Dead Space Review

We get dead scared in space with EA's sci-fi horror game.

Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 24th October 2008

Dead Space

  • Developer: EA Redwood Shores
  • Publisher: EA Games
  • Release Date: 24th October 2008

We’ve all played survival horror games set in zombie filled small towns, and it seems that this setting has been done to death. So now developers are looking for new ways to scare you out of your skin and what better setting is there than on board a severally damaged ship in deep space, the setting for EA’s sci-fi horror Dead Space.

The game starts with the games hero, Isaac Clarke on board an engineering ship on a simple repair mission to fix key systems of the deep space mining ship USG Isimura. However, upon arrival your ships crew is unable to make contact with the Isimura and when docking with the huge mining vessel things quickly go wrong and your ship crash lands in the docking bay. Upon initial investigations there are no signs of the crew of the Isimura and most of the ships key systems are offline. As with most horror games, things quickly get worse as you are cut off from the rest of the crew after an attack by some gruesome alien beings. From here on in you must fight for survival and try and get the USG Isimura in a space faring state to ensure your survival.

The games main character is silent for the entirety of Dead Space never uttering a word. However, the game features an excellent script that places various characters in somewhat stereotypical support roles, issuing orders and giving you objectives to complete. However, the games cast don’t simply stay in their moulds throughout Dead Space! They evolve as your crew’s situation deepens and the full extent of the terror that faces them is realised.

When you first start playing Dead Space the games camera angel can seem a little strange, with its offset third person perspective, but upon closer inspection it’s obvious why the developers choose this view. The game completely lacks any interface, your health bar is located on the back of Isaac’s engineering suit or “rig” as it’s referred to in the game, also your ammo count is indicated on an LCD style display on your gun. The system works well and helps immerse you into the tense and eerie atmosphere of the game!

Your rig is far more then just an interface for the game however, it is also an essential life support tool. It allows you to traverse areas with no gravity or air. Isaac’s suit also gives him some special abilities that any deep space engineer would find useful. Firstly, is the stasis module that is acquired early on, this allows you to slow down fast moving machinery and malfunctioning doors allowing you to pass safely by. It also allows you to slow enemies down making it easier for you to deal with them, this comes in useful a number of times, especially later on in the game. The other useful add-on for your rig is the Kinetic module. This allows you to move heavy objects you wouldn’t normally be able to move. It also allows you to fire objects at enemies, which comes in very useful when you run out of ammo.

The games control system will feel pretty familiar to anyone who’s played the Resident Evil games with one button used to aim and another to fire. It works well for the most part although the aiming system can be a little fidgety until you get used to it.

As you travel around in the game you will come across various items, most of which will be ammo but other items have a different purpose. In some areas you will find futuristic looking vending machines in which you can buy supplies such as weapons, ammo, and med packs. You are also able to purchase upgrades to your suit that offer more health, air and so on. You can also sell items in the stores such as valuable semi-conductors or any unwanted items. If your inventory becomes full you can also move items into the stores safe to collect later on. The games currency is credits that are found in various locations on the Isimura such as in lockers and storage crates. New items can also be added to stores as you progress through the game by collecting schematics which will then be uploaded to the store.

Weapons in Dead Space aren’t really what you would expect to find in your average sci-fi game which seem to concentrate on filling your characters hands with ever increasingly over-sized and somewhat obscene guns. Isaac’s arsenal is mainly made up of futuristic industrial tools such as a Line Cutter that sends out longs beams of energy towards the hordes of alien necromorphs that infect the Isimura. There is one conventional weapon at your disposal in the form of a Pulse Rifle but as you discover very early on in Dead Space your enemies are pretty much invulnerable to bullets and the only way to defeat them is to take them apart limb by limb. This approach really enhances the gameplay of Dead Space and significantly adds to the challenge as you have to choose your shots carefully or risk being left with an empty weapon.

Weapons and your “Rig” can be upgraded with the use of Benches that are located throughout the games levels, however to upgrade a weapon you will need Power Modules which are found in various places throughout the ship. The usual enhancements can be made such as the amount of damage yielded, reload time and capacity of the weapon.

In the early stages of the game enemies offer little challenge with sporadic attacks that are easily, but nerve wrenchingly dealt with. However, as you progress you soon realise that any sense of comfort you may have been able to muster, in the spine tingling atmosphere of Dead Space is well and truly misplaced. Enemies become more formidable, attacks are more violent and frequent and the numbers you face are ever increasing. This approach really helps create a feeling of tension and desperation especially as ammo becomes more and more scarce.

The game also does an excellent job of creating a feeling of suspense as you never know when an attack is going to come. The necromorphs pounce from ceilings, walls and vents and it’s pretty terrifying to see an enemy crawling into the ventilation system as soon as the door opens only for the attack to come much later on then you expect. Adding to the challenge you will also have to face the odd boss battle. These are usually trial and error affairs until you find the most suitable way to inflict damage on them.

Level design in Dead Space is pretty good and the intertwining corridors of the Isimura really add to the terror factor as you never know what lies around the next corner. Also to add to the confusion certain sections of the ship have no gravity and feature twisted passages way that sees you having to jump from floors to ceiling and onto walls in order for you to make your way through. You can imagine the sheer terror you feel when you get attacked by various monsters as you try to figure your way through a zero gravity area.

The most disappointing thing about Dead Space is the amount of back tracking you seem to do. Most great games have you going over old ground from time to time but Dead Space seems to have you frequently going over entire areas again and again with only slight changes such as certain doors being locked. However, this isn’t enough to over shadow what is excellent level design created to absorb you into the terrifying and desperate situation Isaac faces.

As a bonus to PlayStation gamers Dead Space also features support for Sony’s recently introduced Trophy system, whilst of course Achievements are available to unlock in the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Dead Space is probably the best looking game I’ve seen in a long time, everything is perfect. Your characters surroundings really help create a feeling of terror, from the smears of blood and various body part littered around and the flickering monitors and the darkness that allows you to see just enough to instil fear in you. Character models are brilliant as is animation. Aliens will crawl around on their arms after you shoot their legs off in a bid to get you, whilst Isaac can be seen gasping for air when in a vacuum or staggering around after a particularly nasty encounter. The games designers have also done an excellent job of portraying his panic when an alien jumps on top of him, he wriggles and rives in desperation is a bid to free himself.

The games audio design is also flawless! Despite being silent Isaac still expresses himself with gasps when desperate for air and screams of pain when under attack. His heart can also be heard beating hard when the screams and roars echo around the corridors of the Isimura. Voice acting is superb and the games characters do an excellent job of portraying their emotions and desperation through their dialogue. A number of audio logs can also be picked up as you progress through the game. These help to progress the game story, yet they also help to realise the situation facing your characters and pull you into the story. The game also features a lot of little sound effects that brilliantly enhance and pull you into the dark and terrifying atmosphere on board the Isimura.

The games soundtrack is superb doing a brilliant job of creating suspense whilst enhancing the overall feel of Dead Space. Sudden bursts of music when enemies appear really help to get the adrenaline pumping, whilst the sombre yet tense orchestral sounds really add a feeling of suspense throughout the game.

Whilst a lot of survival games fail to pull you into the story and get you worrying about your characters wellbeing Dead Space does it brilliantly, the game also introduces a lot of elements clearly designed to create a level of confusion that anyone in such a terrifying situation would face. Dead Space is a truly shocking and absorbing playing experience that has set new standards in the survival-horror genre and is nothing short of a modern day horror masterpiece.

Review Score: 9/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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