Dead Space is, surprisingly enough, a new game from a new franchise, backed up by Electronic Arts. The EA guys aren’t exactly known for trying to create new games, which makes the release of this survival horror even more surprising. It’s not a bad title, and it’s also not some “niche filling product”, invented by the marketing department.
However, the game may be new, but the genre isn’t. Dead Space is designed from the ground up to scare you, like any proper survival-horror game should, in a Science Fiction background extremely similar from a conceptual point of view to that of Event Horizon. Long story short, a huge “planet cracker” spaceship, harvesting raw materials for Earth, suddenly goes “dark” (as in, no communications), and the search, repair and rescue team you’re part of runs into a decent amount of trouble once the ship is (re)discovered.
The creatures now populating the Ishimura (the missing ship) are “assembled” from what used to be the crew, and your job, from the first to the last chapter, will be to dispense these monstrosities. Which aren’t exactly intelligent, but hard enough to kill in order to present a challenge.
The story isn’t very interesting, but the way it details the insanity which had affected the crew, and the reasons why everyone went nuts, are nicely detailed, in a pretty smart combination of “religion meets government conspiracy”. EA didn’t mess around with the lore either; animated comics based on the story were released before the game, followed by a fully fledged animated movie serving as a prequel for the events on the Ishimura.
The movie is called Downfall and it’s pretty decent. It made me wish that the producers had found a way to somehow integrate in the game, as it completes the story rather nicely. Still, it’s ok that you don’t need it to understand the storyline, but with its help, the entire game universe becomes more interesting. On the other hand, if the movie didn’t exist, the game would have been good regardless, so its existence as a “bonus” is appreciated
The creatures swarming the Ishimura present new gameplay elements. It’s pretty obvious that Dead Space got its inspiration from the genre classics, but this part is new: the player will have to forget the fact that the most efficient way to take an enemy down is with a headshot.
The monsters need to be “strategically dismembered” in order to finally kill them, in such a manner that you need to tear off their legs first, then their hands, and finally, if it’s still necessary, the head. For this purpose, the arsenal at your disposal doesn’t consist of classical guns, but SciFi engineering tools designed to cut, weld and burn, retrofitted for battle.
The weapons are designed in such a way that each one of them is needed for a certain type of situation, which is nice, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that a large number of them are useless. They’re either not efficient enough, or they’re just too hard to handle.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Dead Space has drawn inspiration for genre classics. The camera for instance is placed very closely to the character, creating an intentionally claustrophobic field of view. Just like in Resident Evil 4, with the only difference that in EA’s game you can strafe.
I rather liked the camera’s POV, I thought it was inspired, and helped create a tense atmosphere, while keeping me close to the main character at all times. The dude’s name is Isaac Clark by the way, which is a more or less subtle reference to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark. At any rate, the camera is so close to him that it became extremely aggravating that he’s completely mute, from start to end, while the rest of the game’s characters are talking around the clock.
If Gordon Freeman was “cool” in his silence, I would appreciate if this “characteristic” would remain, in the future, only in Valve’s games. I’m not identifying myself to the character at a psychopathic level so that I’m bothered when he speaks. On the contrary, give the man a voice. The amount of abuse he endured during the game must have warranted a few things to say.
Still, Isaac is quite “talkative” when it comes to acting during a lot of “tense” situations, and slaps the Halo series over the forehead at the end (you’ll see why), which by the way is extremely well made. It’s a rare thing for a game to have a really good ending.