By PHIL SPIZZICA
Genre: Sci-fi, Survival/Horror
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: M (17+)
After an entire year of patiently awaiting the release of this game, it makes me proud to finally declare it an absolute triumph; it was well worth the wait. In one of gaming’s most hauntingly immersive and frightening atmospheres ever conceived, you must journey into the harrowing darkness in search of much needed answers, as well as any means of survival.
As the game opens, you are introduced to the USG Ishimura, which is an enormous deep-space mining vessel that essentially destroys planets in order to extract ore from the ruins. Unfortunately, the colossal starship is malfunctioning, and its communications, as expected, are offline. You play as protagonist Isaac Clark, an engineer sent as part of a small team to investigate, and within minutes of boarding the Ishimura, it becomes exceedingly apparent as to why no one was around to pick up the phone. I’m sure it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine this, but Dead Space both easily and proudly earns its mature rating. This is a game brimming with extremely grisly violence, nerve-splintering tension, and some truly big scares; in short, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The aforementioned elements are all, of course, totally awesome. And they revolve around some highly polished and truly exciting gameplay. The combat, while ludicrously intense, is still meticulously refined and likely couldn’t have been executed much better. It’s also got an interesting twist; bullets are largely ineffective against your monstrous assailants. Instead, you must make use of one of several weapons, most of which are actually just mining tools, in order to systematically sever the limbs of your opponents until they can no longer move. This strategic dismemberment mechanic ensures precision is key, but it’s made simple enough by the excellent targeting and stellar control scheme. Need to dispatch an injured foe? Merely approach the desired enemy; Dead Space makes superior use of your right heel by enabling you to violently stomp an enemy into the ground, which is as brutally exaggerated as it is satisfying. The combat is wildly entertaining, and each weapon, as well as your suit, can be upgraded in a number of ways to cater to your play style. The game also features devices within Isaac’s suit that enable usage of powers such as stasis and telekinesis. These can be helpful during combat, but they are predominately used for puzzle solving, which is required of you fairly frequently throughout the game. Some of these puzzles are clever, and some are less interesting. But they all add to the experience. From a technical standpoint, the gameplay is highly impressive. Everything is very tight and very well made, and it’s easy to see that.
The other most notable aspect of Dead Space is its presentation, which is a nightmarish amalgam of gorgeously grotesque visuals and vicious, unrelenting audio work. Everything from lighting effects to ambient sounds to music is executed perfectly for what this game strives to accomplish. The resulting atmosphere is utterly convincing, unnerving, and at times, terrifying. To be honest, the game as a whole is not as scary as I had originally anticipated. Be that as it may, I did literally scream aloud on more than one occasion, particularly during part of a certain sequence near the end that I will not discuss. These parts were fairly few and far between for someone such as myself. However, if you’re someone who is easily frightened, I can guarantee beyond any doubt that this game will make you jump out of your seat. Frequently.
As impressive as Dead Space is, it’s not totally without its faults. While the core gameplay always keeps things exciting, the actual objectives you are tasked with are rather mundane for the most part. Throughout much of the game, you’ll spend your time simply navigating from point A to point B in order to press a button or flip a switch. More variety in this department would have served the game well. Also, while the story is solid and actually kind of disturbing by the end, it is plagued by an equally solid amount of positively laughable dialogue. Many lines are downright painful. The decent actors are able to mitigate the bite of horrid dialogue to a degree, but a more powerful narrative with a much stronger script would have made the game almost flawless.
Nevertheless, Dead Space is unequivocally the most impressive internally-developed game that’s ever come out of EA, and I truly applaud them for it. So turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and prepare yourself; this is an absolute must play for survival/horror fans and the most noteworthy horror release since Resident Evil 4.
The Bottom Line: 9 out of 10