In space, no one can hear you… because you never actually speak. Was this Fall 2008 blockbuster as great and scary as people remember it?
|Console||PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3|
|Developer||EA Redwood Shores|
|Genre||Third-person shooter, survival horror|
|Purchase (PC)||Purchase from Steam.|
|Purchase (Xbox 360)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (PlayStation 3)||Purchase from Amazon.|
Alright, people. It’s time to tackle a big one. A triple-A horror game that took elements from the Alien movies and The Thing and transformed them into a “nail-biting experience,” as Xbox World 360 puts it. And of course, with a “film-worthy” script and an “inspired” setting.
THIS GAME, CALLED DEAD SPACE, IS…
An overrated game that is about as scary as a loud blow dryer.
Yep. I just went there, people. You thought I was going to give nothing but praise to this game, huh? Nope.
Okay, to be fair for one sec… Dead Space is a good game. I just don’t think it’s one of those games deserving of “critical acclaim.” I’m not even sure why some critics are trying to convince us that it is a nearly flawless experience that perfectly blends action and horror together.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t surpass expectations, because it does. I was more concerned with the execution of the game’s horror aspect, which I feel falls short on. But I best explain myself before someone plasters my balls against the wall.
Aboard the USG Ishimura
In the year 2508, you are an engineer and silent protagonist named Isaac Clarke. You and your crew mates are bound for the USG Ishimura, an enormous starship designed to mine huge quantities of resources from distant planets. The crew of the USG Ishimura sent out a distress signal; unfortunately, your own crew crash-lands into the starship and are unable to leave.
It doesn’t take long before the majority of your crew gets slaughtered by these hideous alien monsters called Necromorphs, which are basically possessed human corpses reanimated by a violent parasitic alien lifeform.
So now, it is just you, Commander Zach Hammond, and Kendra Daniels fighting for survival and attempting to escape the USG Ishimura, which is overrun by this viral alien infestation.
It’s pretty much a standard science fiction plot and that is fine. The cinematics look pretty good and lend themselves to making Dead Space feel more dynamic as a game. Unfortunately, the plot is not too engaging and really comes across as forgettable. But I’ll get back to that. For now, let’s just address the gameplay.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Dead Space has this awkward over-the-shoulder third-person view when controlling Isaac. This feels especially uncomfortable during the beginning stages of the game, but eventually this is something you will get used to. It’s really not too bad as you progress through the game, and it does help lend itself to a more claustrophobic tone.
In each chapter, you have to navigate through a labyrinth and accomplish a large number of sub-tasks. Afterwards, you have to return to your tram to get to the next section of the USG Ishimura, thus beginning the next chapter. Navigation is very straightforward. If you’re ever lost, you can easily use your navigation device to point you to the next objective—in my case, hit the R3 button for the Xbox 360 controller.
The corridors are crawling with Necromorphs. Unlike many shooters where headshots are king, Dead Space encourages you to shoot the limbs off the Necromorphs instead. While you can still potentially damage them by shooting anywhere on their bodies, they take many more shots to kill. Therefore, this wastes your ammo. Your best chance is to shoot off the arms/tentacles of the Necromorphs, which is guaranteed to kill them off quickly.
It’s a pretty neat idea that adds a different depth of challenge to the enemies, especially when you’re forced to fight many of them in one closed off area.
You have the Stasis Module, a powerful device designed to slow down time on objects and even enemies. You are required to use it to troubleshoot some of the equipment in the USG Ishimura, but you can also use it against your enemies to make fights easier. Beware, the module drains very fast so use it only if you’re experiencing trouble.
You also have the Kinesis Module, which grants Isaac telekinesis using gravity and magnetism. Ultimately, this is a very secondary function where you have to lift heavy objects in order to troubleshoot equipment and get to the next area. While you can use it as a weapon against the Necromorphs by throwing objects at them, it’s not very reliable so you’re better off relying on your weapons and the Stasis Module. However, it is very effective against the game’s first boss.
In a way, it’s like using Gordon Freeman’s Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2. However, it’s not nearly as fun to use.
An interesting part of the game is that you occasionally enter zero-gravity areas. From there, the area becomes like a free-form platforming section where you have to leap onto walls and ceilings to carry out more difficult tasks. Of course, the Necromorphs are capable of moving through zero-gravity as well so this can easily spell trouble for you.
There are even times when you have to go outside into space itself. This will immediately activate your oxygen tank. The great thing about these sections is that they’re dead silent. The only thing you can hear is Isaac’s heavy breathing. Unfortunately, the Necromorphs can survive in oxygen-depraved space as well so you have to be extra alert. It actually does make for an intense battleground.
A major aspect of the game is collecting money (called credits) and special items called Power Nodes.
Credits can be used to purchase new weapons, ammo, health kits, and other restoratives at the Store. Power Nodes, on the other hand, are to be used at the Bench, which is used to upgrade Isaac’s RIG suit and equipment. Power Nodes are rarely found in each chapter, but you can also purchase them from the Store for 10,000 credits each.
Power Nodes are used in these unique grids where you have to place a new Power Node next to a used one. So yes, there are going to be many times where you place in a blank node with no benefits. It’s pretty much impossible to max out your equipment from one playthrough, so your best option is to pick a favorite weapon and characteristics of the RIG suit. In my playthrough, I went with maxing out my Pulse Rifle weapon (which I feel is the most reliable weapon with its long range, large number of ammo and decent damage) and Isaac’s health. Everything else is kinda spread out.
…How Much Longer Now?
Honestly, the game is pretty fun for a while and there is a lot of depth to these mechanics. Unfortunately, it can get very repetitive.
Though there are different kinds of Necromorphs, many of them have to come up close and personal to do anything to you. Some are capable of long-range attacks, but projectiles are generally easy to avoid as long as you continue strafing. The strategy is pretty much the same every time: cut off their arms and try not to get them surround you.
And of course, every weapon excels in certain situations. The Force Gun and Flamethrower make good short-range weapons that can easily dispatch small but numerous enemies that are otherwise difficult to hit with your other weapons. The Line Gun is a nice weapon for heavy damage and has a wider area-of-attack, making it easier to cut off limbs.
But every gameplay has its hiccups and Dead Space is no exception. In this case, it’s the motherfucking turret sections.
I mean, holy mother of God. Why is this turret so damn difficult to maneuver with a controller? It moves sluggishly and it feels like the movement is always delayed, so even stopping where you want to shoot is a pain in the ass. It makes aiming your gun a chore.
It doesn’t help that one of the turret sections has you shooting at a myriad of randomly spawning asteroids. For me, this is easily the worst part of the game. This one little section took me many tries to complete. Not only is it the broken controls, but also the fact that the damn section is far too difficult. The asteroids come in at random speeds and sizes, so it’s extremely difficult to prioritize which ones you should be shooting first. It gets even more annoying when asteroids collide with your window, delivering a large amount of damage AND obstructing your view for a short time.
And because I died so many times, I found another major problem with the game: those goddamn load times. Every time you die, the game takes more than 30 seconds to reload before you can actually play again. It’s frustrating every time it happens and it just pisses you off to no end.
So eventually, I ditched the controller and switched back to the keyboard-and-mouse combo. After a few tries, I finally got past this section. For those of you who played Dead Space on a home console, I’m sorry you had to go through that tedious shitload of fuck.
On the other hand, the graphics and presentation are very impressive, complete with nice cinematics. The inside of the USG Ishimura is quite detailed and there’s a lot of wreckage around the starship. You also get some impressive shots of the nearby planets and stars.
I really like how the game’s HUD is actually integrated into the visuals rather than just being on an overlay in a separate layer. You can easily see Isaac’s current health, stasis energy and oxygen level by looking at the back of his RIG suit. You can also see how much ammo his weapons have before he needs to reload.
However, it won’t be long before the visuals lose their appeal. Most of the environments at the USG Ishimura look pretty much the same, not giving you much to look at. You’re going to be seeing a lot of mechanical hallways and giant rooms filled with empty terrain. I mean, what do you expect when a starship is your setting, right?
Even the shock value of the Necromorphs die out over time. While the idea of battered human corpses coming back to life as deformed monsters is a scary idea in itself, it’s nothing new. It’s pretty much the same idea as zombification, which is already extremely prevalent in horror. The difference here is that Dead Space takes more of an approach resembling John Carpenter’s The Thing, but hearing the same screams and watching the same animations every time they attack gets pretty old.
You know, the RAWR RAWR RAWR and the SKREE and the UEAAAARRGGGHH. It’s a bunch of loud noise that come across as jumpscares. And if you get used to jumpscares, the horror aspect loses strength by a large chunk.
Honestly, I’m not feeling the “nail-biting experience” or the “inspired setting.” I definitely played scarier horror games and the setting feels like that Electronic Arts wanted to try to create something to compete with the Halo series; complete with a silent man with a cool space suit, an alien race that possesses human corpses to turn into bio-weapons, human companions that are nothing but alien fodder, and a feeling that the game feels much bigger than it actually is.
Yes, I know there are major differences to Halo but I can’t help making this observation. After all, Dead Space is a creation of a big gaming company with enough money to drop a huge budget onto it. So we might as well compete with the big boys that are already out there.
While there were some hiccups with the gameplay, the other bad thing I can comment on is the story. Ugh. What is with video game stories being praised much more than they’re worth?
Honestly, this story needs work. The only sense of urgency you get is when the supporting characters are shouting new objectives into your ear. Otherwise, you never feel like you have to go save all these people. Through the majority of the chapters, you’re just running around doing a bunch of chores like blasting asteroids or purifying the toxic air. You get most of the actual story from audiologs and text documents that you find throughout the USG Ishimura.
The plot is stretched so thin and the exposition is so randomly placed about that I find myself disinterested. I was at a point where I’m saying, “Shut up and just get this over with already.”
None of the characters are fleshed out and they all have the personality of scrap metal. Even your girlfriend Nicole Brennan doesn’t feel like a genuine character, especially when she constantly says, “Make us whole again,” throughout the game—and yes, I know all about that “twist” regarding her.
It gets old real quick. The game tries to make you sympathize with her when she keeps pleading for her dear Isaac to come and save her, but there’s nothing to sympathize for other than that she’s Isaac’s lovey-dovey. And her interactions in general feel more awkward than endearing. I mean, WHO TALKS LIKE THIS?
SHUT YOUR MOUTH!
At some point, you meet this crazy scientist called Challus Mercer. Nice name, right? But anyways, this guy is basically a cuckoo religious nut who believes that Necromorphs are the next step in human evolution.
This guy’s only major contribution to the plot is creating the Hunter Necromorph, this persistent strain that constantly regenerates lost limbs. Otherwise, he’s just sort of in the plot preaching his Unitology beliefs. And then he later kills himself and gets killed as a Necromorph by Isaac.
Wow. What an antagonist, right? *straight face*
We also had Doctor Terrence Kyne, which the game attempts to make you feel suspicious of. But all this guy did is help you out, so it’s really pointless. It never felt like he had an ulterior motive to begin with.
But what annoys me in particular about the plot is how predictable the endgame is. I had two predictions:
- The mysterious and possibly insane Dr. Kyne will die while trying to help you.
- Someone, particularly a supporting character, will betray Isaac.
And like freaking magic, I was right.
I swear, this “twist” is just lame. The moment when Kendra objects to Zach Hammond’s actions before you even play the game is when I figured out: this lady might be the antagonist.
She seems to be the only character throughout the game refusing to chill out, not to mention she constantly criticizes her superior officer even though he hadn’t done anything particularly bad yet. She also “warns” Isaac about pretty much everyone else you come across, having you trust no one but her. It’s so transparent that she’s the villain that she might as well go announce to Isaac, “I’m going to have you killed” at the very beginning.
For some reason, she was surviving on her own just fine and how she managed to get separated from Hammond already felt like she wanted him dead. It”s really hard to believe that someone so apparently “scared” would survive for that long.
And unsurprisingly, she ended up assassinating Dr. Kyne towards the end of the game and revealed herself to be a government agent coming to reclaim an ancient alien artifact known as the Marker. If the game bothers to give room for characters to breathe and even let you take a liking to her, then I can accept that. But this never happens for ANY character.
I was legitimately baffled by how underwhelming and lazy this twist was. And just like any other traitorous bastard in video games, you can’t touch her. She is always at a place where you can’t shoot her yourself. So, what does the game do to compensate for that?
She gets killed off by a monster at the end. Real fucking original.
It’s like this game doesn’t want to bother with fleshing out its antagonists, so it just kills them off just right when we’re getting to understand their true intentions.
The last thing I want to address is Isaac Clarke’s character. I never really understood the point of making Isaac Clarke a silent protagonist since the game doesn’t necessarily make you feel like you’re filling his shoes. Dead Space is filled with conversations, many of which are directed at Isaac himself. It just feels awkward to see him never actually respond to these conversations and just silently follow orders.
Hell, he never even speaks to his GIRLFRIEND. If Isaac spoke even one word of dialogue in this game, I think it would’ve added more to the experience. It’s not like this is a first-person shooter where the main protagonist is a blank slate and you can easily immerse yourself into the game through that one simple viewpoint.
We know virtually nothing about this guy’s personality, so I never really feel bad for him no matter what kind of shit he goes through. It’s amazing how this game’s story makes you feel so disconnected with the characters that it’s honestly kind of unacceptable for a big gaming company to let it pass. You’d think EA would have the resources to pen in a more interesting story.
But we know as well as the next guy that we’re not necessarily playing Dead Space for the story. It’s for that action and atmosphere. So, Dead Space: good game, but not 9/10 material in my opinion. If you still want to crucify my privates, I dare you to try. I already have this habit on stepping on people’s toes anyway.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed the rant—err! Review. Yes, this is a review, right? Of course it is! I hope you enjoyed the review…
Dead SpacePrice Varies
- The gameplay is solid and contains quite a bit of depth.
- The game also does a good job in keeping you on track of your objectives, making navigation much less of a chore.
- The beautiful graphics and the clean HUD really add to the experience.
- The environments are ripe with disembodied limbs, pulsating flesh, structural damage and large infestations. It really gives you the sense that something real big happened in the USG Ishimura.
- The soundtrack does its job okay, though no particular piece truly stands out.
- The over-the-shoulder camera takes some getting used to. Overall, it's not too bad.
- The turret sections are badly done and will result in your hitting your head against the wall several times.
- The horror aspect is relatively weak and relies too much on jumpscares and loud sounds.
- The story feels underdeveloped. The characters, even more so.