When survival horror games are mentioned most people tend to jump straight to either the Resident Evil or Silent Hill series of games, and with good reason. Aside from a couple of downers in the series the Resident Evil franchise has had a great deal of influence on the survival horror genre, as has the Silent Hill series. Well it is time for the zombies to step aside, there's some new horror in town (or rather in space) and it's name is Dead Space.
Dead Space sees you taking control of an engineer called Isaac. You are part of a crew that has been sent to check out the spaceship Ishimura which sent out a distress signal a short while ago. Upon boarding the ship you find out that things have gone horribly wrong. It's quite a generic setup, but it does its job. It doesn't take long for things to take numerous turns for the worse and before long you find yourself stuck on the ship, separated from your crew members and being hunted down by aliens know as the Necromorph. Time to whip out some weapons and fight through the Necromorph in order to escape.
The game plays out as a 3rd person over-the-shoulder shooter, similar to Resident Evil 4. Unlike most shooters however, head shots aren't an effective way of taking down the enemy. In Dead Space you need to literally take your enemy apart. Shooting off limbs does increased damage, and also means they have less limbs to stab you with. You can of course ignore the limbs and just shoot their heads or bodies, but it is much harder to kill enemies that way. It's strangely satisfying to watch as you blast off legs, arms and tentacles from the foul beasties. There are of course numerous different weapons to help you chop off limbs, ranging from engineering tools such as the plasma cutter, all the way up to military grade plasma rifles.
Each of the different weapons has two different modes of fire which help give them multiple uses. The plasma cutter for example can rotate its firing line, meaning you can shoot vertical or horizontal lines, which means you can always shoot at the right angle to lop off an arm. The plasma rifle has a standard automatic firing mode, but you can also put it on the floor and have it open up to shoot 360 degrees, which is really great when you are surrounded. I think my favourite firing mode has to be the primary fire on the ripper. It basically shoots out a spinning saw blade, and makes it hover in front of the gun, which you can then simply move into the Necromorph to slice them up. As you progress through the game you are also able to upgrade these weapons using power nodes, which can add more damage, or increase their capacity and reload speed.
Further to the weapons you can also use 'stasis' to slow down your enemies, making them easy to take out. However, don't confuse stasis with slow motion as they are not the same. With stasis, you have to shoot the enemy with stasis energy to slow them down. This means that if you have multiple enemies, you have to shoot them all individually to slow them all down. It is quite intense when you've slowed down 2 enemies and think that you're safe for a few seconds, only to have a 3rd enemy that you didn't notice stab you in the back. Finally there is 'kinesis', which allows you to move objects similar to a gravity gun, so you can pick up stuff and lob it at the Necromorph. The guns, stasis and kinesis all come together nicely to create a solid and varied combat system.
Stasis and kinesis are not only used in combat however. They are also used to solve puzzles, although I use the term puzzle very loosely. Pretty much all the puzzles in the game consist of you slowing down objects (such as faulty doors) so you can get through them, or moving object into place using kinesis. It is quite disappointing to enter a room which needs something doing before you can move forward, only to figure out the answer in a couple of seconds. I would have really liked to have seen some innovative puzzles, but thankfully there aren't too many of these sections, which means you have plenty of time to shoot stuff.
Even though you have powerful weapons that you are packing, Dead Space is pant soiling scary in parts thanks to some great scripting and brilliant surround sound. The Necromorph can jump out at you from anywhere, and the bone-chilling shrieks that they make are spectacular. The music fit perfectly, and ramps up at just the right moments. You are also always kept guessing as at times the music kicked into suspense mode as I was opening a door, only for me to find out there was nothing on the other side, so I worried for nothing. Just a few steps later on when the music was calm there was a loud crash and a Necromorph dived out a vent at me, which made me jump out of my skin. This is survival horror at its best. The only real problem I found was the fact that there aren't many different variations of the Necromorph. This is quite a shame as some of the scarier moments in the game involve you being attacked by new enemies that you are not sure how to beat, and this doesn't happen anywhere near as much as I would have liked it to.
In order to keep you fully immersed in the game there is no HUD. Your health is shown by a tube of light on Isaac's back. All the menus in-game are displayed using holographic displays, and they never pause the game. You can move around while you have the menu open, and even rotate the camera round to look at the menu from the other side. It is truly remarkable and really does keep you in the action. There are also very few cutscenes, and the majority of the story is moved along via audio and video clips that are also shown using the holographic display. Whilst playing Dead Space I was more immersed in the game than any other game I've ever played.
Graphically the game is also impressive. The environments and character models look great, especially the Necromorph which look and move brilliantly. The different parts of the ship all look different, and the lighting is spot-on. However, the real shining stars graphically are the holographic interfaces, which are quite simply amazing. There were a couple of instances where things looked a bit pixelated or muddy, but these moments were far and few between, and nowhere near bad enough to tarnish how great the game looks as a whole.
Put bluntly, Dead Space is a brilliant addition to the survival horror genre. As the famous saying goes, "In space no one can hear you scream". In Dead Space, your room-mate will.
- Great audio & graphics
- Brilliant HUD system
- Can be very scary
- Not enough variation in enemies
- Poor puzzles
- Couple of minor graphical issues