Dead Space PlayStation 3
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Out Now
We all like our games to be completely original and not derivative in any shape or form. Far too often these days we play games that have been clearly influenced by other titles and all too often the elements that have been taken from other games have not been used to good effect. Dead Space is a third-person shooter that, in truth, does not contain a high degree of originality. The influences it draws upon are obvious but it's a game that takes these influences and combines them in such a skilful way that it's impossible not to be impressed with the end result.
In Dead Space you'll play the role of Isaac Clarke who at the beginning of the game is on the spacecraft USG Kellion which is en route to the USG Ishimura, a mining ship known as a planet-cracker. Isaac's girlfriend, Nicole, is on the Ishimura and her last communication to him was a little disturbing to say the least with the communication being suddenly terminated. The Kellion is heading to the Ishimura to find out why there has been a communications blackout and to make any repairs that are necessary. As they approach the Ishimura, it becomes obvious something is seriously wrong as the spaceship seems to be dead in space with no signs of activity. Everything goes from bad to worse when their ship docks on the Ishimura. There appears to be no one alive and the power's running low leaving most places in the dark. What's more, there are some rather aggressive monsters roaming around who seem intent on killing everyone they can find.
The monsters, called Necromorphs, not only kill the humans but reanimate and mutate their dead bodies before using their bodies as a host (they do take other forms too). The result is that you have pretty disgusting looking creatures out to kill you throughout the game. You'll find that they will suddenly attack you from all angles and they can actually move pretty quick, despite their less than agile appearance. Very early in the game, around the time you'll acquire your first weapon, the Plasma Cutter, you'll come across a notice board that has the words 'Cut off their limbs' scrawled in blood on it. Dismemberment is definitely the best way to go about defeating the Necromorphs you'll find on the Ishimura as simply hitting them in the body isn't as effective as you would expect it to be.
As well as having an assortment of weapons at his disposal, Isaac also has two abilities: stasis and kinesis. At various points in the game both abilities prove to be extremely useful. Stasis can be used to slow down fast moving objects whilst Kinesis allows otherwise unmoveable objects to be moved. You'll use both abilities to solve puzzles but you can also use them in combat. Fast moving enemies can be slowed down with the stasis ability whilst you can use the kinesis ability to direct various objects at your enemies. The game also mixes things up a little by placing you in zero gravity and vacuum environments and these environments, along with the two abilities help to differentiate the game from just being a conventional third-person futuristic shooter.
During the course of the game you'll collect all kinds of items. Power Nodes allow you to upgrade Isaac's weapons, abilities and health. These aren't in plentiful supply but you can purchase them from various store kiosks in the game. Money then is essential and thankfully you'll find quite a bit of it in the game. The kiosks, as well as selling Power Nodes, also sell weapons, ammo, suit upgrades and health items. Not all of the items in the game have to be bought however as you'll find various items in boxes (which you'll need to shoot open), lockers and even from fallen enemies but the better equipment is definitely to be found in the kiosks.
Dead Space is one of the most atmospheric games I've played in a long time. Part of the reason is because the Necromorphs attack you from all directions and will attack in numbers (they travel around the ventilation system and will suddenly burst out of a vent to get the drop on you) but it's also because the pacing of the game is quite deliberate and the text and audio logs you'll find slowly reveal the full horror of what's happened on the Ishimura. In a sense the tension simply grows from start to finish and the experience is a compelling one as a result. You'll also receive communications from two of the Kellion's crew, who are also searching the Ishimura, and you'll learn of some of the horrors they are experiencing. Whilst you're playing the game you won't see a HUD, at least not a conventional one and this makes for a more cinematic experience.
Graphically, Dead Space is very impressive and there are some fantastic looking environments in the game. It's not the quality of the visuals that catches the eye however but the game's presentation. You'll see Isaac's health bar on the spine of his suit. To see how much ammo you have you just have to ready weapon and the amount of ammo left will be displayed. When you wish to view your inventory or map you aren't taken to conventional menu screens. All of the information is displayed via holographic projections so you're never taken out of the immersive experience. There is a disadvantage to this however as the game doesn't pause whilst you're accessing your inventory and map etc., so you're open to attack. Should you try to open a door that requires a key you'll see a holographic projection that lets you know exactly what you need. You'll also receive video messages via holographic projections. I particularly like the way you can press down on the right analogue stick and see a blue beam of light point the way you should be heading which prevents you from getting disorientated. This style of presentation is quite unlike anything I've seen in a game before and the whole thing is first class.
Dead Space is subtitled although by default the subtitles are not enabled. You'll be able to follow the game's storyline as the cutscenes are subtitled. There are no character names or portraits next to the dialogue however. This doesn't cause any real problems though and there are quite a few video communications that you'll receive so you'll get to see who is talking to you. All of the tutorial messages are in text and can be recalled at any time. Objectives are shown in text and you're notified when an objective has been completed. You can recall your objectives, tutorial messages and some communications at any time which is very pleasing. Unfortunately, there aren't any captions for important sound effects in the game however. Hearing gamers will benefit from the changes in the music and sounds of the approaching Necromorphs but deaf gamers will have no such advantage. Of course this is more of a slight disadvantage rather than being a problem. The very nature of the game means you're constantly on your toes and forever expecting the Necromorphs to pounce.
The last few months of 2008 have seen quality games arriving thick and fast and it's to the developer's credit that Dead Space is a game that manages to stand head and shoulders above most of them. It's quite simply difficult to fault the game in any way. Yes we would liked to have seen captions for the important sounds in the game to accompany the subtitled dialogue but in every other sense the game gets it spot on. The controls feel right, the action is superb and the tension is unrelenting. Several games in the past have done away with the conventional HUD but no other game has replaced it so effectively. Yes it's easy to spot the games that have influenced the game's developers (such as System Shock 2 and Gears of War to name but two) but all of these influences have been combined beautifully and some unique touches have been added to give a first class product from top to bottom. Dead Space 2 could very well be the best game of 2008.