Everything looks and feels unique, while still paying some homage to classic sci-fi horror like Alien and Event Horizon (yeah yeah I did just refer to Event Horizon as classic, deal with it).  The necromorphs are some of the most horrific looking creations I've ever seen in a video game, making the various monsters in Resident Evil look like playthings by comparison.  There's a great attention to detail everywhere you look, really making you feel like you are on an enormous spaceship that functions as a city for its crew.  The terrific design of Isaac's suit I believe has already allowed him to become an iconic gaming figure.


Much like the graphics, the sound design helps in molding Dead Space into one of the all time greats for survival horror.  The music in particular is incredibly creepy, perfectly fitting the sci-fi setting but also making you feel more than uncomfortable.  The sound effects range from spine-chilling wails emitted from the necromorphs or the utterly disgusting squishing of organic, dead material covering the walls and floors as you tromp over them, to the incredibly satisfying boom of the Plasma Cutter or the whining, screaming roar of the Ripper as it tears through fleshy limbs.

The voice acting is also very good, unlike certain other games in the genre (*cough* Resident Evil*ahem*), which helps keep you immersed in the (surprisingly good) story.  It also really makes you give a damn about the characters, including the ever-silent Isaac.


This is unfortunately where my review becomes somewhat skewed.  See, I managed to pick up Dead Space for a ridiculously low price (less than 10 dollars), so from my perspective, as someone who greatly enjoyed the game, it was an incredible value.  However, while that was indeed a Steam sale, I really doubt you'd be able to find Dead Space for more than 20 dollars, whether through digital distribution or physical copies in stores.  And for that price, Dead Space is still more than worth the cost of admission.  The original price of 60 dollars is rendered irrelevant here in 2011, but I will say that I still believe that original price would have been justified.  Yes, the game is not that long, perhaps 10-12 hours for your first playthrough, assuming you don't charge through like a maniac.  But the experience is so rich, rewarding and unique, that paying full price would have been completely acceptable, especially if you're a fan of the genre.

As well as if you're a fan of original IP and unique, new games, because, let's face it, in this day and age with yearly Call of Duty sequels being churned out like clockwork, fresh and new experiences are few and far between, and I do believe it's important to support games like that.  And thankfully, gamers did support Dead Space, which is why it ended up getting a sequel, and at that, a sequel that apparently edges out the original, according to many.  Indeed, a sequel that I intend on playing in the near future.


Dead Space is one of the best survival horror titles I've ever played, and is one of my favourite 'new' IPs.  Yes, granted, by now Dead Space has been around for 3 years, but new IPs are so rare these days that it still feels new.  It also feels strong, brimming with potential, and already seems to be displaying that with a great sequel as well as several spinoffs.  If you're a fan of survival horror or sci-fi, I highly, highly recommend Dead Space.  If you're a fan of both, well I have literally no idea why you still have not played this game.


Story/Presentation - Creepy from the get-go, with an immersive story and characters to accompany it.
Gameplay - Visceral, terrifying and so incredibly satisfying.  Melee attacks could be more reliable.
Visuals - Moody and atmospheric in a genuinely original setting with plenty of nightmarish terrors to populate it.
Sound - Spooky, chilling music paired with hair-raising sound effects.  Voice acting is very professional as well.
Value - A fraction of the price it was on launch is a fantastic deal; getting this on Steam for less than 10 dollars is practically theft.  Still a relatively short game with very little replayability, unless you're a vehement fan of survival horror and can handle the 'Impossible' difficulty.

Overall - 9.1/10

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