December 16, 2008

Review: Dead Space

Well, it's time for the holiday reviews to come rolling in. Just in time for Christmas, it's the survival/horror game Dead Space! Nothing says holiday cheer like hordes of alien zombie creatures!

Dead Space is the first survival/horror game I know of that's set in space. It's also the first any type of game I know of developed by EA. Yup, they published and developed this one. Oddly enough, it's also shrouded in obscurity. Despite the barrage of media coverage (it was heavily hyped at E3 and the Sci-Fi channel even had an hour long special on it) not many people seem to have heard of it. Well, I'm here to tell you that Dead Space is worth your time.

The game centers around a space mining vessel called the Ishimura that cracks planets open and mines their resources. You, however, start the game off on a small dingy ship that is sent to investigate a distress signal from the Ishimura. Apparently, someone of importance to you is on the ship and you're looking for her. How original. Actually, the game is very original besides that. Once on board, you discover these crazy mutating alien things that turn people into crazy mutant alien zombies. In space. The ship is massive and obviously meant for long term living because it's sort of like a floating city. Each area you visit has a different and unique feel to it that creates an excellent sense of atmosphere. I must admit, the game does a good job of establishing a new universe. That, my friends, is not an easy task.

How does it play, you ask? Very well actually. It centers around the theme of what they call "strategic dismemberment." Basically you have to slice off the limbs of your foes to kill them. Shoot off the legs, they'll crawl at you with their arms. Shoot off the head, they'll run around wildly trying to get at you. And by golly are there a lot of them. They range from deranged babies to invincible supermutants to brutes with exploding arms. The whole mining ship thing is quite convenient because all (or most) of your weapons are mining tools made for slicing things. One of the best parts of the game is its weapons. They're absolutely a blast to use. Creep through spooky corridors with your plasma cutter to light the way, then bast plasma blades at your enemies to slice them to bits. There's also a gun that shoots saw blades, one that shoots bolts of plasma, a flamethrower, and a regular machine gun that's actually the least effective of the lot. Oh, and there's quite a few more toys to play with- each with a secondary fire. You can even upgrade your guns and your suit for a price.

Now to a more serious note. The gameplay itself is well done. It's got an eerie over-the-shoulder perspective that most games of the genre have these days. It works well to set the mood, but the controls seem a tad bit more complicated than they need to be. Each button has multiple functions when you pull down on the left trigger to aim. It's not that much of an issue but I found myself forgetting how to do this or that or doing something I didn't mean to by mistake, thinking it was something else. When your not shooting up space zombies, the game has a few puzzles to challenge you. These mainly focus on your slow time and telekinesis abilities. Most aren't that tough, but they're well done especially the portions set in zero gravity environments and vacuums.

One of the areas about the game that I must give the biggest praise to is the lack of the HUD. Many games have promised it, but none have made good until now. This game truly has no HUD. Everything you do happens in-game in real-time. Inventory? Projects from your suit. Mission log? Suit. Lost? Click the right stick and a pathway projects onto the ground from your hand showing you the way. It's really awesome. Everything you would ever need to know, from the ammo of your gun to your health, is done in-game with no floating stuff on your screen. Your health even glows on the spine of your suit. You never leave the action and, because it's done in real-time, it creates a sort of tension that adds to the atmosphere. You can be attacked at any time while, say, checking your inventory. That's how survival games should be.

The other aspect that I must give a lot of praise to is the sound. It's excellent. Like, really excellent. You really feel like you're there... on an abandoned ship... with space zombies. The game is not heavy on music, but the sound effects? Top notch.

I have to give credit where credit is due. EA has developed a top-quality game that's definitely worth your time. Sure, it may be just another survival/horror game (The horror part is questionable, I don't find it that scary, but some do. Although there are a few parts that make you crap your pants.) and everything in it may have been done before, but the way it's presented is what makes it special. Space, mining, dismemberment, HUDless- all these things combine in a beautiful way to make the best game this year that you'll never play.

Visuals: 8.5- Some textures look grainy up close, but excellent art and lighting design.
Controls: 8- Great for the most part, though a bit more complicated than they have to be.
Gameplay: 9.5- Awesome.
Sound: 10: Genius. The game's strongest suit.
Replay Value: 8- After you beat it, you can play through again on a harder difficulty with all of your collectibles and upgrades intact.
Overall: 9/10

Best game that no one will play.

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