From the dark recesses of my mailbox surfaced a copy of the recently released EA game, Dead Space. Readily equipped with poo-retardant pants, I prepared myself to be survivally-horrified. Read on to find out just how many turds I dropped.
After logging a multitude of hours on the dimly lit space vessel as the game’s lead character, Isaac Clarke, I was repeatedly reminded of similar survival horror titles that preceded it.
Dead Space somewhat unabashedly borrows from previous games that have already been successful, tossing aside the need to build something new. While it does have a bit of innovation thrown in there, Dead Space isn’t really treading much new ground. How this makes you feel about the game is entirely dependent upon how you feel about previous survival-horror games.
After a mere five minutes in, I couldn’t stop calling Dead Space “Resident Evil 4: Space”. It has all the trappings of Resident Evil 4: over-the-shoulder camera, controls, scarce supplies, and zombie-esque beings to shoot. After a while, “Resident Evil 4: Space” became “BioShock Presents: Resident Evil 4: Space”.
After realizing that I was going to be stuck in an alien-infested, self-contained spaceship for quite a bit of time to come, my mind instantly thought back to BioShock’s underwater failed utopia, Rapture. I was further reminded of Rapture when I happened upon my first audio log detailing a situation that had played out sometime before or during the alien-zombie takeover.
Getting information about the world across is something Dead Space excels at — there were very few instances that took control away from the player. In addition to audio/video/text logs, the main way Dead Space informs the player is through interactivity. Interactions that don’t involve literally tearing opponents apart limb from limb are those that involve the crew that boarded the ship with you. Your communications with them make one thing clear: they’re trying just as hard as you to get off the damn ship safely.
The things that Dead Space does that aren’t by-the-book copied formulas are the only things that help rescue the game from a mediocre score. Six hours in, I was ready for it to be over, and my interest in the narrative began to wane — it’s not exactly a work of literary genius.
Dead Space starts with protagonist Isaac Clarke and company approaching the Ishimura (which I eventually lovingly dubbed “Hell Ship”). Upon arrival everyone realizes all is not well, and off you go to shoot your way to potential safety with Dead Space’s combat system, titled “Strategic Dismemberment.”
“Strategic Dismemberment” is what picked up the slack and acted as motivation for me to keep on keepin’ on. You’ll learn very early on that neither body blows nor even headshots will get you through even the earliest waves of baddies. The point of Strategic Dismemberment is to pick off opponents’ limbs by using whatever means you have available to yourself, many of which match up with the world you’re inhibiting.
Complementing strategy with superb control is always a plus, and Dead Space has some pretty sweet controls. This can only be describable as the perfect middle ground between Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, and I suspect it’s a nice preview as to what we’ll get when Resident Evil 5 releases, but I digress.
Dead Space goes to great lengths to make sure you stay immersed, extending from integrating the entirety of the interface naturally (for example: the inventory, although no different from any other standard interface, is displayed as a projection from Isaac’s suit) all the way to providing back-stories for weapons so they’d integrate cohesively with the world.
Before I continue, I have a confession to make: I’m a total pansy and am easily coaxed into a fit of paranoia-induced fear. That said, having been posed as a survival-horror game, Dead Space failed to make me scream like my inner-schoolgirl knows I should. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve either finally become a man, or Dead Space isn’t very frightening.
As much as I’d like to lean towards the former, I’m afraid it’s the latter. The only thing that almost brought me into a state of fright was its sound design. I’m not exactly rocking a 5.1 state-of-the-art Dolby Digital system in my Batcave of Nerdery, but I still feel Dead Space’s sound design, and the utilization of said sound design deserves special mention.
Although Dead Space is most analogous to the friend you’ve nicknamed “Mooch” because he/she takes your clothes without intent of return, you just can’t help but love him/her. Like Mooch, Dead Space’s high points far outshine it’s minuscule flaws, of which there are relatively few.
As stated before, Dead Space relies on tried-and-true formulas, but it manages to foster them into something even more awesome, and then finally polishes the crap out of them. The end result, while not truly innovative, makes for one hell of a ride, though it remains disappointingly not very frightening for a survival-horror title.