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Dead Space Review

Genres: Action
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA
Review Date: 10-6-2009
Review Platform: XBOX360
Review Region: AU Available In Australia
Est Playtime: 13+ hrs
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

Communication with the planet mining ship Ishimura has been lost after the crew discovered an unknown artifact. A rescue team comprising Isaac Clarke, an engineer, and several others has been dispatched to establish contact and repair the ship. Upon entering the ship itís soon clear that some unknown forces has turned the crew into unspeakable monsters.

dead_space004Iím not really sure what to classify Dead Space as; is it a Survival Horror game or an Action game with a Horror theme? A Survival Horror game should carefully craft each enemy encounter to elicit fear. It should make the player feel like theyíre in danger of dying through dramatic tension, atmosphere, limited supplies and a generally realistic Ďhorrorí edge. On the other hand an Action game with a Horror theme need only throw enemies at the player in random fashion, spamming them with encounters then letting the player dispense them in gory fashion. Okay, so thereís really no doubt, Dead Space is an Action game with a Horror theme.

dead_space003The central premise of Dead Space is that the player uses the seven different weapons on offer to mince their way through the hordes of monster which now inhabit the Ishimura. Weapons include: the plasma cutter, line gun, pulse rifle, ripper, contact beam, force gun, and flamethrower. The key point to note is that the player has to target the enemyís limbs to kill them. Shooting their body does next to no damage and even blasting their head off isnít enough to kill them. So weapons like the line gun with a wide attack diameter are the best. Sounds good at the moment, right? Unfortunately thereís no auto aim and enemies repeatedly appear out of no where in large numbers. And thatís where the problem lies. When the repeated spamming of enemies, low amounts of ammo, and no auto aim are combined it just doesnít work in the long run. Sure it puts you under pressure the first few times it happens but when the entire game is built around it just gets old. The camera doesnít help either. Itís third person over the shoulder but when you back into a corner to give yourself room the camera is forced over your shoulder greatly impeding aiming. Thereís also scripted sequences where the player is dragged along the ground and you have to aim across the screen to target enemies. The change in perspective isnít welcome and these sequences are used multiple times throughout the game.

dead_space002When the player isnít dispensing enemies theyíre traversing the ship using two extra abilities to pass areas and repair objects Ė complete objectives. The extra abilities are Kinesis and Stasis; Kinesis moves objects while Stasis slows them down. Both abilities feel purely like gameplay mechanics and not things which should exist in the game world. Each the gameís chapters give the player objectives to complete. They include things like activating a communication array or placing a beacon on an asteroid. They always appear simple but as soon as you arrive at the destination they always involve more work. Itís not an exaggeration to say you have to repair the entire ship before the gameís over. By the end it feels like gameplay extension which this game doesnít need considering it went for well over 10 hours. The problem solving moments are hampered by, again, a bad combination of elements. While trying to figure out these problems several enemies invariably attack the player. Solving problems is fun, killing enemies is fun but solving puzzles while killing enemies is rarely fun. Itís just frustrating. Mirrorís Edge made the same mistake a few times. Another function is the suit navigation system which when activated projects a line onto the floor showing the way to the objective. I liked it because I donít have the time to waste getting lost. Although the levels arenít sophisticated enough to get deeply lost as any extra pathway leads to more ammo. Some sections also take place in zero gravity and/or in vacuums. In zero gravity areas the player has the freedom to jump onto walls and ceilings while in a vacuum the player has to move quickly before they run out of air.

dead_space011At first Dead Space seemed like it was going to be like the movie Event Horizon, where a ship encounters some evil force resulting in the death of the crew. That turns out to be true but itís more of a complete rip off of System Shock 2ís plot minus Shodan. Only itís got no where near the tension and story telling ability of Looking Glass/Irrational Gamesí opus. The story is mainly told through video communication with the protagonistís comrades. It looks cool having a screen holographically projected into the air in front of you. The downside is that the characterís never react to you, because the protagonist says nothing, and we donít learn any of their motivations. This is essential given the way the plot unfolds. The protagonist motivation is clearer but never expanded on in detail.

dead_space001The graphics are generally pretty good. The scenes involving views out into space are lovely and the lighting is a highpoint. The game is definitely one of those HD generation games which seem to think that HD stands for Highly Dirty. Itís brown and grey almost all the way. The holographic video projection is extended to the inventory and map screens making them just as cool. The music is ineffectual in enhancing the atmosphere to the point where I didnít notice any. The sound effect of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (I think thatís what it was) on the other hand was suitably unnerving. Maybe you could classify that as music. The weapon sound effects are rough and sound like they need leveling. I might have just noticed that because I was testing out a video capture system at the time and paying more attention than normal.

Dead Spaceís core mechanics are in conflict with its level design. Tight ammo plus precise aiming doesnít work in the long run when you continually spam the player with enemies. Likewise problem solving while being attacked is annoying. Dramatic tension is also sacrificed by the waves of enemies that are killed on the way to finishing the game. While my first impression of Dead Space was pretty favourable the feeling soon wore off and gave way to that familiar desire for it to be over.