Who would have thought that an industry giant like EA would be able to step out of the norm, consisting of licensed titles, and help conceive what could now be considered a modern horror classic. Developed by Visceral Games, who are currently developing Dante’s Inferno, Dead Space hit the market just in time for Halloween last year. And it brought with it something that seems to be missing from many self proclaimed “horror” titles: scare factor.
In a world full of sequels and spin offs it’s a breath of fresh air to be graced with an original title, even if it utilizes pre existing gameplay mechanics. Gameplay aside for the time being, the story of Dead Space pits you in a huge Mining Ship the USG Ishimura. You play as Isaac Clarke, one of the engineers there. The game starts off with you and your team investigating what went wrong on the “planet cracker” ship and why death litters the many rooms. And then things go down south. Eventually you find out that a new type of life form is the reason for what’s going on: Necromorphs.The story is effectively told through real time, there are no cutscenes to be found here, everything shows up via your suit. Someone is contacting you and you see them pop up in a hologram in front of you. It all works well to fully immerse the player in the story, couple this with a lack of a heads up display and you have a truly cinematic horror experience. This was a very brief look at the story for the sake of not spoiling anything.
But what is a game with just story and no gameplay…it’s an “almost kojima experience”. Exagerrations aside, the gameplay in dead space combines a modern Resident Evil perspective ( over the shoulder) with stragetic dismemberment. Yes, dismemberment, you can’t rely on your Leon Kennedy or Chris Redfield skills and aim for the head, instead you have to ” cut off their limbs”. It all works extremely well and actually adds a sense of strategy into the experience. If shooting isn’t your thing, then there is a melee option available for attack, albeit limited and somewhat clunky.
You could bash on an enemy with your equipped weapon, got them down? Good, now you can power stomp them. Though the results, with blood and guts splattering, are extremely satisfying but the execution feels a little off. Sometimes stomping becomes a problem and couple that with the tendency of the necromorphs to withstand alot of hits and you might as well just stick with your weapon. And about the weapons, there are no actual guns to be found here. All Isaac is able to use are his tools of the trade, ranging from simple plasma cutters to the satisfying flamethrower. It all adds the sense of dread, you need to know which weapons are most effective in a given situation. Ammo conservation could have been a problem, but not in this case since there are stores found in each of the 12 chapters of the game where you can buy lots of goodies ranging from suit upgrades, ammo, health packs, and the like. There are also “benches” where you can upgrade your weapons, suit, and your stasis meter.
Ah yes, the stasis meter. this game adds yet another layer of gameplay to an already fun package. Very early on in the game you gain the ability to slow down time on specific targeted object. For example. An necromorph is coming at you in full speed, not allowing for any thought behind the execution, to make things better for you, you can slow him down and then dismember him. Later on you gain an ability akin to telekenisis which also comes in handy in puzzles as well as combat. The number of times you could perform one of these abilities aren’t unlimitied (that would make the game easy) so you see your stasis meter and your health meter on Isaac’s back, embedded onto his back and the spine of the suit respectively. Couple that with your ammo count displayed on the gun itself, visible when you’re aiming, and you have full immersion in this horror experience.
There are 12 chapters in this game, complete with massive bosses and hordes of enemies. Puzzles are also found, but what deserves recognition aren’t the things you fight or have to do in the evironment, but the environment itself. The ship feels like a character itself, it is blooming with death and despair. Akin to Bioshock’s underwater metropolis, this world feels like a once living one and it adds to the sense of claustrophobia that is sometimes felt when traversing the ship. And then there are incredible set pieces that take place in “Zero gravity”. These scenarios add yet another satisyfing gameplay mechanic , as everything goes topsy tursvy in these levels it could be easy to feel uneasy but once again it injects itself quite nicely into the overall experience streamlined by dread and isolation.
Dead Space was an extremely good start to what will eventually become a huge franchise akin to Resident Evil. Comic Books, Spin Offs, and movies have been made and with more in production. Some call this Resident Evil in Space, it could also be seen as Bioshock in space. But personally, I like comparing it with metroid, since it gives you a big sense of isolation. A game that could be compared to many existing franchises but manages to still innovate in its own way is definitely a game to regard highly. Without a doubt this is one of the best horror games in years. Now that’s saying alot.