Dead Space is a brand new IP from EA’s Redwood Shores studio, and a stunning new entry into survival horror genre, a genre that has over the past few years become stale with repetitive scare tactics and more action-oriented gameplay. Dead Space doesn’t bring anything spectacularly new to the table like some of the hallmark survival horror games did a few years ago, but it still manages to give you that refreshing experience you’d generally expect from a new IP.
Dead Space obviously gets its inspiration from a bunch of sci-fi horror movies like Aliens, The Thing, Night of the Dead and Event Horizon. The premise here is simple; you play maintenance engineer Isaac Clarke (the name should strike a chord amongst science fiction readers), sent on a simple mission to repair communications on a space mining ship called the USG Ishimura upon receiving an emergency call. Once you board the ship though, it quickly becomes apparent that fixing communications is the least of your problems. You’re almost immediately separated from your crew and left to fend for yourself against Necromorphs, former crew of the Ishimura, turned into vicious zombie-like creatures and ready to tear you limb from limb given a chance.
The very first thing you’ll notice in the game is that there’s absolutely no HUD; no onscreen information about your stats and ammo count. Isaac’s health is represented by blue fluid on the spine of his suit and the ammo count is displayed as a holographic image above the weapon when you aim it. The inventory screen and map are projected in front of Isaac on holographic screens, as is objective information. None of it actually takes you out of the game. This sort of user interface lends a wonderful sense of immersion to the proceedings. It looks great, gives the game a more sci-fi feel, and most importantly, it works. You won’t realise how much on-screen HUD in games hurts the immersion factor until you play Dead Space.
The biggest draw of Dead Space is what EA calls “Strategic Dismemberment”. To kill Necromorphs, you have to shoot the limbs off their bodies. The more limbs you cut, the faster that beast goes down. Pull a headshot though, and you’ll put your enemy in Berserker mode. They don’t like being shot in the face and it certainly doesn’t kill them. It takes time to unlearn years of gameplay practice of shooting in the head, but once you get a hang of it, there’s nothing more satisfying than shooting off limbs of your foes, piece by piece until they stop moving. Watching the arms and legs flying off your enemies followed by a stream of thick red blood is immensely entertaining and never gets old. Necromorphs aren’t particularly intelligent, but they do show some tactics other than just rushing towards you arms flailing. Some of them use the overhead ducts to flank you, while others just stalk you or lie on the ground like corpses, waiting to scare the pants off you.
The weapons in Dead Space are not your traditional arsenal of shotguns, machine guns and assault rifles. In fact, almost all the weapons you get over the course of the game are nothing but mining equipments that just happen to be excellent for killing Necromorphs. Each of these weapons has both primary and secondary fire modes. There’s not a whole lot to choose from, but they do feel considerably different from each other. And most importantly, all of them are extremely satisfying to use. Isaac also gets couple of new abilities very early in the game called Stasis, which slows time, and Kinesis, which is useful for picking up objects midair and hurling them away, like the famous Gravity gun. Both these abilities are there to help Isaac solve various puzzles around the Ishimura, but are also extremely useful in fending off foes when you’re low on ammo or health and it does add a little spice to the overall combat.
There is also a deeper upgrade system for your weapons and suit. You’ll find various Workbenches scattered across the ship that can be used for all your powering up needs. Each weapon can be upgraded for faster reload times, more damage and higher clip capacity. The game uses ‘nodes’ as the currency for upgrading, although there simply aren’t enough nodes in the game to fully upgrade everything in your arsenal. So you are better off picking your favourite tools early on and sticking to them throughout the game. The game does let you carry over all your upgrades to a new game called ‘game+’ mode, but you have to start it with the same difficulty as your previous playthrough. Change it to anything else you’ll have to start from scratch.
I’m going to put my pride aside here and tell you this right away: Dead Space is the scariest game I’ve played in a long time. Yes, it is genuinely scary. It pulls every trick in the book of horror to keep you at the edge of your seat. The scares don’t just come from leaping enemies or howling monsters running full sprint towards you. One of the most important factors in horror games is the atmosphere and Dead Space absolutely reeks atmosphere. It plays with your mind and builds up the anticipation to unbearable levels. You’ll be thinking twice before walking down that long, half lit corridor. You’ll hold your weapon upright before opening doors or turning a blind corner and make 180 degree turns often to make sure no one’s behind you. The game does a very good job of making the Ishimura feel like a living, breathing entity. Every time you enter a room full of ammo, health and Stasis stacks, you know you’re gonna get your a*s handed to you once you go beyond the next door. It’s like the ship tries to warn you and provide you with supplies at the same time. The fact that you’re alone in space, billions of miles from home, trapped on a ship infested by the most horrifying enemies, perfectly sets up the mood for this game. Isaac himself is not a space marine or ex NYPD cop. He’s just a maintenance engineer with a mighty curb stomp and a good head on his shoulders. This adds a feeling of vulnerability and desperation to the player, at least during the first few chapters.
Though Dead Space pretty much plays like any third person shooter, it does add some variety to the gameplay and mix and match stuff to prevent it from becoming a corridor chore. The environments are varied, from claustrophobic corridors with fuzzy lighting to huge open halls with high ceilings and outer space sections with zero gravity. It does help keep the experience fresh without turning the game into one gore fest. For example, you’ll come across a section in the game which plays completely differently than what you’ve been playing up until then, and it does help break the overall tension. I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but let’s just say you don’t only shoot the living dead in Dead Space. There is some backtracking in the game and you’ll be visiting few places more than once, but it is all done in the context of story progression, and you can take alternate routes to your destination. The game does a good job of guiding you through the web of walkways and stairs by using ship’s internal navigation system. All you have to do is click L3, and the desired path is illuminated on the deck, pointing Isaac in the right direction.
You can complete the entire game in about 15 hours on normal difficulty. There’s no need to go back and play it again unless you want to try your luck on harder difficulties or want those precious Achievements/Trophies. This is one of the very few third party games on PS3 that has trophy support from the get go. There’s no online mode whatsoever, no leaderboards and no offline MP or co-op modes either. So there isn’t much replay value here.
On the technical front, there is no question that Dead Space is the best looking survival-horror game yet (sorry Silent Hill fans). It looks stunning and runs very smooth for almost the entire length. Right from the start, the game wows you as the viewscreen opens and you see the breathtaking view of the Ishimura for the first time, emerging from the field of asteroids. The shadows and lighting are used in a dramatic way to add up to the gruesome and desolate atmosphere of this unfortunate ship. The attention to every minor detail is staggering. It’s impressive to see Isaac’s head dutifully following the curser on the menu screen, or seeing his suit get more armour plates as it goes through each subsequent upgrade. Bodies and body parts litter the deck in disturbingly high detail textures. Long hallways are lit with nothing more than strobe of a dying bulb and enormous rooms are filled with trickling cold light from the stars outside. It’s good to see a game that looks this good and still maintains the blues, the greens and the reds in their natural colours.
If there’s anything more impressive than the visuals, it’s the sound. Any fan of the horror genre will tell you how important sound is to the overall experience, and Dead Space comes up with aces here. If there’s one game you wouldn’t want to play without a proper surround sound system or a good quality headset, it is this. The ambiance of an empty spaceship and muted screams in the vacuum of outer space are perfectly captured through audio. It’s the sound that keeps you on the edge of your senses and toys with them. From the distant screams to the sound of pipes falling down, Dead Space will have you freaking out ever so often. You may get used to the blood and gore, or to the visual style and you may get better at anticipating jump-scare moments, but it’s the sound that makes sure you don’t get comfortable with the Ishimura. The voice acting is also top notch with a good script, although Isaac pulls a Gordon Freeman here, never uttering a single word throughout the game.
Dead Space doesn’t do anything new that hasn’t been done before and it isn’t without its flaws. But what it does is simply borrow the best elements from the games and movies in its genre and build an immersive experience around it while fixing the issues that have plagued survival horror games for years. Too many games in this genre gimp controls thinking it creates tension; Dead Space doesn’t. It lets you walk while aiming and your flashlight is always attached to you gun. Most importantly, the game ends when it ends. I know it sounds funny, but in this sequel-driven industry, it has become increasingly rare to come across a game that doesn’t end with a cliff-hanger and lousy final bosses.
It is safe to say that Redwood Shores has not only created one of the scariest and most terrifying games of the year, but made a thrilling and wonderful start to a new series. It is easily the most polished survival horror game yet. It looks great, sounds phenomenal, and plays exceptionally well. If you’re a fan of survival horror genre, it’s a no brainer – BUY THIS GAME. Even if jumping out of your seat every ten seconds isn’t your idea of fun, you should definitely give it a try. Dead Space may not be on the same level of story-telling as some of the genre-defining games like the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but it definitely sets the bar high for immersion and overall presentation in horror games that won’t be surpassed for some time.
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 9/10 (Buy)