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Dead Space

17 Nov 2008  by   Paul Younger
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Remember the promo line for the classic sci-fi film, Alien? “In space no one can hear you scream.” It’s too bad your family members can’t say the same when you’re glued to your television playing Dead Space. You’ll either be screaming in terror (or joy) as you do battle with the creatures in EA’s sci-fi survival horror game.The development team at EA – Redwood Shores has hit one out of park by creating a slick and highly enjoyable survival horror romp that pays homage to sci-fi fright fests such as The Thing (John Carpenter’s remake) as well as the aforementioned Alien. The story of a team of engineers who encounter strange going-ons while investigating a communication-damaged mining ship is torn from the script of practically any recent sci-fi movie. And yes, this sci-fi setting has also been done to death in video games but Dead Space’s delivery is so good that you’ll excuse its rather familiar setting and premise. Once you land on the crippled mining ship, USG Ishimura, the first thing you’ll notice is the exceptional graphics starting from the detail of your character, Issac Clarke’s space suit and maintained with the impressive detail and lighting effects in each level of the game. The piece de resistance though is the necromorphs, the enemy creatures in the game. These high-polygon count suckers look like they popped right out of the remake of The Thing and they are just as disgusting and ruthless in their vicious attacks. The coolest part is the fact that you have to dismember them in order to kill them. You also have to lob off all of their limbs since they will continue to go after you with whatever appendages they have left. Knocking off the hind legs of a necromorph and seeing it still come after you with its front legs is a sheer horrific delight! Fortunately, the mining-themed weapons are more than adequate in the art of limb removal. My personal favorite is the Ripper, which has a nice secondary mode of firing its saw as a projectile (think Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun with a circular saw always at the ready). Other notable weapons are the Plasma Cutter, Flamethrower and Pulse Rifle. You get up to four slots to use for weapons, which is a good thing since you’ll want to try out all of the weapons especially since their effectiveness varies against the different types of necromorphs. A good example is that you’ll want to use the Flamethrower against smaller enemies since they are more difficult to land pinpoint shots against. There is also a nice RPG-style means of upgrading weapons and suit strength with power nodes that you collect or purchase in the game. Speaking of horrific, the gore is this game is extreme so games who are squeamish – you have been forewarned and no, there is no option of dialing down the gore. The intensity of battling the necromorphs will get your heart pumping and you’ll be glad there is a boot-stomping feature since I can’t think of a better way of finishing off these slimy creatures than with a big old space boot! Hell, it even feels good to squish them when they’re already dead! Since I’m on the topic of heart-pumping action, the sound effects and musical score are exceptional in Dead Space. The sound effects will pull you into the game and won’t let you go. From the haunting whispering voices to the creatures’ blood-curling howls, the sound will linger with you long after you’ve shut down your console. The same can also be said about the score, which sounds like it was lifted from a movie playing at your local cineplex. The sound and score perfectly complement the visuals in Dead Space. You just can’t ask for more in the area of visual and sound.{PAGE TITLE=Page 2} The other area that excels is the gameplay setup. The crew at EA must have focus-grouped this game to death as well as listening to what gamers want in their action games. A prime example of this is the temporary auto-save feature that kicks in when you die. Instead of going all the way back to your previous save, you just restart the level at a location prior to where you died. Throw in the numerous save stations and you’ll completely forget about the game not having a save-anywhere option. I also like the built-in navigation system that shows a line to your next objective as you progress through the spacecraft. There is also a holographic management screen that shows a highly detailed 3D map, your inventory, objectives, and logs from the ship’s former crew members. There is also no on-screen HUD as health, oxygen level (when in space) and Stasis level are located on the back of your character’s spacesuit and ammo count falls right above the weapon you’re wielding. I mentioned Stasis, which is used to slow down time and there is Kinesis for grabbing or moving objects. Both of these abilities are used primarily for getting past environmental obstacles but Statis does come in handy in slowing down enemies who are rushing towards you. So with all of these positives, you must be wondering if the game fails at anything. Well, it does stumble in one area, which is gameplay depth. Dead Space doesn’t deviate much from its core gameplay of having the player move one objective to another. It also doesn’t help that your character, Issac Clarke doesn’t talk or really interact with his crew mates who are telling him what to do all of the time. Something as simple as having him verbally interact would have gone a long way in addressing this. It’s not a huge deal but it’s a fairly obvious weakness in the game. The linear aspect of the game doesn’t take as much of a negative hit since the gripping tension and intense combat virtually eliminate the reality that you are moving from point A to point B the whole time. It sort of like when the movie, Alien first came out in the theaters – some people were calling it “Jaws in Space” since it boiled down to being about a hostile creature loose on a spacecraft. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with that since it was a hell of a thrill ride. The same can be said about Dead Space – it won’t bend your mind but it will give you plenty of scares and hours of thrilling entertainment, which is all I need from a video game.

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