Product Type: Electronic Arts PS3 games
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Isaac and his magical brown trousers...
Dead Space (PS3)
Member Name: clownfoot
Dead Space (PS3)
Date: 31/10/12, updated on 31/10/12 (30 review reads)
Advantages: Scares, gore, atmosphere, cracking weapon variety, awesome alien design.
Disadvantages: Not exactly the worlds greatest challenge and becomes somewhat predictable...
Shortly after the release of the PS3 it looked like survival horror had gone tits up on the new-fangled system. Resident Evil for so long the standard by which all other survival horrors were measured, suffered a distinct lack of survival and horror in its fifth outing (and tension, atmosphere and thrills to be honest) but did the utmost to make up for these failings with an irritating AI companion and quick-time event sequences that were, to be fair, complete shit. It was sad to see this once great franchise relying on the brand to sell rather than the previously awesome and often terrifying gameplay. This presumably had gone walkabout and relocated to EA Redwood Studios whom were putting the finishing touches to a new breed of terror - the brown trouser inducing Dead Space, the saviour of survival horror! Well, almost...
Dead Space's plot is a simple one. After intercepting a distress signal from the mining vessel USG Ishimora, the engineering crew of the USS Kellion arrive to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ships subsequent silence. Instead they promptly crash land in the Ishimora's landing bay like a bunch of inept goofs only to find themselves the next batch of baying victims for the deformed humanoid creatures on board that have seemingly replaced the Ishimora's crew. Stranded and slightly pissed off that his girlfriend may have become one of these slathering beasties, Isaac Clarke picks up the nearest plasma cutter for 12 stages of sheer terror and Necromorph blasting whilst trying to piece together just what in the blue hell has happened on board the Ishimora.
All sounds a bit B-movie on paper, but luckily Dead Space is from a similar school as the rather amazing Uncharted series. That is, borrow heavily from already established sources and add new shit to help make a unique title. So, take one large claustrophobic ship and lashings of atmosphere from Alien, dispense of the singular beastie and multiply it by a billion like James Cameron did with Aliens, then add some interesting weaponry, methods to kill said beasties and a protagonist from the Gordon Freeman school of total silence and you near enough have a winning formula on your hands.
Other than the third-person perspective the first thing you'll notice is Dead Space's magnificent environment. The Ishimora is the first monster you encounter. All but dead with shadowy corners, daunting light sources and the ramblings of the maddened crew scratched in blood on corridor walls the deeper into the ship you descend (marvellously they start off in English before mutating into some hybrid alien script). It makes for an oppressive, tense atmosphere where every door that opens and every corner turned has the players stomach churning with unease. And this unnerving, continuous sense of pervading dread, which is prolonged throughout the game, is established right from the start and the terrifying initial encounter with a Necromorph. Coming through the ceilings and floors to devour other members of the Kellion's crew, a weapon-less Isaac has to leg it through darkened corridors, past these nefarious creatures to reach the sanctuary of an elevator. The impact of this opening blast of adrenaline sustains the horror for much of the rest of Dead Space.
With their arms replaced by razor-sharp stabbing thingy-bobs, some deft speed and the ability to pop up from anywhere owing to their navigation through the ships air ducts, the Necromorphs are the stuff of nightmares. They're not easy to kill either. One of the more original aspects of Dead Space is that body and head-shots, the typical go to areas of most other shooters, have limited effect. Instead, as you're told three times in the space of three minutes after that initial encounter (sadly, Dead Space does have an element of 'gamers are morons' about it) shooting off the limbs is a much more effective tactic.
Luckily, Isaac has a number of useful talents at hand to help hinder the attacks of these rather brutal creatures. First off, being able to move and shoot at the same time is an absolute joy (something else also lacking in Resident Evil 5. Throw in the ability to slow down the Necros using stasis generated from Isaac's power-suit (very, very handy) and hacking off the sinewy limbs required becomes slightly easier. Be warned though stasis is only a finite resource! The weapons at Isaac's disposal are also pretty cool. Rather than opting for the hackneyed, clichéd guns of many previous shooters all of the firepower in Dead Space are industrial tools that Isaac manipulates into death dealing mechanisms ideal for slicing and dicing. Even though the Ripper is not particularly effective, the spinning circular saws that you can swing through Necros are so much more satisfying than simple blasting and causing endless explosions. Finally, kinesis allows Isaac to pick up and move objects which can also be fired in the direction of enemies; handy for when low on ammunition. It's like a less refined version of Half-Life 2s gravity gun. Not quite as fun, but damn useful at certain points.
There are loads of other neat extra touches in Dead Space that complements the above. Isaac's silence is welcome. After all, there's nothing more annoying than having some tosser speaking on your behalf. More so because it just sucks away from the ensuing terror! Isaac's power-suit is also pretty sweet. Ensuring the play area features no icons whatsoever, all the relevant info about Isaac's well-being comes from his suit. Health is shown by a panel of lights down the suits spine, whilst the main inventory pops up on a handy visual display generated from the suit. This also displays the audio and visual transmissions Isaac locates on board the Ishimora in a more intense way than Bioshock could ever hope to imagine. The audio for one crew member who decides to hack his own arms and legs off in order that he cannot transform into a Necro is utterly haunting.
Still, despite all this juicy goodness, Dead Space is not without fault. Of which there are quite a few actually. And despite being on the cusp of greatness, these flaws are enough to generate a little bit of tedium in proceedings. The main problem with Dead Space is it conforms to a template from which it never really deviates. Whilst the dismembering mechanics and oppressive atmosphere are a constant joy, there's little differentiation in level design. The plodding by the numbers way-point system, which is more a design for plot convenience than for any notable gameplay purpose, is an irritating bug-bear. So, after the first couple of levels of near-linear action and frequently following the directions given by one of the Kellion's other survivors, you pretty much know how subsequent stages are going to pan out. Personal investigation - the hallmarks of the early Resident Evil games - is virtually non-existent. This is neither helped by the length of each stage. At around 45 minutes to an hour to play through they're pretty lengthy and whilst this certainly increases Dead Space's longevity, it does not prevent Isaac's carry and fetch butt-monkey shtick from becoming an increasingly repetitive chore. In essence once you've seen the first few stages you've pretty much seen most of the game. Even the scare tactics become obvious and repetitive the further you descend into the bowels of the Ishimora.
Additionally, Dead Space's challenge is undermined by the frequency of save points and ammunition, the plasma cutter being far too good and the lack of some stonkingly tough Necromorph encounters. For instance, if the threat of the Regenerator was a constant factor in the pursuit of Isaac across the Ishimora (a bit like the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 which had you constantly cacking it) then Dead Space would be truly masterful. Sadly, the appearance of this not quite as tough as nails as it should be Necro is all too brief, meaning there's too much mild peril in the place of pure outright terror - especially the massively shite final big bad, which makes for a woeful and underwhelming finale. The plasma cutter essentially makes the rest of Isaac's arsenal irrelevant. The regularity of save points just adds to the lack of challenge. All too frequent and often unnecessary, it makes one hark back to the days of occasional typewriter ribbons and the lesser spotted typewriter.
Still, despite these annoyances, Dead Space cannot help but be an engrossing title. There is no way of being anything but impressed by the terrific atmosphere, and turning the lights out and the volume up just adds to the whole interactive movie-styled effect. The plotting is equally admirable. Although it does feature one major plot-hole, the audio and video transmissions you pick up along the way make for a tantalising storyline that effectively aids against tedium. Whilst the gameplay may dwindle at certain junctures, the plot intrigue encourages you to plough on. And to be perfectly honest, spaying the ships walls with the gizzards of Necromorphs as you splice them apart is always jolly good fun. In all Dead Space is not the car crash that befits Resident Evil 5. It is instead a great survival horror, certainly one of the schlockiest out there, but it panders too much to modern gaming sensibilities (i.e. it's not massively challenging) for it to be considered a real classic.
Summary: Atmospheric survival horror set aboard a claustrophobic spaceship!