Who: Developed by Visceral Games and Produced by Electronic Arts

What: Survival horror, 3rd person shooter

Where: Again in the future. This time in the 26th century. We better be flying around in space by then. Nothing irritates me more than a “sci-fi” game that doesn’t set the date out far enough. Some writers are too confident in our species. We don’t know what the hell is going on in space yet. Okay so some things irritate me more than that, like a midget with a blow horn during a movie, but that’s it… okay so there is quite a bit that’s more annoying, like the length of this explanation, but it’s irritating none the less!

When: Released in the US on the Xbox 360 on October 14th of 2008.

Why: This game isn’t too old, but I just played it so it’s new to me! Plus I feel like I should support original IP from EA in hopes that they will put their massive monopolistic resources towards something more than the next Madden, NBA, or <insert sports league or association here>.

I would consider myself fairly new to the survival horror genre up until this year. I have never finished a Resident Evil, or Silent Hill until RE5 came out and I purchased it mainly because of the recommendation from someone who was a borderline crack head about RE4. We played through it and “YEA!” it was good times, but it wasn’t really that scary. Probably because I was playing with someone, and would talk to them over the headset. It was more so a story driven game, that was just cool to follow. Not exactly what I expected from a “survival horror”. It left me wondering if I was a REAL fan of the genre. I thought back to when I tried to play “Call of Cthulhu” by Bethesda, but instead spent most of my time changing my pants. It could be that is was a PC game, and I feel more vulnerable at my desk than my couch, but that’s a different story. I actually uninstalled the game, and don’t plan on going back to it anytime soon.

All of that ramble will help me explain the fear factor of Dead Space. In a few words, “just about right”. Towards the end I found myself playing it more and more like a shoot ’em up, but that’s probably because I knew what to expect. The first quarter of the game scared the shit out of me several times. To it’s credit it had the atmosphere of a hospital working for it so that helped. Hospitals are just plain creepy. This is also where Bioshock shined, like when you turn around and a crazed doctor is staring you in the face… scary shit. The rest of the environments are nearly just as great. The lighting and sound combined with the sharp aggressive architecture of the ship set a great mood that will beg you to be the stupid teenager in horror films. The game scares you still, but your curiosity will push you forward. After a while I actually looked for something to scare me, much like when you first discover roller coasters. This aroused me to the “survival horror” genre and that’s a big plus; no pun intended.

Another bonus was feeding my RPG addiction. Your weapons and suit can all be upgraded by searching for power nodes, which can then be plugged into a simple but effective node grid containing attributes. Rewarding exploration is another big plus. What is even better is that you get to keep all your weapons and upgrades in your completed game file, and you can start over with all your goodies. It makes you feel like quite the bad ass.

This game has two exciting mechanics that stood out for me:

  1. Limb dismemberment: Sure you have been able to blow limbs off for a while in video games, but in Dead Space it’s required. You will need to forget about shooting stuff in the head for a while. Monsters are best taken down with certain guns, shot at certain appendages, in a certain order, and it took me the majority of the game to find the best formula for some of the enemies. Plus, seasoned FPS/3rdPS (TPS?) fans will find it refreshing, and that it is a bit harder to hit an arm on something crawling around, than a head on something hiding behind a chest high wall.
  2. Zero Gravity: It’s fun jumping across a huge void, and interacting with stuff without gravity. It’s an interesting experience, and it’s made even better when incorporated into a boss battle. That boss battle had a strange retro feel that I can’t quite pinpoint, but it felt good.

If you are a fan of the survival horror and or sci fi genre this game will be right up your alley, or your spaceship corridor… dumb. If you played the demo and you were turned away confused and irritated you may want to give the game a second chance. It didn’t showcase the game’s strong points very well.

Quantitative Review:

  • Gameplay: 8.5 – Combining new and old mechanics into a system that is easy to use. Hacking off an enemy’s limbs as it approaches, and often continues to approach is both gratifying and terrifying. You will panic to make your shots count.
  • Visuals: 9.0 – The lighting and environments in this game are terrific. Dark corridors wonderfully lit, accented by sharp mechanical geometry that keeps you on your toes even when enemies are nowhere to be seen or heard. Areas are filled with bodies of the fallen, and areas feel lived in with bloody hand prints and warning of impending danger. Several scenes are set up throughout the ship that are just deliciously disturbing.
  • Sound: 9.5 – All aspects of sound in this game are great. From the faint sound of footsteps reverberating through your suit as you traverse the exterior of the ship, to the ambient sounds of creatures moving throughout the ship and the music swelling with violins as a beast sneaks out of the shadows behind you, the immersion is great. The voice acting of fellow souls on the ship, and eulogies of the mutilated are believable and done with appropriate feeling. The sound does a great job of supporting the atmosphere, which is crucial to a good game of this genre.
  • Presentation: 8.5 – The game is completely absent of a HUD, which helps you stay immersed and focused on the action. Your health and ammo is shown directly on your equipment and a heading can be found by a simple thumbstick press, iluminating a line on the floor from you to your destination. This is a bit hard to follow while in some of the zero gravity areas, but it’s a nice feature. My only real beef, and likely the biggest I have against the game is the absence of a quick scroll option for inventory and store lists. You are required to mash the D-pad, which is both slow and a bit uncomfortable with a large amount of items. The controls are similar to that of Resident Evil and movement is responsible.
  • Contribution to the genre: 9.0 – The survival horror genre tends to remain a bit underground with the enormous success of Halo, CoD4, Guitar Hero and WoW. I think there is a large amount of people that don’t like being afraid of their game. I think this Dead Space has a good formula for a more mainstream player base because it maintains a good dose of fear, while keeping the action flowing. I think I’ll keep my eyes on these new releases.
  • Overall: 8.9 – I had a great time. A couple of the achievements make me look at trying the game for a second, possibly third time. Going through using only one weapon would add an interesting challenge, and the impossible difficulty would add a whole new level of fear.

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