Dead Space
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

If films are to be believed, we have a lot to look forward to in the future: Interstellar travel, an uninhabitable planet Earth, mass crime and to top it all off nasty bastard aliens will inevitably turn up and maim everyone in sight. So don't be surprised when you receive a distress call from the deep space mining vessel USG Ishimura and it's not about their washing machine packing up.

Dead Space sees you playing as engineer Isaac Clarke (no, you're not the prodigy of two great sci-fi writers, that's just EA trying to be clever), who boards the Ishimura as part of a three-man maintenance party. Pretty soon it becomes apparent things aren't normal, as your 'welcome room' in the hangar is smeared with blood and you're attacked by one of the aliens. The group is then split up and you set off into the ship to try and formulate an escape plan.

The aesthetics of the game are absolutely what you'd expect a sci-fi horror to be. Combine Doom 3 with Event Horizon and you're pretty much bang-on. The Ishimura is a clunky, metallic monster in itself with warning lights flashing and areas of pitch dark to create a sense of tension that makes you have to force yourself to go around the corner. The lighting effects are amazing, particularly your weapon-mounted torch, which is puny to say the least, and rarely does the game sink into the aimless wandering around in the dark that Doom 3 suffered from. Everything is crisply detailed, with blood and insane ramblings strewn across the walls and floor to create a genuinely uninviting atmosphere.

Being set in the 3rd-person Isaac himself is visible and is beautifully modelled. His armoured suit appears to be made up of multiple plates, which all move with each other beautifully. The enemy aliens are wonderfully grotesque when they lumber towards you, although you can't help but feel they ripped off the big tank-like ones with armour on all but their backs from Halo (Hunters Ed.).

To make it more atmospheric there's no HUD in DS, but all the information you need is displayed on-screen in some form or another. Your health is shown in a bar which runs down the spine of your armour and your ammo count is shown on a display on the top of each weapon. Your 'Stasis' (I'll come to later) and oxygen levels are shown on little gauges to the right of your health bar. Everything else is shown in the inventory.

One of the great new innovations for DS is the menu and inventory system. Instead of pressing start you press select and a device in your suit (called a 'rig') brings up a projection in front of you, in-game. This is where you can manage your inventory, view the real-time 3D map, view objectives or receive messages. As you progress you'll receive communications from the other members of your crew, which pop up in this hologram form seamlessly. Spin the camera around and you can even see the video from the other side, showing a nice 3D effect.

This makes a change from the usual menu systems, as they're normally a place to chill out and heal yourself while you're overwhelmed with enemies, a tactic I frequently use in Fallout 3 but here you're never really given a chance to get out of the action and that makes combat situations more frantic. On the downside when you do actually need to access something it's almost impossible. Although the health packs are mapped to the ‘X’ button nothing else in the inventory is ordered in terms of priority. For example, when I was fighting in an airless environment I needed another air can, but when I accessed my inventory the first few items were 'gold conduits', which do absolutely naff-all. If you're not going to give people the chance to look through the inventory properly then you should at least make it easy to read and quick to access.

The monsters, called the Necromorph, come in various forms and they'll all take a different strategy to beat them. Beautifully the crux of each strategy involves blowing as many limbs as possible off them and leaving their stumpy carcass in a pool of their own alien mess. There's something satisfying about popping one of the legs off an infected crew member alien and then stomping on his head until it pops all over the floor. Needless to say the game is gory and deserves its 18 rating!

In between killing there are a few simple puzzles to break things up. For almost the exclusive use of puzzle-solving you've been given a time-stopping power called 'stasis', which helps you run through electricity or constantly slamming doors. There's also the physics gun, which you use to pull big things around every so often, which looks suspiciously like the gravity gun from Half-Life 2 - but grafted to your arm. The puzzles aren't tough in the slightest and you'll know when they're coming up as they always have stasis replenish points and pretty much tell you they're there as a formality rather than a challenge.

Dead Space pulls out all the stops to make you wet your pants as soon as possible, but after the first hour everything goes a bit wrong - both you and your character realise you're in a big rip-off of Event Horizon and don't take things all that seriously anymore.

The scares in a game like Dead Space should come from not knowing when something will jump out and attack you, but the creatures seem to love the limelight, announcing their appearance by standing in the light and making lots of noise. By that time you've already capped their legs and they're reduced to a squirming mess which you can finish off. This combat is pretty much this ‘repeat ad nauseum’, and by the time you get the 'ripper', which fires a controllable razor blade, you don't even have to try anymore, as you can dismember anything by just flicking the analogue stick around a bit, and the blade does the rest. The game does have unexpected moments but if you've ever seen a horror film you'll see them coming a mile off, and the 'oh no, the dead monster got up and grabbed my leg!' routine wore thin pretty quickly.

Even the characters in the game seemed to chill out and act as if they were at a weekend in Butlins rather than stuck on a ship full of corpses and murderous abominations. The first few assignments are dished out with deathly importance and you really feel like you’re struggling against overwhelming odds. But the game's tense pacing absolutely falls on its arse when as soon as you've finished fixing something your teammates will have found something else that needs fixing (which they apparently can't do themselves). Naturally this usually involves massive backtracking through areas you've already been through. The female member of your team, while giving you another 'fetch' mission even said verbatim: 'I don't know how much more of this I can take'. Bringing the gamer's attention to how tedious the tasks are becoming is not the best way to keep him playing, EA Redwood.

So what starts as a tense fight for survival turns into a series of what feel like chores rather than missions, and since you'll have access to all the game's weapons quite early on there's not much motivation to push you on until the end. The story has some significance but you've heard it all before, and any attempt to get you to empathise with Isaac about his ex-girlfriend, who was stationed on the Ishimura, falls flat as he doesn't talk throughout the entire game and you don't even see his face!

Dead Space started off so well, with an amazing engine and some genuinely good new ideas. But you wonder why they didn't think of more original things to put in it. The whole game reeks of cliché, of ideas that have been done so well in other games, which have been picked out, watered-down and mashed together into a very by-the-numbers horror shooter with less depth than it tries to make you think it has.

Best Bits

- Amazing graphics
- Great atmosphere
- Some nice weapons
- Good 'n Gory
Worst Bits

- Poor pacing
- Cliché makes scares almost impossible
- Combat and missions become dull very quickly
- Lack of an engaging story
- Meleé is sluggish and badly mapped

by: Crazypunk

Copyright © Gamecell 2008