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Friday | May 29, 2020


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If you are a fan of the survival horror genre then Dead Space should immediately appeal. It combines elements from well known movies and games such as Resident Evil 4, Event Horizon, The Alien Series and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Developer EA Redwood Shore are certainly not afraid of tackling something epic, so is the game worth your money?

Dead Space takes place hundreds of years in the future when mankind has exhausted all the natural resources on Planet Earth. Thankfully humans by this time have mastered space travel as well as a process called planet cracking which is in place to help counter the resource problem. When the planets are split, then they are strip mined and melted with the resources returned to Earth for consumption. Oh what a greedy race of beings we are!

A full fleet of ships travels through space performing these tasks and the most important vessel in the fleet is called the USG Ishimura which leads the way for strip mining. On a routine mission however the ship goes missing with all loss of communication and to discover what has happened, a small maintenance crew has been dispatched from a nearby vessel.

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You take control of Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer who is part of the aforementioned maintenance crew. While the story treads no new ground as such, it is still strong and Isaac not only has to find out what has happened to Ishimura, but he has some friends on board so its a double edged sword to him. Someone close to Isaac on board the ship managed to get a few cryptic messages out before she vanished. As predicted, shortly after Isaac lands on Ishimura, all sorts of horrific things start happening, you then end up stranded on the vessel with no way of escape.

The creatures you face are called the Necromorphs, and they kill most of Isaacs team and seperate him from the surviving members. To make matters worse the ship’s computer systems become corrupted thanks to the alien infestation and its up to you as Isaac to search for survivors and fix the problems as you travel … while obviously trying to stay alive and find a way out of the ship.

Isaac is a fully fleshed out character and unless you are the kind of person who just likes to frag without any acknowledgement to the storyline then you will bond on some level with the dude. He is basically just an engineer so you empathise with him as he struggles on his journey. He has no specialised training either, so his gun skills take some time to improve, all of his weaponry and items are found via schematics throughout the Ishimura. Another interesting angle is that most of the weapons are engineering items used as mining tools which Isaac modifies for alien killing purposes. The only item which is a true weapon is the security pulse rifle which is quite potent for the task.

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Isaac modifies the mining equipment he finds by analysing their blueprints and rewiring them at workbenches with the use of power nodes. As Isaac is a skilled engineer he can improve them in  variety of ways such as more ammo storage, improved reload times or increasing the damage they inflict. His upgrade abilities also stretch to his suits armour, so while the guy you control clearly isn’t RAMBO, his skill set certainly helps you in very different ways than most games would approach. This focus on item upgrades and modifications is quite refreshing, especially as it becomes clear that you need to focus on several items during the game as you don’t have time to all the items you pick up.

Augmenting your weapons is important because the Necromorphs are powerful foes and the best way to defeat them is by dismembering various parts of their bodies. Interestingly direct shots to the head do little damage and the game forces you to learn their weak points … I loved this approach.

The Necromorphs are fascinating creatures and as the game progresses they become stronger, faster and much more difficult to kill, so your engineering prowess is certainly put to good use.

This 3rd person shooter makes special emphasis on the claustrophobic nature of the environments as you can not turn 180 degress quickly. This means in certain locations, you are wondering exactly what is coming up behind you as you deal with whatever nasties lie in front. It creates a great atmosphere which certainly puts you on the edge of your seat.

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It is this strength of atmosphere which ends up being the games greatest asset. The design team clearly researched the level design to some great lengths as the attention to detail is incredible. As soon as you get onboard the ship you begin to notice things are wrong, but as you progress, the areas get progressively worse and you realise how violent and gory the situation must have been when the aliens first attacked the ship. This is further enhanced by the pulsing flesh that decorates some of the ships interiors. This reminded me of some of the dark and sinister Alien movies.

The game makes a break from tradition as there is no HUD as such to speak of. Isaac’s health is displayed on his back with the ammunition projected above the gun you have equipped. Even tranmissions you receive are projected in front of your face. Your inventory is accessed by hologram style images in front of you in real time, this means while you are accessing these options the game is still unpaused and enemies can appear in your area and start attacking you. It actually works very well and makes some titles  display systems look positively dated and archiac.

The presentation really is top notch with the Dead Space environment literally buzzing with life and I am sure the game will become the first of a series, as there is so much scope here for a follow up.

That said, Dead Space, like most games isn’t perfect. Sometimes the camera can get locked on a wall or position, meaning you can be attacked by an alien and not actually realise it, if you aren’t paying attention. Sometimes moving a few steps left or right, unlocks the camera and you can see better, but I can’t help but feel that with a little more care and attention this could have been avoided easily enough.

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Another negative aspect of the game is the amount of backtracking required during certain parts. If like me this idea irks you then it may prove to be almost a breaking point. Obviously this is possibly more realistic as I am sure if this were a real environment you may remember something you didn’t pick up from before, but it just annoys me to have to walk through areas ive been before to pick up something I missed. By pressing on the right analog stick a holographic nav directional line (like a GPS) appears, guiding Isaac the right way … so its not all hit and miss.

Another glitch I noticed was the foot stomp ability which while a nice addition is not entirely correctly programmed. You can for example foot stomp on a box above you on a table, and yes its a minor issue, but its noticeable and one worth mentioning.

Another gripe with the game play options would be the New Game + setting. If you replay the game again on the same difficulty you can keep all the items and upgrades you had which means this time around you get your augmented Isaac and can focus on new upgrades and options. When you beat the game you unlock seperate items which includes a fourth difficulty mode which was not available on the first play – if however you play again on a higher difficulty you lose everything you had from the last run through.

Graphically Dead Space is stunning, the textures are very high quality and the environments are painstakingly detailed. The gore level is high and the horror aspect shines throughout. Even Isaac’s suit is lovingly created and the designers deserve special mention for their hard work. Everytime you improve something, (such as a weapon) it will be rendered perfectly onscreen. I mean everything. It is this attention to detail that seperates Dead Space from the masses, I even noticed Isaac’s head and eyes moving to correctly mirror watching a holographic transmission for example. It is absolutely stunning. All the levels are masterpieces of design and while I don’t want to ruin it for anyone contemplating a purchase, rest assured that all the levels have little touches that signify where you are.

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Both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions are superbly handled and the character models are very well detailed, even the Necromorphs you are fighting. They look horrific, nasty and their pulsating flesh and oozing pustules send shivers down your spine. They are unsettling and horrible to look at and when you shoot off limbs or tentacles the onscreen graphics cover all the areas of blood and gore we would expect to see in real life (thank god they don’t exist!). Even some of the death sequences Isaac goes through are horrific in nature, watching him getting his head bitten off by some alien creature is stunningly rendered. The only negative I could comment upon would be the slight slowdown apparent on both consoles when the action heats up. It isn’t really that noticeable and it is slightly understandable, considering the detail on screen.  I think this is a game that would thrive on a high powered PC with 24 or 30 inch screen and top end ATI or Nvidia hardware.

The audio side of the game is almost as impressive with stellar voice acting throughout. Isaac never speaks however all the other cast members handle their tasks to AAA movie standard. Even more impressive are the ambient sound effects which will have your heart pounding if you play in a darkened room on your own. The Necromorphs have some guttural screams when you shoot them and there are a plethora of sound effects to mirror the environment. If you hear the quick scatter of alien legs on metal railings you just know something is nearby!

Dead Space is a remarkable title, and while it is not perfect it is one of the greatest horror survival style games I have ever played. It is not suited to the younger audience, as it can be quite horrific in nature and it is extremely violent. You will be hanging onto the edge of your seat while you progress, never quite knowing what is around the corner, or what nightmares lie ahead.

Highly recommended if you have the stomach to deal with it. Wonderful.

Strong exploration and great combat. Very creative, and it only loses points due to retreading old ground from time to time.
Some of the best I have seen on the Playstation 3 and equally as pretty on the Xbox 360. Visually stunning.
Voice acting is grade A and the ambient sound effects heighten the horror side of the environment.
Took me around 20 hours to complete but I took my time and enjoyed the experience, totally.
(Not an Average)
EA hopefully follow this game up, one of my games of the year.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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