Dead Space is a cross between a survival horror game and an over-the-shoulder third person shooter. The influence the game plainly wears on it’s sleeve is Resident Evil 4, which I had the fortune of playing recently. RE4 basically invented this style of over-the-shoulder and limited ammunition game. That said, Dead Space has unique appeal of it’s own, with it’s outer space setting, a lot of polish, and a good story with a nice flow to it. Though enemy encounters are occasionally too frequent, Dead Space is an enjoyable thriller with a long campaign and solid gameplay.
The game is set on a spaceship, the Ishimura, originally involved in a mining operation that’s gone wrong and has sent out a distress signal. Your crew arrives on another ship, the Kellion, to investigate the signal. Upon arrival, you discover alien creatures have taken over the Ishimura, who are extremely good at killing humans. The ship is mostly abandoned, aside from the aliens. The Kellion gets destroyed early in the game, leaving you and your crewmates to survive on the Ishimura among the violent aliens. You play an engineer, Isaac Clarke, whose girlfriend is believed to be alive somewhere on this ship.
You get a gun early on, and you soon learn that shooting the aliens limbs off is a faster way to kill them then head or body shots. This strategy lasts for the entire game, and is a neat hook. If you want to conserve ammo, you better be aiming for the arms and legs. I started playing with the Steam Controller, on which aiming is a little imprecise. About halfway through the game, I switched to mouse and keyboard, and outcomes of enemy encounters got a lot better.
Its pretty obvious what you can and can’t interact with, and exploring rooms results in stumbling upon extra ammo, health kits, and money. Also, strangely enough, aliens carry all of these things, which you can pick up after killing them. There are times when you’re in short supply of the items you need, namely ammo and medkits. Normally, you’re close to a store, which can sell you these things, but every credit you spend on something like ammo is a credit that’s not going toward something like a suit upgrade or new gun. You need to use resources wisely.
There’s also a workbench where you can upgrade weapons, armor, and abilities via upgrade trees. You pick up Power Nodes in your quest, and each one can be used to upgrade a weapon or your space suit. I put all of my upgrades into three weapons as well as my suit, which worked out well. Improving three unique weapons gave me good variety for different enemy encounters. Also, spending on the suit gave me more breathing time in outer space and more health. I rolled my eyes when I first saw the classic back-of-the-box “RPG Elements” box getting ticked, but in playing the game, I thought it worked out well. I noticed and appreciated the upgrades.
The story of what happened to the people of the Ishimura is told through audio logs, video logs, and text logs scattered throughout the ship. Many on the Ishimura have fallen victim to a religious cult, in which dying is how you get admitted. You also come to find some people are still alive on the Ishimura, and for some it’s questionable if they actually want to help you or take advantage of you. Meanwhile, you and the crew of the Kellion are just trying to stay safe. I thought the story was excellent. There are plot twists you don’t see coming, especially by the end. The story is probably what kept me coming back to Dead Space the most.
The UI is an achievement. Rather than health being a bar in the top left corner, your health is a series of bars on the back of Isaac’s space suit. To check your inventory or see where the next objective is, a screen appears in front of Isaac, which is also visible to you. At no point (unless you press Start/Escape to pause) are you taken out of the action by looking at or using the UI. It keeps you in the game at all times.
Also an achievement is the sound design. It’s incredibly eerie. There are times when you don’t really know if enemies are right around the corner or if it’s just a dramatic use of strings for the scene. Graphically as well, the game shines with excellent use of lighting and fog. Playing on PC is the way to go, as there are a number of graphical settings that can be turned on that aren’t in the console version. Unfortunately, Anti-Aliasing is just an On/Off setting, not a 8x or 16x setting, so some aliasing is noticeable. Still, the game has excellent graphics for a last-gen title and looks great at 60fps.
This was a hard game for me to finish. I played on Normal difficulty, and even then, there were spots that were extremely difficult. It’s a long campaign, and took me 23 hours to complete. Finally, the game really is tense, and there were times when I just needed to take a breather before getting back into the fray. None of this is to say Dead Space is a bad game though. From graphics to gameplay, story to sound design, Dead Space is one of last generation’s best. The plot twists at the end are worth the (presently low) cost of admission alone. Dead Space is a great space opera with truly scary moments and a story that keeps you hooked.