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Dead Space

 

Dead Space

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Horror
 
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Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Features

Players: 1
460 KB to Save Game
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
In Game Dolby Digital
Content Download

Last week I had a chance to chat with Ian Milham, Art Producer for Dead Space, in an exclusive interview for GameBoyz Radio. Not only did Ian share some terrific info regarding EA’s new IP, but he also introduced us to the concept of “strategic dismemberment”. Needless to say the concept made my gut churn, but like those who look at a train wreck I was captivated. I have loved horror movies and spooky games since I can remember. I still remember the days when I was kid back in the early 80’s, reading “Fangoria” magazine at my local pizzeria. I think I looked forward to reading the magazine more than the pizza. Yes, my love for blood and guts has been a lifelong affair, so when I heard EA was developing and producing a brand new survival horror game I was pumped. There has been lots of hype leading up to the release of Dead Space and some have even gone so far as to suggest that this new IP would be the scariest game ever made. Well I would not go that far, however Dead Space for the Xbox 360 is a good looking fright fest of a game which has certainly lived up to the majority of the hype.

Graphics

Overall, the visuals in Dead Space are stellar and on par with other ‘Triple A’ titles already out in the market. The detailed visuals do a wonderful job at creating a disturbing and horrific sci-fi feeling. Granted we have not seen a great number of survival horror games set in space so when comparing the visuals in Dead Space I would equate them to the same playing field as Bioshock when it comes to quality. About 90 percent of the game’s areas leave you with a disturbing and unsettled feeling and much of that has to do the overall look of the bloodstained interior of your setting. Everything from the one-of-a-kind lighting effects to the character designs of our heroes and the horrific enemies, the game’s visuals are stunning and serve as a terrific benchmark for a game which will undoubtedly become a strong franchise.

For starters the game’s lighting effects are something which really took me by surprise. When the power cuts-out and lights in the room start to go berserk (in the game, not my media room), the effect is not only chilling but also looks stunning to boot. The beams of light emanating from your plasma gun, for example, is also a pretty slick lighting effect especially as you move the weapon around. Also, using your flashlight when holding down the left trigger is quite unforgiving yet it enhances that claustrophobic feeling. There are many areas which can be a little too dark though, however the game does allow you to adjust your brightness which helps in some of these areas. The shadow effects in the game are also bang on, however I did notice some issues with Isaac’s (the main character) shadow as it just did not seem as clear as it should be or react as life-like as the enemy shadows do.

The games characters, including Isaac, look pretty good and are similar in quality to those characters seen in Mass Effect. Isaac’s space suit is original and looks great. Additionally, the integrated elements such as the health bar and stasis meter displayed on the back of Isaac’s suit is a treat. In Dead Space there is no permanent on-screen HUD to take away from the action on screen. In addition to viewing your health on the back of Isaac’s suit as you play in the game in third person view, a clean looking holographic interface keeps information such as your weapons, ammo, number of health packs and other odds and sods nicely organized. It takes some getting used to but it just creates a more realistic and suspenseful environment.

What is a horror game without some freaky and deadly creatures? Dead Space has a plethora of these in varying sizes and they look gruellingly fantastic and revolting at the same time. The best part is when you hack off a limb and blood literally gushes everywhere. The effect is awesome! But it does not end there. After you have gone all Texas Chainsaw Massacre on an enemy and sliced them to pieces you can kick around their body parts and even use them as weapons. There is something satisfying about playing soccer with an oversized raw piece of enemies body. The enemy characters provide lots of gore and are about as gruesome as we have seen in some time.

The games environments are equally stunning as is the character design. Even though the game takes place on and around a space ship, there is a good degree of variety in terms of the different types of areas to explore. For instance, there are stunning scenes where you are in the bridge of the shipo watching a rainfall of asteroids that are falling across the hull. Also, the zero gravity sequences are pretty cool too. There is nothing like watching a dead carcass floating in the air. Overall the visuals in Dead Space are solid and just one of the selling points of the game.

Sound

As with the visuals, the sound in Dead Space is very good and I was simply amazed at how great it sounded even at a low volume. For starters, the musical score and soundtrack is incredible. It is perfectly suited for the game and gives Dead Space a Hollywood blockbuster feeling. As good as the games soundtrack is, the in-game sound effects are just as incredible and had me jolting in my seat on a regular basis. There is nothing more unnerving than listening to some creature in a vent pass right over your head as you are walking down a dark hallway. As the creature was moving I could actually hear the sounds moving from my front speakers to my rear channels. The effect is phenomenal and stands as one of the best sounding games I have heard to date and if you are playing in 5.1 surround sound it will definitely give your subwoofer a real good workout.

Other sound effects in the game are as equally impressive. Sounds of creatures screaming, weapons firing, body limbs dragging along the ground, blood gushing to such details as Isaac breathing are just a few great examples of how the developers in the audio department paid close attention to every little facet in the game. The results are fantastic and lends to an atmosphere of pure horror. I can’t count how many times the hairs on the back of my neck would stand as I heard a door repeatedly slamming in the distance. I would actually pause for a second and question whether I really needed to go in that direction. To say it is unnerving is simply an understatement.

The voice-over work is also pretty good. I found the voice actors work not only compelling but also very believable. This actually allowed me to become somewhat emotionally attached to the characters and rooting for them as their repair mission quickly turns into one of survival and getting the heck off the ship at all costs. Overall I have no major concerns with the games total sound package and I am left with the opinion not much could have been done make it any better.

Gameplay

Set in the distant future, Dead Space revolves around Isaac Clarke, a space engineer who works for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (C.E.C), a company that operates giant mining ships throughout the galaxy. Isaac’s company receives a distress call from the USG Ishimura, a ship that destroys planets in order to extract valuable ore. Isaac and his crew set off to repair the ship assuming the mechanical failure is the only problem. As they approach the ship Isaac receives a personal message from a girl close to his heart. After she begs for Isaac’s help radio communications go silent. Soon after the crews ship nearly crashes and is in need of repairs. But before they can fix their own ship’s problems they realize something has gone terribly wrong on the Ishimura. It is not long after that Isaac and his crew become separated and some alien mutants with human looking faces attack the crew. Separated from the others, Isaac must survive the horrors which await him as battles back to safety and discovers the mystery behind the ships gruesome fate.

Dead Space is in a class all by itself and I can’t say I have played many games like it over the years. That being said, many aspects of the game very much reminded me of such games like Doom, Bioshock, and Resident Evil. Dead Space appears to take several ideas which made those games great, expand upon them, then put its’ own twist on it to make a game which scares the ‘bejeepers’ out of you.

Overall, I found the story to be a captivating one which is easy to follow especially when you compare it to Bioshock’s storyline or some of the earlier Silent Hill games. As I mentioned above, I found myself caring for the characters and desperately wanted to know how the Ishimura met its demise. There are certainly times where I felt the story somewhat dragged on, however this may be likely due to my obsessive need to listen to every audio clip and read every single text message. Bottomline, Dead Space has a really good story with ending that will not disappoint.

Dead Space is a third person shooter much like the Resident Evil games where you get a good look at the back of the character you are playing. There are a total of 12 chapters in the game and it will take you anywhere from 10-15 hours to complete them all. If you enjoyed games like Bioshock then you will most likely take a little longer to play as Dead Space does involve a fair share of searching. Things like looking for ammo, health and other upgrades are all key aspects to the game and critical for your survival. If you are a ‘run and gun’ type player then Dead Space may take you less than 10 hours to complete. Many may be disappointed with the length, however Dead Space is clearly a game you will want to play again as the story, presentation, weapons and strategically dismembering creatures will have you coming back for more.

One of the ways Dead Space separates itself from the rest of the pack is the way you have to destroy the enemy. Unlike other alien shooters where it’s all about blowing their head off, Dead Space requires you to shear off the limbs of the creatures in order to take them out. This is where the term “strategic dismemberment” I mentioned earlier comes into play. If you blow off their head, enemies will still come crawling after you. Fortunately, Dead Space provides you with the perfect weaponry to take these buggers out. You will find a variety of weapons including a Flamethrower, Line Gun, Pulse Rifle, and Plasma Cutter to name a few. All have their own strengths and you will be tasked to use all the weapons at one time or another. With approximately 13 different types of creatures in the game there is a nice variety of ways to take them out. Dead Space is not rich in ammo and as a result Isaac has to make use of a variety of ways to kill the enemy. Besides your weapons you can use telekinesis to pick up objects and throw them. Additionally, by using stasis you can slow down the enemy and line up your Plasma Cutter to slice their legs and arms clean off. The results are satisfying as heck and lends to a game which is original in terms of how you have to destroy the alien-like creatures.

The combat in Dead Space is not all roses. On the downside the melee attacks are clunky and problematic. Isaac seemingly takes forever to wind up his punches and it is clear the game discourages you from using these attacks. In fact, other than stomping on the enemy when they are down, I would recommend you don’t even bother using the melee attacks as they just don’t work as well as they should. Additionally, Isaac cannot duck and he does not move around all that fast for a guy who trying to keep himself alive. Aside from the sprint button he is a little limited in the movement department.

Another new feature to the genre is the introduction of the in-game HUD. As I mentioned above, the HUD is completely integrated into game and is not an on-screen HUD. More specifically, when sorting weapon items, checking objectives, or viewing the map, you are presented with a real time holographic image which appears in front of Isaac. By pressing the ‘Y’ button, Isaac pulls up the image and his menu is right there. It creates a sense of realism unlike I have experienced before. As you progress through the game your inventory becomes bigger and you are left with critical decisions whether to dump some items or hang onto them. In many games when you pull up a HUD the in-game action stops. This is not the case in Dead Space. On far too many occasions I would be sorting items or reading a text log when all of the sudden enemies would appear and pounce on me. As I scrambled to exit the HUD and regain my composure more often than not it was too late. Although it was frustrating the result is successful as it just creates all the more tension and anxiety in the player.

Unfortunately, Dead Space does not offer up any multiplayer component. It would have been interesting to see what they could have done with some online play. Even a cooperative mode would have been cool. To be able to progress through the ship and take out enemies with a buddy would have been fantastic. The lack of multiplayer or co-op component keeps this title from being considered truly elite and on par with games like Halo 3 or Gears of War.


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