Dead Space Review
November 4, 2008 by Jereme Puik
Tension, high blood pressure…these are just some of things that you might be feeling when playing Dead Space. If not, then you’re probably not human or already dead. Dead Space is filled with the kind of atmosphere that brought games like Bioshock into the “Games are Art” movement. Atmosphere can go a long way with any game and if you don’t have it, then you might not want to stick around long enough to see the ending. Immersion is what makes Dead Space a soon to be classic survival horror game. It’s best played with the lights off and sound cranked up.
No One Can Hear You Scream
There are a lot of games that try and reach out with this kind of atmosphere but either tries too hard or not hard enough. Set in a mining station in the deepest corners of space, aka the Ishimura, Dead Space takes you for a ride the moment you land on board. You are Isaac Clarke and you were sent to the mining station responding to a distress signal in which you quickly learn is much more then you bargained for. Once on board, you’ll quickly notice the ship is a mess and filled with alien creatures running around with a crew that’s noticeably absent and or dead.
Communication immediately comes through audio and video playbacks. This also limits the use of cut scenes which leaves you immersed in the action and concentrated on your surroundings. With this, voice acting is important to pick up the pace, and this is where part of the quality of the game shines. Now, you won’t find any Oscar winning performances here, but it’s enough to get itself by.
Gameplay consists of more or less, room by room encounters. Enter one room, kill some monsters, and unlock doors, rinse and repeat. However, the contrast between the lighting and ambiance of the game makes it much more than that. There are audio/text/video logs to pick up along the way giving you a bit more background into the story, although they are optional if you actually care about the crew. There are a decent amount of ammo and health pick-ups throughout each room, so there’s not much to worry about if you find yourself in a rush. There is no HUD, leaving you’re health bar and stasis gauge on the spine of Isaac’s back to keep you immersed in the action.
With an inventory and map menus, you can easily keep track of where you’re going and your pick-ups along the way. Don’t worry much about getting lost as you can just click the right analog stick and you’ll be shown a light in the right direction. There are many different weapons and suits you can experiment with that are available at conveniently located stores throughout each checkpoint. I would also mention the save points, which are planted nicely, for without them, it would be quite hard to finish an entire chapter without a break in between.
Monsters are everywhere, and turning a corner can get the blood pressure boiling as you’ll never know when one will decide to pop up. Don’t forget about those corpses lying around either, they could easily stand up and start stalking you at a moments notice. With the intense atmosphere Dead Space is giving off, I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard some people saying they jumped when a certain monster popped up out of the blue when they thought it was just a dead corpse. It’s happened to me plenty of times, and without shooting them first, you’ll never know. Most of these monsters stick to a preferred route and lock on to Isaac and continue their endless rage until their defeated. Now, the little quirk about this is if you leave the room trying to run away, they’ll keep coming after you. The environment can be used in this instance to your advantage and with stasis you can easily slow down or even defeat the creatures. Kinesis and Stasis are what will help you throughout the many space puzzles in either airless situations or through opening doors and stopping monsters.
Whether you want ambiance or atmosphere, Dead Space has it and without it, Dead Space would more or less boil down to an average survival horror game with nothing to gain. However, because it has the ambiance and atmosphere that it does, it makes it that much more enjoyable after completing each chapter. To keep the cut scenes on the down low, Dead Space keeps you in the action with an over-the-shoulder camera and animations picked up by the undead crew you meet along the way. The artistry is some of the best of its kind, with the airless sections keeping you hooked to the gameplay. The blood flowing through the airless vacuum flows as it should and the monsters look as if they’d belong there. Unfortunately as the game moves on you’ll notice more of the same from them, considering they pop up during the later levels. But, otherwise Dead Space gives off the perfect amount of atmosphere and tension to bring everything in full circle.
The sound department should really be getting the highest award possible here. Without sound this game just wouldn’t have the same impact as it does. There are several points during the game where the sound over powers you and manages to be effective enough that it will throw you off your feet, literally. Just as if you’re watching a horror movie you know there’s going to be that moment where the music pops and it will make you jump, but you jump anyway because you’re so wrapped up in the atmosphere of the game that it just takes your breath away. The voice acting is what carries this game from top to bottom, and while you won’t find any Oscar-winning performances, it’s still a decent effort that enough to get you through the story and keep you interested.
I will have to give props to the camera work that made this game as effective as it is. There aren’t many hiccups, thankfully. Although there may be one or two camera problems, depending on how heavy the action is when facing a wave of monsters. Still, the camera does do its work when running from room to room and corridor to corridor throughout the game. Its works to the point that most of the time you won’t see those monsters coming until its too late and they’ve already knocked you down. The high production value of Dead Space just goes to show that with a little originality and effort, you can make a great game. One last thing I’d like to give a gold star to is the originality of the weapons. The weapons have variety to them and you don’t have your standard machine gun or anything like that. You have weapons ranging from a pulse rifle to a line cutter that offer some pretty neat animation effects to the death sequences.
Strategic dismemberment is what really makes this game worth the price tag. The tension and atmosphere are all you need to make Dead Space the ultimate scary movie experience. Electronic Arts may have a gem on their hands for once as they seem to be doing some good lately. Dead Space is easily a great single player experience that has depth and atmosphere to make it comparable on a Bioshock level. Are there more stories to tell? Probably. EA has already announced an intended sequel to the title, so time will tell how it will turn out. In the mean time, Dead Space has enough behind it to keep your attention with the lights off and sound cranked up.