Dead Space

Dead Space

[i]Twinkle Twinkle Little Star / How I Wonder What You Are

[/i]

– Popular Rhyme

Rickenbacker. Von Braun. Nostromo. Icarus II. Event Horizon. No matter how much technological progress humanity might one day make, sending lone ships into the unmonitored wilds of space usually ends in a rather disastrous mess. With the release of Dead Space, we can add another name to ye grande list of doomed vessels: The USG Ishimura.

It's long been a rule in cinema that horror flicks go to space to die. Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Leprechaun, all were once-respectable franchises that sputtered as they turned to the stars. But for the home console screen, the vastness of space teems with yet-untapped horrors that are all-too-eager to stalk across our darkened living rooms. In the best of these stories, jaunts into space demonstrate man's own inhumanity. We, who have conquered the stars and have mastered freeze-dried turkey dinners, are yet unable to overcome our base nature. There exists, in reality, a galaxy of horrors within each of us.

Dead Space isn't quite as introspective as my faux film critic diatribe. In fact, most of the elements of the game seem eerily similar to other titles you may have played. But if Dead Space isn't turning the space-based horror genre on its head, at least it's genuinely terrifying, right? Right?

Stop Me if you've Heard this one Before

It begins with the standard search and rescue schlock. The Ishimura, a “planet cracker” designate, has been silent for way too long. You, and a team of racially diverse math-science types, are sent to knock on the vessel's door. In the process you hope to run across your girlfriend, who is conveniently stationed on the...station. Immediately, your shuttle falls into problems – problems of the “losing your starboard engine” magnitude. You're soonafter attacked by some thing, at which point you realize that the Ishimura's crew probably didn't have a raging space-kegger, and is instead embroiled in some deeply weird business.

In a change of a well-worn cliche, the protagonist of Dead Space is not a Space Marine. He's more a Space Army Corps. Of Engineers type. While the difference may appear to be only a superficial one (he, for instance, has a nice head of hair), it's accurately reflected in the type of weaponry you carry. Your tools of carnage are aesthetically suited to cut pipes or carve wood, for the most part. It's not a huge change, but I welcome any deviation from the standard.

If you experience a bit of deja vu while trekking through the vacant halls of the Ishimura, it's because you've seen the concepts behind Dead Space at play before. The monstrous Necromorphs and their creeping biological habitat recall The Many. I realize that counts as blasphemy in some circles, but the “lumbering, fleshy, hive-minded ghouls” thing was done so well in System Shock 2 that it's hard to avoid the comparison. The core story (involving exploratory mining, an archaeological artifact and a smattering of religious zealotry) is strikingly similar to that of Doom 3. The handy routefinder is a less-intrusive version of the GPS system seen in Army of Two and the holographic map projection wouldn't exactly be out of place in the Metroid Prime series. I'm not saying it's derivative or uninspired, but the game does recognize its predecessors and reflects those roots accordingly. One could say that its built on the successes of prior titles. I just wish it didn't seem so reminiscent of said games.

But while the overall feeling of playing Dead Space makes me think I'm revisiting some choice entries in the horror or action genre, the game earns a lot of points from me for its novel approach to the inventory and heads up display systems. Instead of pausing the action and taking you on a temporary status screen vacation, the game's map, item, mission objectives and log database are displayed in game-space as a holographic projection that your character looks towards. Moving the camera while the screen is up (or while a video log is playing) can actually shift the focus off the display entirely, or move behind it. You are at all times tied to your character. Your experiences are one and the same. Likewise, your health is communicated through a blue tube mounted on your spine. In-game, this is a kind of communications harness that you use to sync up with your other crew mates. As you're injured, the column of light goes from a full blue to a warm-beer yellow, and finally to the familiar you're-going-to-die red. Since you're able to get all your information just by looking at your character, you're never really taken out of the situation at hand. It's remarkably minimalistic, but doesn't skimp on necessary information. A small touch, to be sure, but it really feels like this is the game's big innovation. One that marries gameplay and setting in an interesting way. I hope developers take notice and swipe the idea for future games.

Yes, but is it scary?
In a word, no. So far, this game is no Resident Evil Remake. That's a game that could make me whimper in the middle of a bright summer day. Certainly there are moments when I was surprised at a turn of events, but I have yet to feel the kind of terror that would have me cower in a corner, desperately hoping that the enemy I had just run into didn't follow me.

I blame my cynicism.

In the 25 years I've been alive, I've digested a lot of horror, be it from games, movies or Stephen King. I know that if the strings section launches into shrill staccato, I'm in for something jump-worthy. I know the innocent-looking enemy on the floor is probably waiting for me to walk up to it so that it can spring to life and eviscerate me. I know that if I come across an especially useful ability, quest item, or weapon, an army of nasty things will be rushing toward me the moment I turn around. I know that the huge, bloody hole in the wall means I'll come across what caused the hole somewhere down the line.

By and large, Dead Space follows the tired conventions listed above. Ugly as the Necromorphs are, I have a hard time feeling afraid of them when they almost universally drop extra ammunition for my base weapon – a weapon that is perhaps too effective at taking these enemies out. The game really captivates when you're confronted with a multitude of foes. As you choose which to slow down, which to dismember and switch betwixt your weapons of mass amputation, a visceral thrill comes bubbling up. You may not be scared of the situation, but at least you're having fun dissecting the situation.

Admittedly, you may lack my steely resolve. If the concept of walking down a darkened hall makes your skin crawl, then your experience may differ a bit from mine. It seems that in the frenzy of showcasing the limb dismemberment mechanics, the game expects you to kill every single thing you come across. This is unfortunate, because the true horror in a game like this comes when you've got enemies to kill and just your fists with which to do it.

Scary? Not so much. But atmospheric? Overwhelmingly, yes. Dead Space is one of the few space games where I truly felt I was on a derelict ship teetering on the edge of ruin. The environment creaks and groans as steel presses on steel and buckles, somewhere. There's an area by the engine room that really showcases the immense scale of the ship: you look over a broken, bent railing and all you can see is a single bright spotlight, its distance incalculable thanks to the haze between you and it, the outline of a Brobdingnagian piece of the ship looming silently before you.

You are alone, and oh, so very small.

Granted, you'll be playing through cramped corridors and medium-sized rooms through most of the experience, so scale won't be your primary concern. But running across a treat like that does wonders for establishing mood.

And really, it's the unconventional that sets the tone so well. In one case I had walked to a T-shaped corridor, a save marker ahead of me as I made my way into the bowels of the ship. I felt safe, secure, as I passed up the opportunity to preserve my progress. Not more than six steps later, the lights failed in the passageway. Immediately I readied my weapon, bringing up a small diameter of light with which I scanned the darkness ahead of me. As I inched my way forwards, that save point was suddenly looking very alluring. Moments like that tend to be remembered for a long time.

It's worth noting that, while I was unphased by the terror held within, my Xbox 360 was apparently scared sh*tless. It Red Ringed on me while I was progressing through game's half-way point.

Dead Space: A game so scary it'll cause your 360 to die.

Dead Space at GamerswithJobs.com
Dead Space at GamerswithJobs.com
Dead Space at GamerswithJobs.com

Comments

Also of note Is the media blitz which surrounds this title. A six-issue comic book was released (and later animated) that provides some backstory to the game's universe. Along with that was an ARG that collected vignettes of life aboard the USG Ishimura and the initial outbreak.

Scheduled for Halloween release is Dead Space: Downfall, an animated feature-length offering that shows the destruction of the Ishimura's crew. With such an investment in the game's mythos, I think it's a safe bet that we'll be seeing more for the IP in years to come. If nothing else, it would make for a decent game-to-movie adaptation.

I'm a sucker for Event Horizon type atmosphere, and this game NOT being "survival horror" pretty much sealed the deal. I am buying it.

Survival horror, the genre where you run around with a gun with two bullets in it - can go suck it.

EDIT: Whoa, looks like this game uses a copy protection scheme similar to Spore. Securom... which as far as I know has a system-level driver.

Tycho over at Penny-arcade mentioned that the Normal difficulty is a bit easy: perhaps playing on Hard might make the monsters seem more scary?

I guess I'll be playing it on my PS3, then?

I agree with this review. This game is absolutely a victory of execution over creativity. These are all ideas and mechanics we've seen before scrubbed and polished to a perfect shine. It's not revolutionary, but it doesn't have to be. Space ship? Zombies? Power-Tools? I'm in!

Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Corpse duh...

wordsmythe wrote:
Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Picky, picky. Geez, getting your period makes you so cranky wordsmythe!

Pharacon wrote:

Corpse duh...

Corpse was good. How about Corpuscle. The engineers are all genetic material for the necromorphs anyways...

Out of curiousity Spaz, did you play the game all the way through to completion?

*Edit* I missed the point where your 360 died, so obviously, no you did not play it through to completion.

Spaz wrote:

By and large, Dead Space follows the tired conventions listed above. Ugly as the Necromorphs are, I have a hard time feeling afraid of them when they almost universally drop extra ammunition for my base weapon – a weapon that is perhaps too effective at taking these enemies out. The game really captivates when you're confronted with a multitude of foes. As you choose which to slow down, which to dismember and switch betwixt your weapons of mass amputation, a visceral thrill comes bubbling up. You may not be scared of the situation, but at least you're having fun dissecting the situation.

They get much harder near the end of the game. When the necromorphs straight breaking out the new, tougher models, you will find that it can multiple shots with the plasma cutter just to take off one limb.

I obsessively played through it in 4 days. Loved it!

Mr.Green wrote:

I obsessively played through it in 4 days. Loved it!

I'm goin about it in the oposite fashion and I don't know why. I love the game but I only play it for 30min at the most and then I find myself on something else.

wordsmythe wrote:
Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Glad to know I wasn't the only one to notice this.

wordsmythe wrote:
Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Don't you mean, "Of what is 'Corps.' an abbreviation?"

benu302000 wrote:

I agree with this review. This game is absolutely a victory of execution over creativity. These are all ideas and mechanics we've seen before scrubbed and polished to a perfect shine. It's not revolutionary, but it doesn't have to be. Space ship? Zombies? Power-Tools? I'm in!

That's kind of how I feel about it. It really is an excellent example of a great-looking, great-sounding, well-built game that sticks to very tried-and-true themes.

It's also Redwood Shores' first major release based on an original, non-licensed IP, and certainly EA's first game in as long as I can remember with this level of gore. It's no Bioshock, but I do think it's a step forward for EA.

Tetnis wrote:
Mr.Green wrote:

I obsessively played through it in 4 days. Loved it!

I'm goin about it in the oposite fashion and I don't know why. I love the game but I only play it for 30min at the most and then I find myself on something else.

It's because you've finally outgrown (outgrew? damn english!) games. You've become old, sad and jaded. You need to find a new hobby.

That, or the game simply doesn't interest you all that much.

During the last few weeks, I've been playing through System Shock 2 again. I saw the ads and video clips from this game and they looked a lot like a combination of System Shock 2 and the ruined starship in Metroid Prime 3. I'm a complete sucker for ruined starships filled with enemies. I'll be all over it as soon as I have the money for it. My only concern is that playing it right after I've played System Shock 2 will ruin the experience. Playing Bioshock while playing System Shock 2 certainly gave me a much more negative opinion of the game than I think I would have otherwise had.

Mr.Green wrote:
Tetnis wrote:
Mr.Green wrote:

I obsessively played through it in 4 days. Loved it!

I'm goin about it in the oposite fashion and I don't know why. I love the game but I only play it for 30min at the most and then I find myself on something else.

It's because you've finally outgrown (outgrew? damn english!) games. You've become old, sad and jaded. You need to find a new hobby.

That, or the game simply doesn't interest you all that much.

Naw it's cause my brother bought me WAR and ruined my life. He's in the military and I try and play with him whenever I can before he goes to Iraq. Cheers him up and I feel proud for it. I love the game and will never grow out of this all consuming hobby of mine/ours.

I ordered this game last night... will visit GameCopyWorld right after installation. Because Securom sucks, as do install counters.

Irongut wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Picky, picky. Geez, getting your period makes you so cranky wordsmythe!

"I'm telling ya baby, that's not mine."

Switchbreak wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Corps. Of Engineers

What's "Corps." an abbreviation of?

Don't you mean, "Of what is 'Corps.' an abbreviation?"

I don't. The "rule" against ending sentences with prepositions is silly. In fact, it's so silly that you find folks like Grammar Girl naming it "Grammar Myth Number One."

wordsmythe wrote:

I don't. The "rule" against ending sentences with prepositions is silly. In fact, it's so silly that you find folks like Grammar Girl naming it "Grammar Myth Number One."

Oh snap, you brought out the Grammar Girl artillery. I have no choice but to retreat.

Mr.Green wrote:

I obsessively played through it in 4 days. Loved it!

Hmm sounds like a renter - if only becasue its such a short game. How do others feel?

Switchbreak wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I don't. The "rule" against ending sentences with prepositions is silly. In fact, it's so silly that you find folks like Grammar Girl naming it "Grammar Myth Number One."

Oh snap, you brought out the Grammar Girl artillery. I have no choice but to retreat.

The words, they are my friends. They speak to me, and I to them.

wordsmythe wrote:

The words, they are my friends. They speak to me, and I to them.

'cept for the fact that, in the dead of space, no one can hear you scream at the words, nor they at you.

Didn't you guys learn anything from the Grammar Wizard? Ending a sentence with a preposition can be dangerous.

This game is apparently so scary you guys would rather quibble over my crappy grammar than man up and take a play at it.

*spits* Wussies. Whatsamatter, lost your GloWorm nitelite?

benu302000 wrote:

I agree with this review. This game is absolutely a victory of execution over creativity. These are all ideas and mechanics we've seen before scrubbed and polished to a perfect shine. It's not revolutionary, but it doesn't have to be. Space ship? Zombies? Power-Tools? I'm in!

This is how an Evil Dead game should be.

Hail to the strategic dismemberment, baby!

Spaz wrote:

This game is apparently so scary you guys would rather quibble over my crappy grammar than man up and take a play at it.

*spits* Wussies. Whatsamatter, lost your GloWorm nitelite?

Sorry, I'm too busy playing Fable 2. Maybe I'll rent it during the dry season.

aww Smythe that hurts. Stupid Peter and his epic games got nothing on long armed flesh monkies.

This game is very polished. The atmosphere, eerie computer voices, the visual style and engine optimization are all top notch. It also has the most powerful-feeling kicks in a game since Gears of War's door kicking animation.

On the flipside, it uses highly predictable "spawn one monster in front, another behind player" routine that got old real fast, and I am only on chapter 3. The boo-tactics are quite cheap. They obviously scare the crap out of me, but they're cheap.

I find myself trying to outguess the level designers and edge into the new room, only to either back out quickly or run into a corner, because much of the time something would appear behind me when I step on an invisible trigger.