Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dead Space Review (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC)

There is always a lot of risks involved when introducing a new series to the world. The first reaction most people will have is ‘this game is a lot like…’ We are skeptical because most gamers want to play something they know will be good. When Dead Space was announced, most people claimed ‘this game is a lot like Resident Evil in Space’ and while that's a fair assessment, when you actually start playing, you notice that this is a very different game and a great one at that.

The plot behind Dead Space involves a crew that has been called to assist with some problems that have occurred on the ship USG Ishimura, touted as one of the biggest and most powerful ships in the fleet. When they arrive, the Ishimura fails to respond to the calls and it seems that something else has occurred. At first, you’re under the impression that the problem is the communications. Once you arrive on board, you realize that something else, much larger, is the problem.

You play as Isaac Clarke, who is an engineer capable of fixing what is initially believed to be the problem. As you begin the game, you and your crew members thing that the communication is what is causing the problem, but once you begin walking around the ship, you notice that people are no where to be found, feared dead. Now it’s up to you to get the ship online in order to escape and at the same time, try to figure out what exactly has gone wrong with the ship and its crew.

The game is played from a 3rd-person, over the shoulder view. You will also not have a HUD (Head’s Up Display), rather all of your stats are available on your person. Your weapon’s ammo shows up on the weapons when it is drawn; your health bar is located on your spine and your Stasis strength is shown on your shoulder blade. Lastly, in levels that require you to venture into space, you’re oxygen supply timer will also appear. It’s a great mechanic that works really well. Since the screen is not cluttered with data so it allows that game to really look good. Also, everything that occurs happens in game. When you bring up your items menu, a holograph appears which will allow you to continue moving and access key items. Also, whenever you crew members appear to communicate with, it too happens with the use of holographs. This is really nice as it never stops the flow of the game.

The enemies you will encounter are called Necromorphs, Some are fast, others are slow but all of them are extremely deadly. Your arsenal begins with a simple weapon, but as you progress and obtain credits you will unleash more powerful weapons. Since Isaac is an Engineer, all of his weapons are actually modified tools, such as Cutters and other Mining Tools. All of the weapons are upgradeable and necessary for you as you progress into more difficult stages.

For the most part, Necromorphs are relatively slow, so you should be able to attack them before they get to close, but that’s not to say they are easy to take down. The game puts the emphasis on dismemberment. Most Necromorphs can actually morph into different shapes, so in order to stop them you will have to strategically cut off limbs, to slow them down even more then cutting off their heads or targeting certain parts of the body to destroy them.

The attacking is where Dead Space gets the talk about being similar to the Resident Evil franchise, specifically RE4. In RE4, character perspective is similar to what you encounter in Dead Space, but here you’re character is able to move while aiming. This may seem to make the game easier, and as it may be the case in some situations, the fact that the game often puts you in small corridors and dark locations, the best way to approach any area is to constantly move.

The majority of the game is played on the USG Ishimura, but the environments are not that repetitive. There are plenty of situations where Isaac will have to work in areas with Zero Gravity and even outside of the Ship. In areas with Zero Gravity, every section with a flat surface can be used and you will have to move to them in order to advance. In those parts where you’ll have to be outside of the ship, or areas with no oxygen, you will have to move quickly as you only have a limited amount of air available to you. These portions are always frantic since not only will you have to battle enemies, but work against the clock.

In terms of graphics, Dead Space is absolutely stunning. Majority of the game is played in dark locations, so the atmosphere really makes things difficult for you. Often, you will have to walk around with your weapon drawn, since each one of them has a flashlight. You can walk around without it, but be prepared for attacks, which can be really fun and challenging. Some environments look the same, but in actuality there are subtle differences to each of them. As you trek through the game, you may want to walk off path just to check out what you might find. There is a lot of secrets available throughout the ship, which will appease those who actually go through each nook and cranny.

The game’s sound is top-notch. The voice work from the small cast and the sounds from the Necromorphs all stand out. There isn’t a single weak point throughout the game. The sound both the ambience and the score is also extremely fantastic. In those key moments where it seems like something bad is going to occur, the music is right there to reassure you. I really enjoyed those moments when your oxygen gets low since you can hear the panic breathing of Isaac. It doesn’t stop there. When Isaac is low in health, if you try to run, his breathing will also point sound weird giving you the hint that you should be hunting for health packs and using them. In survival horror games, sound is just as important as ‘shock value’ and Dead Space truly delivers.

Dead Space’s story plays out in 12 chapters, each of which will take about an hour or so to complete, so you’ve got a minimum of twelve hours of gameplay here. If you stick to the path, given to you by the objective assister, you will only get a portion of the story here. There are a lot of audio and text logs that you need to uncover to understand the storyline. Also, what some people might miss out is that Dead Space the videogame is actually only the final portion of a three tier story. Also released prior to the game hitting stores was a six part comic book story which chronicles events that lead to the discovery of the key plot to the game. On top of that, there is a full-length feature animated film which then connects the comic book mini-series to the game. If you want to understand the full lore behind the game, picking up either of the two will help understand the game just a bit more. Thankfully, you can easily pick up the digital versions of the comic book which were made available free on Xbox Live and PSN.

In the end, even with all the connections made between Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 and films like Solaris and Event Horizon, EA has done a great job in giving gamers a fantastic playing game. There is plenty of action, suspense and horror to satisfy just about any gamer out there. Some might be put off by the fact that you’re only getting a portion of the overall story, there is still enough that you can get an understanding of everything even without going that extra mile. If you’ve been looking for a game to keep you at the edge of your seat but were annoyed with questionable tank-like controls, Dead Space delivers.

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