Nick's Gaming Blog

Dead Space: Proof Activision is the New EA

This is the plasma cutter, don’t let the fact that it is your starting weapon fool you into placing it into a storage locker. You’ll find it remarkably more useful than many of the other ones.

Preface: This article was originally published in Kalamazoo College’s newspaper The Index. While this is not the actual edition that went to print, I don’t have the actual text file that was used in said edition. However, not only is my draft probably about 90% the same as that which went to press, but I feel that this version is more suited for the blogging/more hardcore gamer crowd. So, all and all, it’s a more fitting one for teh interwebs.

Without further ado, I present to you, my review of Dead Space

Before anything else, let this be said: Say at some point in your life you happen to be a spacecraft engineer, and your girlfriend just happens to be a doctor on a mining ship that reduces planets and other space-related phenomena to a smorgasborg of useful minerals and metals. Let’s suppose that this ship happens to come across a luridly blood-red alien artifact during the aforementioned process of planetary pulverization, and due to man’s predilection for all things tall, shiny, and ominous, it finds its way into the cargo hold, and shortly following such, the ship loses all communication with the outside world. If this more than highly probable scenario happens (an intergalactic hunt for “black gold” isn’t that out of the question, is it?) and your girlfriend sends you a semi-coherent message begging for your assistance…you might want to find someone slightly less needy.

I say this only because, informed by EA’s new title Dead Space, I’m more than aware that all that awaits you is unmatched atmospheric terror, coupled with a gaggle of creatures called necromorphs which harbor a craving for aged decaying bodies matched only by Hugh Heffner’s girlfriends. So I’d suggest playing the game instead of going through the “real deal.” As I already touched upon, Dead Space surrounds an engineer named Isaac Clark (an intentional combining of the great sci-fi authors Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov) who volunteers on a team sent out on a seemingly mundane mission to repair the USG Ishimura’s communication’s array.

Unsurprisingly, only minutes after setting foot on the Ishimura, Isaac is separated from his crew, and is forced to fend for his own while attempting to uncover how the ship became an intergalactic sanatorium, while also locating Nicole. Since the Ishimura is a mining ship and not a NORAD bunker, lightsabers and stockpiled phasers are nowhere to be found. Instead Isaac must rely on constructing makeshift weapons from mining equipment: plasma cutters, buzz saws, explosive mines and the like. You’ll certainly need anything you can muster together, considering that the necromorphs are a crafty lot; they’ll feign death, use the ventilation shafts around the ship as a means of catching you with your spaceman pants down, and despite being reanimated flesh, know a thing or two about flanking.

One of Issac’s pet peeves? People reading over his shoulder.

Oh, and did I neglect to mention that headshots don’t work? Dead Space utilizes a system called “strategic dismemberment” that emphasizes the fact that Isaac must turn his assailants into the Black Knight of Monty Python fame before rendering them totally harmless. In fact, with certain necromorphs, headshots only serve to send it into a more frenetic state of rage.

There are those who will say that, innovative combat and locale aside, Dead Space is nothing more than “Bioshock in space.” While it is certainly true that both share a steampunk approach to highly-upgradeable weaponry, retro-art aesthetic (though decidedly more of the streamlined 60s look, than Bioshock’s art deco look) and the act of being forced to piece together a back story through audio and video logs, the similarities are superficial. Dead Space distances itself from Bioshock with gory, visceral combat that is gratifying, and a control scheme that does little to impede “going Ripley”.

But what truly sets Dead Space apart from all other survival-horror titles is its immersive factor. There are no traditional HUD (heads-up display) elements to be found; health bars and ammo counts have gone on sabbatical in Dead Space. Instead, health is represented by a vertical blue bar that runs along the spinal column of your suit, and ammo is shown by a holographic display that projects from the base of your guns. All videocam interactions with team members, maps, objective screens, and the like are also blue holographic projections that spring from your suit’s helmet, and all are accessed in real-time. Simply put, there is no disconnect between you and Isaac, and you can stand to be attacked at any time…aside from pausing.

The hologram displays are stunning in their Tang-ish hue, to the extent that this compress screen does not do justice. Click on the screenshot for a better glance.

Graphically, Dead Space is the Sistine Chapel in macabre form; shadows dance from exhaust fans and loose cables, the lighting flickers to an inconsistent beat, enemy models are grotesquely detailed in ways you wish they wouldn’t be, and for a game so absent of humanity, the few character models are well-detailed, animated, and expressive, and convey their sense of horror and desperation convincingly. The real unsung hero is the art design, which has taken on the challenge of making an industrial environment have distinctive and memorable areas (the bridge, the science labs, the engine room) instead of providing the player with an infinite twisting of labyrinthine grey halls (think F.E.A.R). One only has to take the time to gaze at the corporate advertisements and scrawled graffiti coating the walls to understand the commitment of the aesthetic that permeates Dead Space. Assisting these excellent visuals is a soundtrack and voice acting that had yet to be matched in the horror genre…though the hammy voice acting of the Resident Evil series did little to set the bar high.

Allow me to demonstrate gaming law #457.9: If there is room within the realm of believability within the game’s universe for a flamethrower, it must exist. If there is not, you are clearly not creating a great game.

Overall, Dead Space is living…or should I say, undead…proof that large publishers with a Rolodex of in-house developers are capable of producing a new and epic franchise that is unique, enjoyable, and most importantly, will be the motivating factor in the purchase of a night light. Whether or not EA will turn this “sacred cow” into one of the “cash” variety remains to be seen, but what one can say for certain is that Dead Space is a terror-filled romp in space whose plot and presentation rival films of the very genre and paves the way for new forms of storytelling, much in the way Half Life 2 did. Mission objectives are sometimes derivative, but a lack of load times, smart enemy AI, and the sight of alien guts floating in zero gravity somehow overcome these nitpicking issues. Four and a half out of five stars.

1 Comment

    This review certainly calls to mind the shock value of playing/watching “someone” play Dead Space at midnight with the lights off :)

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