Be afraid, EA games have gone survival horror. Dead Space represents a step outside the box for EA; it doesn't have a number in the title, it's an original IP, it's gory and it's going to to scare you silly. The question is, how good is it?
The player assumes control of Isaac Clarke, engineer and member of a repair team assigned to investigate a corporate mining ship that has lost all communications. At this point, for anyone who has seen 'Alien' or 'Event Horizon', alarm bells would be ringing. Isaac and co continue in the line of duty only to find the remnants of the crew either spread across the walls or turned into grotesque, twisted alien creatures. And they're not friendly. Armed with industrial cutting tools Isaac battles for his survival, sets about getting the ship back in working order and tries to uncover the grisly truth.
Dead Space doesn't hang around long before getting into the action, and once it starts this the survival horror doesn't let up. If you like freakish, alien ultra-violence and sustained terror, you're going to love this.
Any fan of sci-fi horror films may say they have seen this all before Sure, for plot and setting Dead Space borrows liberally from a number of big screen sci-fi horror films, but the developers have clearly been paying attention to how the scares are built. Thanks to some great lighting effects and fantastic soundtrack, cinematic techniques have been lovingly transposed to the game medium. The resulting game plays much like Resident Evil 4, but rather than just a next-gen skin for the survival horror genre, Dead Space pulls out all the stops to mess with your head and the story and action is very well paced. Uncovering information through audio logs of deceased crew provides a creepy way of keeping your interest in the grisly mystery.
Anyone who has played Resident Evil 4 will be immediately familiar with the basic game mechanics and what it takes to survive. All the trademarks gameplay features from the great survival horror are seen here: ammunition and health management, limited opportunities to upgrade weapons, arena battles and deeply unpleasant bosses.
Other than in visuals, Dead Space never betters the high standards set by Resident Evil 4 but it does still provide an excellent gaming experience; coming second to Capcom's gem is no insult. The original features on show are implemented very well. To give you a full view, and to immerse you into the horrors of your surroundings there is no heads up display on screen. Isaac's health is represented by a power bar running down the spine of his protective suit and injury is indicated by the unpleasant sound of his pained breathing. To access inventory and map screens Isaac powers up a holo-projector device which does not pause the game, a nice touch which means finding your bearings or using items is a panicky experience when enemies are near. Given that enemies are able to creep around air vents and pop out behind you, there is rarely opportunity to relax.
Being aboard a malfunctioning space craft our protagonist often encounters zero gravity sections which provide a fun and interesting feature, although it never feels like the potential for these sections is fulfilled. The gore, however, with blood flowing upwards and severed heads spiralling away, as always is spectacular. Zero Gravity sections are often coupled with being in a vacuum which means Isaac has limited time (on account of his air supplies) and sound is reduced to muffled hum. Players must keep their wits about them to detect enemies and avoid ending up a cloud of guts.
At every encounter enemies provide a sufficiently unpleasant sight to shock you into action and even the easier of opponents can cause you problems. To dish out the biggest damage alien beasties must have their limbs severed. Or “cut off their limbs....” as one disembowelled victim put it (in blood, on the wall). This isn't easy with the more rapidly moving beasties and slower ones tempt you into conserving ammo by carefully taking aim. It would have been nice to see a wider repertoire of monstrosities available for dismemberment, later stages use the faux pas of having darker versions of already seen charter models to indicate they are harder.
Graphics and sound
Graphically Dead Space does a great job of bringing to life what could have been dark and drab surroundings. Dynamic lighting is used to brilliant effect, flickering shadows provide unpleasant signs of nearby enemies and more impressively, sometimes they will have jumping at nothing. Hats off for implementing cinema-inspired fake-scares, but for a game to attempt unscripted ones is really interesting.
The soundtrack is definitely worthy of a special mention, classic horror-film, rising strings accompany tense action sequences, and violins constantly pick at your fear centres. Another nod to the big screen inspirations behind the game and another big factor in making this one of the scariest games you have ever played.
At around ten hours playtime the single player story isn't huge value for your buck and amongst all the borrowing EA have done, they have failed to add replayability by including an 'Mercenaries' style arcade mode.
Any survival horror fan or gamer who likes their games dark, twisted or gory will lap this up. This may not be the most original game but it's a truly slick production and presents a story to grip you whilst it lasts.