The survival-horror genre was in need of some fresh thoughts. After the so-so Silent Hill Homecoming and the disappointment of Alone in The Dark, survival-horror was struggling to survive without any real good games. Luckily, EA delivers one of the surprises of the year with Dead Space: It’s been a long time ago since we’ve been gaming so uncomfortably, and we mean this as a compliment.
Dead Space starts out as a normal mission, but soon turns over into the horror mayhem you always expected it to become. When you’re called to fix a standard communication error, you quickly become aware of the horrible events that took place in the space station where you are located. The crew is missing, the station is malfunctioning and your own ship just crashed, making it unable to steer out of this mess. The whole thing smells, so it’s your job to look for other survivors and equipment to get your ship up and running.
So begins your travel through the station and your journey to discover the gruesome fate of its crew. The story isn’t really mind blowing, but it is sound and it does deliver. The story wouldn’t be half as good though if it wasn’t for the beautifully put together atmosphere. You will hardly find any game that delivers such great suspense. The game will literally make you shiver and you could say that’s the objective of any survival-horror game. The environments give you a tense feeling and it’s hard not to feel a bit uneasy when playing Dead Space, even when there’s nothing going on.
But the smell of fear wouldn’t be that intense if it wasn’t for the creatures that inhabit the station. EA has clearly taken notice of famous horror movies with aliens or strange things (the comparison with Alien is unavoidable) but the creatures never lose their own original touch. Forget zombies, these things (let’s just keep it at things) will do anything to lift you ten inch from your seat. It’s no use shooting them in the head or body, because this will only make them more furious. You have to shoot the limbs in order to do some real damage, and believe me, it could get really tense when you have to aim for the small arms of something running towards you at high speed.
There are all kinds of monsters, and they all require a different approach. Luckily, you can choose out of a wide variety of weapons, which all have two shooting modes. Some can shoot both vertical and horizontal, others shoot some sort of grenade as their second ability. Don’t expect conventional weapons though, they mostly look like a piece of junk although the effects are the same as your standard shotgun or AK-47. You can only carry 4 arms, but at different points in the game you have the possibility to stock weapons and items. You can also upgrade them as well as your suit, but this isn’t very satisfying as it progresses really slow. You can only improve them if you find special bolts, and these are mostly scarce.
Besides authentic weapons, you will also use special powers such as kinetic abilities and the power to slow down your enemies. Sounds a bit like Half Life 2 and it mostly is, but it seems that nowadays every game has those options. You can use them for the simple puzzles that are scattered throughout the game and it also really comes in handy when you’re dealing with a lot of fast enemies.
As said, your mission is to get off the station in one piece. Unfortunately enough, to get out of there, you will have to run through the same environments plenty of times. Sometimes you will have to push a button to activate something you saw five minutes ago, and other moments you will have to collect different items found all over the station. Luckily, it’s not easy to get lost as your suit has a tracking device that will make it hard to lose direction even for the most unexperienced gamers.
The graphics are outstanding and essential to the dark and disturbing atmosphere of the game. The environments are full of little details, blood splatters on the walls, cynical advertising bills, and the impressive light effects are all memorable. The way the menu screens manifestate themselves broadens the atmosphere widely. No standard screens here, but holograms that you have to pop up when the game is still running. If you have low life signs, you are probably screwed when attacked, making it one hell of an intense experience. Your life meter is put into your space suit so you will almost forget you’re playing a game, especially because the voice actors and the sound effects are some of the best ever heard in a game.
Are there no other downfalls besides the backtracking? Unfortunately, the perfect game is yet to be made, so Dead Space does have it flaws. The moments where you experience zero gravity look great but you lose every sense of direction. Although I can assume this was meant to be so, I feel this to be more of an irritation than it should be. I also found out that the text logs are practically unreadable on a standard television. I can only assume not everybody has a HD tv, thus people with standard tv’s miss some of the experience.
In the end, EA proves that they can easily compete in the survival horror genre and in some aspect they have mildly reinvented the genre. I think Dead Space could turn out to become a new successful franchise, offering enough quality to even compete against Resident Evil 5. I must say, Resident Evil 4 is a bit better than Dead Space, but EA did a fine job in bringing a fair amount of gore and scary moments. I personally found Dead Space a lot scarier than Resident Evil 4, and of course that’s a great compliment. Dead Space combines the sci-fi environments of Metroid Prime with the horror of famous alien movies and some of the gameplay of Resident Evil 4 without the camp of Capcom’s survival-horror classic. Maybe it’s no classic, but I do recommend it.