EA has taken a dip into the horror genre pool with their latest IP, Dead Space. The game takes place on the USG Ishimura, a deep space mining vessel that has gone off the grid. Known as a planet-cracker, the ship is able to take entire worlds apart and mine the smaller parts. When the ship hasn’t been heard from a small rescue team is sent to check in, only to have things go from very bad to catastrophic immediately. It turns out the crew of the ship was dealing with more than just minerals. With strange creatures roaming the decks of the ship, protagonist Isaac Clarke and the rest of the survivors of the rescue ship have to find a way off before it’s too late.
Dead Space is a third-person game with a unique approach to how you view the tools at your disposal. There’s no traditional HUD so the screen is clear of any obtrusive displays that could take away from the scenery. Your inventory and map floats in front of you as it’s projected from the suit Isaac wears. The health bar is a series of indicator lights on the spine of the suit giving you a full view at all times as to Isaac’s health levels. There’s also a Stasis power meter on the back near the upper right shoulder which indicates how much Stasis power you have left. The Stasis is an energy weapon that slows down the speed of enemies and machinery. Lastly, your ammo count is displayed on each weapon just above the butt of the weapon.
Managing and purchasing inventory in the game is also something we’ve seen before, but here it’s presented rather uniquely. When managing inventory the game is not paused and you are vulnerable to attacks. The same goes when you access the Stores, which can be found in each level. Having access to the store allows you to purchase additional ammunition, new weapons, health packs and more. You can sell items as well in order to purchase more items. Through out the game you’ll need to choose the right upgrade path for your weapons, manage your ammo stores, and decide when to keep equipment and when to sell it.
Messages are communicated to Isaac via audio and visual communications, often times giving you updates on what’s happening and new mission objectives. It’s just another example of how everything flows well and streamlines the game, allowing you to focus on playing the game rather than worrying about keeping an eye on the HUD.
The game is broken into 12 Chapters, with each chapter taking a different approach in gameplay. Some chapters have you traveling through zero-g sections, giving you the uncomfortable feeling of not being sure which way is up while others will have you wishing for a flashlight as you traverse a pitch black hallway. All the while you’ll face various creatures, also known as necromorphs, who’s sole purpose is to either rip you apart or covert you into one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a zero-g section, the vacuum of space or in a med lab, you’ll be hounded by the creatures all along the way.
One thing I found interesting, and not in a good way, was the ability of the necromorphs to survive in the levels where you’re in a vacuum. You can see the creatures breathing, but there’s no air for them to breath. Although I must admit I did enjoy the fact that flame thrower won’t work without an oxygen supply so it’s useless in certain parts.
Since the game is labeled as a horror game, you wonder whether it really is scary or not. It’s safe to say that yes, it most definitely is scary. You’ll have enemies hissing and screaming their way around the ship, often times out of visual range. You’ll hear them traversing the various air vents, knocking around and making noises, all the while wondering where they’ll pop out next. There were definitely some moments where I jumped as I was surprised by one of the necromorphs. Needless to say, the crew at Redwood Studios did a great job with the sound of the game.
Visually, the game looks great. The ship looks like it’s been traveling in space for years with the worn out metal look we’ve come used to seeing in sci fi movies. Even when you’re being attached by 12 necromorphs at once, everything looks great and there are no framerate issues or popping.
Lastly, and most just as important is the story. Dead Space delivers a compelling story with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end, and then surprise you and make you take a second guess and what happened.
Overall, EA has a hit on their hands. There’s nothing really revolutionary here, but the manner in which it’s presented flows perfectly. Dead Space is one of those games that has you thinking about it even when you’re not playing it. Now every time I pass a ventilation grate I have to make sure I’m not going to be attacked by some necromorph. This is definitely a game you should be playing.