Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Now Playing: Dead Space

Dead Space is a third person science-fiction survival horror set primarily aboard the interstellar mining ship the USG Ishimura. The player assumes control of engineer Isaac Clarke, sent as part of a small team to investigate a distress signal sent from the ship. Upon boarding the Ishimura, the team is attacked by mutated creatures and Isaac soon finds himself alone and struggling to survive.

The game reminded me a lot of System Shock 2, as Isaac must traverse the different decks of the ship, guided by people he’s not entirely sure he can trust. Along the way, he discovers text and audio logs that allow him to piece together exactly what happened on the Ishimura. Without spoiling too much, there is a mysterious artefact involved which has transformed the crew into monstrous creatures called ‘necromorphs’.

The design of the necromorphs is great, bringing to mind those seen in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Traditional body and head shots are largely ineffectual against these monsters, so precise dismemberment is the only way to go. Arms, legs, tentacles and heads - they all have to be lopped off, one way or another. It’s a pretty brutal way to dispatch your foes, which grow increasingly hard to kill as the game progresses. Isaac’s arsenal is largely comprised of mining tools and equipment, and aside from a good old assault rifle, plasma cutters and saw blades are your primary weapons of choice.

The creatures are fairly varied in terms of strength and type, and the game regularly introduces new variations to keep you on your toes. Player movement and aiming is just the right side of sluggish as Isaac lumbers about in his heavy engineering suit.

Dead Space looks decent enough, but it really excels when it comes to the use of lighting and smoke which, when combined with the mostly small corridors and environments of the ship, are used perfectly to create an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere. The game also has amazing sound design. The soundtrack is subdued in favour of the clanks and groans of the failing Ishimura around you. Many of the locations in the game are set within heavy industrial areas, and these are among the most effective at combining light, smoke and sound to genuinely make the player wary of entering new areas.

The story is good although the conspiracy and betrayal stuff wasn’t exactly hard to see coming. Isaac himself is a silent protagonist, but the other VA work is good. Despite taking place mostly on the ship, the environments are a nice mix and never grow too repetitive. There are zero-gravity sections which also mix up the gameplay a little and a few simple puzzles here and there.

I played through the game on its Normal setting and it was challenging enough. It took about 11 hours in all which felt about right. It’s a fairly tight and focused game, quite linear in terms of progression as there’s very little room for exploration. It’s also very scripted, so if you play it again you won’t encounter any surprises. That said, there weren’t that many surprises the first time around either, as certain ‘difficult’ segments are well signposted with large stockpiles of ammo, medical supplies and save points.

There are a number of these moments in the game, when you know you’re going to have several waves of necromorphs or a ‘boss’ creature to deal with. It’s a card the game plays a little too often. It’s during these moments that the game loses some of its tension, as the monsters come thick and fast and become more irritating than scary. They’re not very hard to beat, and the game gives you plenty of ammo and supplies to deal with them. It was only towards the end that I really had to start worrying about conserving my supplies.

There’s a weapon and suit upgrade system in the game which is okay. There’s also a final boss fight which just feels a little unnecessary and silly.

Overall, Dead Space is tense, engaging and often has you on the edge of your seat. It may lack a little in terms of replay value, but it provides a dark, entertaining experience while it lasts. If you’re a fan of more traditional survival horror this is definitely worth checking out.


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