Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dead Space (PS3, 360, PC) Review

If you recall, the following game was nominated for Best New Franchise and Game of the Year during my big, star-studded Best of 2008 awards. I still have my buzz from the afterparty! Read up on why Dead Space was nominated in this brand-new, fashionably late review.

A Dismember to Remember.

The PS1 was truly the golden age of the survival horror genre. You had big guns like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but you also had littler known titles like Clock Tower. Now we’re not seeing as much horror in the survival horror genre. Resident Evil 4 and 5 turned the series into a more action-oriented affair while Silent Hill has suffered in quality. From EA, Dead Space is seeking to help revive the genre, at least on HD platforms. It’s decidedly pure survival-horror with gratuitous violence and bloodbaths for all. Will Dead Space give you thrills and chills, or is this new single-player game one that goes and blows?

An engineer, Isaac Clarke, is onboard a repair ship heading towards the U.S.S. Ishimura, a mining hull. After being bombarded with asteroids, Issac's ship makes impact onto the Ishimura. What was a routine repair mission is now a desperate fight for survival. The crew is dead, some form of alien force has inhabited the ship, and the hope for escape is all but lost. Each chapter of Dead Space showcases how the situation is becoming more and more hopeless. Cut-scenes are minimal throughout the game. The narrative is provided in-game while you have full control over Isaac giving the game a more scare-filled feeling. There are many moments where you will feel truly disturbed watching such as seeing a Necromorph tearing up a crew member with you forced to watch, seeing the crew members lose all rationale and start killing one another, and so forth for starters. The big mysteries of the game are where is Nicole, a possible wife or girlfriend of Isaac, and who are these creatures infecting the ship, and where did they come from?

The opening scene of Dead Space.

The core gameplay of Dead Space revolves around Isaac moving through the Ishimura, blasting away the necromorph threat infesting the ship. Dead Space plays like Resident Evil meets space (but not like Dino Crisis 3) only this time you can actually move while shooting. There are some attempts at changing things up, but they tend to fail such as an asteroid shooting mini-game around the fourth chapter. Like Resident Evil 5, item selection is done in real time which makes needing a med kit during a skirmish a very hectic and tense experience indeed. Ammo can be scarce in later difficulties (which there are four) bringing the amount of anxiety, as well as annoyance, to an all-time high.

Each of the game's twelve chapters take place in different parts of the Ishimura. That doesn't mean areas don't overlap and have you revisit familiar areas of the ship, but that is to say there's little to no backtracking involved. If you get lost in the dark, you can click down the left analog stick to have Isaac's RIG suit point the way you need to go leaving getting lost a worry for other games in the genre.

Routine repair, my foot.

Isaac's suit also allows him to enter zero gravity and vacuum sections. Zero gravity sounds just what it's like. Isaac and enemies alike can walk on walls, floors, and launch themselves across the room when in zero gravity. Vacuum rooms require Isaac to pass through them quickly as there's no oxygen in these areas. A time limit of how much oxygen Isaac has left will be displayed on his suit as will everything in the game such as his health and kinesis power. Kinesis power allows Isaac to slow down pursuing enemies to a crawl or slow down a malfunctioning door which would otherwise smash Isaac in two or three bloody pieces. It also allows Isaac to pick up or hold various objects and even some enemies' projectiles, giving him the ability to toss them back with a push of a button.

As you progress through the game, you find new schematics which unlock new items, weapons, ammo and upgrades for purchase in the shop. Each area has multiple shop machines where Isaac can buy and sell these goods with credits (Dead Space's currency) found throughout the ship's rooms-- some massive, some claustrophobic. There's several weapons for Isaac to use, the sniper rifle of the future, the pulse rifle, the limb-detaching plasma cutter, and the heat-inducing flamethrower to name a few. Each weapon has a second fire to double their usefulness, and each can be upgraded at bench stations using hidden power nodes. You can upgrade the power, accuracy, firing rate, and reload time of each weapon.

This wasn't in the operations manual.

What good are weapons if there's nothing to fire them on? Necromorphs are the cast of cretinous characters that prowl the Ishimura, and they can come in all shapes and sizes. Some are just truly terrifying and unrelenting, haunting players as they turn that corner only to be surprised by a sickle slash, cutting Isaac's head off like a knife to butter. Some are swift movers needing Isaac to be quick on his feet or else he’ll lose them (along with everything else), some can shoot projectiles from far away, and some have exploding sacs that when shot release an army of tiny creatures that when in a group are lethal. To avoid wasting ammo, you'll need to shoot strategically at the enemies' limbs to truly damage them. Each dismemberment damages them, and while they cower on the ground, Issac can give them one last curb stomp goodbye.

The heat is on with the flamethrower.

Dead Space is one of the most breath-taking games of this generation. The art design is fantastic as the Necromorphs really are unpleasant to look at (and listen to). You get a sense of dread visiting areas not knowing what's coming thanks to how suspenseful and terrifying the Ishimura is. Then again there's always the bloodthirsty creatures, too. A problem I see mostly with the game is that everything looks similar since for the most part, you're always on the Ishimura. Sound design is superb with the music crescendoing when an enemy pops up, or when things aren’t so crazy and you hear terrifying ambient sounds. Voice acting is terrific and performed in a believable manner. Case in point: the entire presentation package is spot-on.

A great stress release-- stomping on corpses.

Dead Space succeeds at borrowing the gameplay of Resident Evil 4, tidying it up a bit, and putting it into a brilliant stand-alone game. Survival-horror fans will love it, and those old enough to take on the ultra-violent action of the game will enjoy the game, too, despite a few flaws. Dead Space gets a huge approval from me– regardless of which of the three platforms you get it on.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.25/10]

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