Resident Evil and Silent Hill have always been the go to games for those who love survivor horror games, EA Redwood Shore (now known as Visceral Games) longed to change that with Dead Space, a truly unique and amazingly good start for a new horror franchise that isn’t Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Fortunately for those who have yet to play Dead Space, this game delivers the scares in ways that you couldn’t possibly imagine.
The story of Dead Space takes place several hundred years into the future where mankind has been screwed for a while. We have exhausted all of our planet’s natural resources and as a result, our species is one step closer to extinction. However luckily for us, we’ve managed to find a way to survive. Enter the Concordance Extraction Corporation who designed a fleet of ships known as planet-crackers. These ships are tasked with finding suitable planets to “crack open” and harvest their resources to bring back to earth for consumption. The crown jewel of these planet cracking ships, is the USG Ishimura, who’s done more planet cracks then any of the other ships combined.
Half way through a routine mission, the Ishimura cuts off all communications with the CEC and a maintenance team is sent to investigate. Players step into the role of Isaac Clarke, a system’s engineer who is part of the five man maintenance crew. Besides having to fix the Ishimura’s communication problems, Isaac has a number of friends stationed aboard, including his girlfriend and medical officer Nicole Brennan who had sent him a very cryptic holovid mere hours earlier. Unfortunately for Isaac and his team, shortly after boarding the decrepit Ishimura, all hell breaks loose.
To start out, their shuttle that they arrived in his destroyed leaving them stranded on board the derelict ship. To make matters even worse, the group is then attacked by Necromorphs, nightmarish creatures who easily kill the two expendable members of the team before separating Isaac from the other two team members. What’s worse then being stranded on a broken down ship that seems to be infested with monsters? That ship’s systems becoming corrupted and failing which now brings the situation full circle and now Isaac and company must work together the best they can to survive.
Now cut off from his team mates. Isaac must wander the corridor of the Ishimura keeping an eye out for survivors along with fixing the critical systems and dealing with any and all necromorphs he comes across. All while trying to find a way to escape the Ishimura which should take someone around twelve hours to complete.
Unlike other science fiction heroes, Isaac doesn’t walk onto the Ishimura guns ablaze, barreling down necromorphs and saving the rest of the crew. In fact when you first start out you don’t even have any weapons in order to help you fight against these monsters. Since Isaac is an engineer all the weapons you use, are modified engineering tools. The first one you find, is a plasma cutter which can be alternated for vertical and horizontal slicing. Only one weapon that you find is indeed a “true” gun, the security pulse rifle. Using his knowledge of engineering, Isaac is able to upgrade both his weapons, and his suit using power nodes that he finds scattered throughout the ship. Apart from upgrading everything, the player can use those same power nodes to unlock locked doors scattered throughout the Ishimura.
The upgrade system isn’t overly complicated, so those new to the game won’t get overwhelmed on what to upgrade and improve first. Besides the usual being able to upgrade how many rounds your weapon can carry, the amount of damage, as well as how much health you also can upgrade your oxygen supply level as well as the power and reach of your stasis and kinesis. Stasis can be used to freeze enemies in place, giving you the time you need to take care of them. Kinesis on the other hand can be used to send objects back at them. The creative thing about this system is that players won’t be able to upgrade every single bit of gear in just one play-through. This system forces the player to be smart in what and how they choose to upgrade their gear.
Whatever decision the player makes, it will be an extremely important one because some weapons are more effective in dealing with the necromorphs then others. Unlike the monsters in other science fiction based games, as well as other survivor-horror games just straight out attacking the necromorphs with shots to the head will not be very effective, if at all. In fact the necromorphs will just shrug it off as if it is nothing. Instead the player will need to use what the developers call “strategic dismemberment” to put the necromorphs down for good. In layman’s terms, aim for the limbs. You will also need to keep a steady aim and trigger finger, as it is very easy to be overwhelmed and torn to shreds.
The game is played with over-the shoulder third person mode and it handles the scares just as good as if you were playing in first person. Its not just the constant threat of being killed, or running into a difficult battle with a necromorph that will unseat the player, but the atmospherics as well. Although there are plenty of jump scares, the game doesn’t keep throwing them at you as to not risk the player getting either less scared, or even bored. Instead, the game makes the player feel that as soon you walk aboard the Ishimura, that something is very, very wrong. As the player descends deeper into the heart of the Ishimura, the seriousness of what happened is shown with the little details. Blood and body matter smeared all over the walls, dead bodies littering the halls, books, and containment suits strewn all over, the game uses that akin to an abattoir.
One of the main issues I had with the game, is the constant back tracking between the different levels of the ship. you may at first start off in the medical section, only to come back a few chapters later. The unsettling nature of the world is heightened by the simple fact that there is no HUD. Instead any and all information is directly relayed to the player in real time. For example, Isaac’s health is integrated onto the back of his suit. To see how much ammo Isaac has, a holographic indicator appears above the weapon. With the ability to see and check inventory in real time, this presents an ever ongoing threat to be attacked by a necromorph while the player is doing this.
Because the player is never removed from the action, you will feel that much more immersed into the world and story. While making your way through the ship, Isaac will find messages scrawled in blood on the walls, along with text and video logs that help paint the grisly and gore filled story that happened. The only main issue that I found with the game, is the constant back tracking the player will do. For example you may find yourself in the medical section of the Ishimura, only to return a few chapters later. Other then that, there aren’t many flaws or problems with the game as the developers did an amazing job on balancing the horror and the action.
Any fan of horror and science-fiction will easily be able to see all the nods to the influences scattered throughout. From Event Horizon, the Alien quadrilogy, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and even Night of the Living Dead are littered throughout the story. These nods may be to subtle yet, fans of those movies, will still enjoy the story. Upon beating the game, New Game + is unlocked which will enable the player to unlock five separate items, along with a newer difficulty setting. For those players who want to upgrade every item in their arsenal, along with their gear and everything else, they will have to do a second play-through of the game.
Call Dead Space whatever you wish, but the game does the genre proud with an engaging storyline, action that’s not only tense, but extremely violent and filed with scares. It’s atmospheric qualities make it that much easier to get under your skin and make you dread turning off the lights. If you like survivor horror, action, or science fiction, You are doing yourself a misdeed by not experiencing Dead Space.
Final Rating 9.5/10
Contributor: [Adam Buskirk]