EA delivers with 'Dead Space'
As you seek solace in a desolate restroom, the horror of what occurred threatens to sever your tenuous grip on sanity. Warning words scrawled in gore adorn the blood-stained walls, and a corpse lays half out of a stall, limbs akimbo.
Agonizing wails and strange bangs issue from a vent in the ceiling, and without a doubt, you know that cadaver on the floor will arise from the dead to attack you. Still, though, you creep forward, confident you know what is coming. However, when the fallen comrade on the floor issues a blood-chilling scream and reaches out, you still jump and frantically unload your gun.
Such is the joy of “Dead Space,” (Xbox 360, $60; Playstation 3, $60; PC, $50), Electronic Arts’ first foray into the well-trodden world of the survival-horror genre. Despite knowing what scare tactics the developers will surely employ, your hands still clench the controller with a clammy grip of desperation.
This suspense and atmospheric immersion is created through an original, yet highly inspired storyline. Several hundred years in the future, Earth has exhausted its own resources and now relies on “planet cracks” to mine raw ore and minerals. Huge ships literally render planets asunder in this process and when one such vessel, the USG Ishimura, loses all contact after an operation, you are sent in to assess and correct whatever problems may have arisen.
As systems engineer Isaac Clark - a little nod to sci-fi authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke - players quickly find out the ship is overrun with an alien organism that reanimates the corpses of crew members.
Naturally, you must figure out a way to eradicate this threat and escape from the ship. Throw in a religious cult, a semi-sentient ship out to destroy you and the fear of being turned into an alien zombie - or a necromorph as termed by the game - and it seems as if this is every sci-fi and horror flick ever made mashed together.
But “Dead Space” seems more like a well-cobbled homage rather than a blatant rip-off of such sources as “Aliens” and “Event Horizon.” Also, with clever game mechanics and frightening art direction, “Dead Space” quickly becomes its own entity.
An extremely tight third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective obscures the player’s view and makes every corner a potential death-trap. This claustrophobic design decision might put some players off, but it truly does ratchet the tension up. Adding to that, in true survival-horror fashion, ammo is woefully scarce and your enemies plentiful.
And this is one area where the game sets itself apart. The necromorphs - your reanimated friends and colleagues - are not dispatched with shots to the head. Gamers weaned on such practices are instead obliged to aim for limbs.
That’s right; dismemberment is the name of the game here. A leg here and an arm there is a sure recipe for success and the only way to slow these baddies down. And when a handful of grotesque necromorphs scurry along the floors, ceiling and walls bear down on you, panic sets in and makes it rather difficult to target limbs in marksman-like fashion.
Fortunately, your fallen enemies will often drop ammo and health packs that are announced with a holographic tag.
Again, “Dead Space” innovates with this unique hologram system that seems entirely realistic and ties into the entire playing experience. The holograms are an integral part of a “HUDless” playing experience. The screen is unfettered with a life bar (it’s indicated on the back of Isaac’s armor), an ammo counter (this is displayed holographically above the weapon), or a map (this is accessed through your armor’s inventory menu, another hologram.)
These holographic representations apply to video logs you pick up throughout the ship as well, each one delving into the back story of the game and the Ishimura’s fate. You can spin the camera around and view them from the back, from the side, basically any way you want. This applies to the inventory as well.
It’s all very reminiscent of the amazingly interactive computers of “Minority Report,” but be warned, because enemies will attack while you casually peruse your list of items and objectives. It’s all real-time and it’s all real frightening.
“Dead Space” is entirely single-player and can be completed - at least on the medium difficulty setting - in less than 12 hours. But with the ability to upgrade your weapons, suit and other abilities, multiple playthroughs are definitely warranted. The upgrades are (thankfully) carried into the next session and make Isaac a little more than capable right from the get-go. Most players will, most likely, immediately start another round just for this reason.
The only downsides to “Dead Space” - and this nit-picking at an extreme - are some tedious backtracking and constantly having one rectified problem lead right into another. Also, it can be repetitive to: enter room, demolish wave of necromorphs, retrieve item and then lather, rinse and repeat.
These are offset, though, by the gradual introduction of new and more powerful enemies and the sheer desire to see what happens next. As long as your nerves can take it, it is quite easy to lose several hours at a time while playing this game.
If you enjoy horror, action and a strong narrative, get this game immediately. EA has done right by fans of this genre and might even bring a few more into the fold. “Dead Space” is next-generation gaming at its finest.
Gabe House is a sports writer and entertianment columnist for the Macomb Journal. He can be reached at gabe@MacombJournal.com.