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Nov 6, 2008

Review: Dead Space

Dead Space
Electronic Arts
Available for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3

It was just a few years ago that gaming giant EA had realized it gained a poor reputation from cranking out yearly sub par sports games and cashing in on movie licenses and sequels. They recently decided to turn the ship around and forgo many of its licensed franchises in favour of developing new and original intellectual properties. The fruits of their labour are finally starting to ripen this season with the releases of such successful games such as Battlefield: Bad Company, Boom Blox, Spore and the soon to be released Mirror‘s Edge.

Dead Space, one of EA’s latest success cases, is a survival horror game based hundreds of years in the future and set in outer space. You play from the third person over the shoulder perspective as the character, Isaac Clarke, one of three engineers sent out on a mission to a crippled mining ship from which no communication has been received from in some time. It is not long after arriving that you find virtually every one of the thousand or so people on board have been gruesomely slaughtered by some evil alien life force called Necromorphs. Ultimately it will be you who must survive missions to get various parts of the ship back online to attempt escape all the while avoiding the demonic alien monsters that lurk amongst the ships corridors.

While Dead Space’s plot borrows heavily from movies like Alien, Event Horizon and even John Carpenter’s The Thing, it still manages to provide the player with plenty of new thrills and chills. There are few cut scenes and much of the game’s plot is told through video communication with your fellow engineers and found audio logs of dead crew members. There is also no status screen, all needed details such as your health or inventory are displayed on or from your spacesuit that is capable of projecting these in holographic menus, so you are never taken out of the game’s ambiance.

The Necromorphs, creatures that morph from the dead bodies of their victims are perfectly detailed, truly gory and intense. While simply shooting them isn’t always the most effective way of killing them, this provides the player a chance to get creative with their weapons in a vast range of gruesome ways. Did I mention this game is not for kids? Most of the weapons available on hand are mining tools that provide ways of dismembering your enemies in a highly satisfying visceral fashion and are all upgradeable as is your spacesuit.

Your suit also provides you with special powers such as stasis which is the ability to slow time down and kinesis which allows you to pick up and move objects much like the gravity gun in Half-Life. Both of these features are key in solving many of Dead Space’s puzzles.

Graphically Dead Space is a beautiful game and while there are many similar looking corridors and elevators that you’ll slink through, there are also some gigantic set pieces that beautifully display the desolate and dangerous space outside. In fact, certain areas will force you to venture outside the ship and force you to endure zero gravity and limited oxygen which adds a whole other aspect of unique gameplay. The game’s boss battles also feature huge creatures reminiscent of the boss characters in the classic NES game Contra.

Dead Space’s audio excels beyond any horror game I’ve ever played. As you explore the bowels of the ship, you'll hear things scurrying behind walls, metal objects clanging in the distance, voices uttering unintelligible words and pneumatic doors erratically opening and closing. The audio succeeds at making the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Dead Space offers varying levels of difficulty and plenty of save points to avoid frustration. However if I had to find a fault with the game at all it might be that the save points are just a bit too frequent and the game is a bit too easy at times. But with so many upgradeable weapons and suits it allows for maximum replayability which is important because the game features no multiplayer. Hopefully this game doesn’t get lost in the avalanche of titles being released this holiday season because it is definitely a game worth picking up for some good old fashioned survival horror fun.

Rating: 9 out of 10
Buy it!

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