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Dead Space

By Bobfish03-10-2012
Leigh Cobb (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Dead Space

The Defence

EA Redwood Shores
Electronic Arts
Action, Horror, Shooter
Release Date:
US 24-10-2008
EU 20-10-2008

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 6800
AMD ATI X1600 Pro
2 GB
7.5 GB

The Case

Now, we all know that EA have fallen pretty far from their lofty heights of the early to mid nineties. The days of applauding them as a paragon of the pinnacle of gaming excellence are gone, probably for good. That's actually really sad, as many of the defining, gaming, moments of my childhood are from playing EA games. They came out of the stocks at full force, plowing up the track. When did they become this marauding behemoth of childish controversy and intentional ineptitude we now know them to be? And just how bad, really, is Dead Space? It received a lot of flak after all. But is it really all that, or are people just jumping on the EA hate bandwagon? Allow me to make some efforts to disambiguate.

The Trial

Oh my God, these Chocodiles, oh my God! Frankly, yes, there's a lot here to criticise. Dead Space is, after all, an extremely violent survival horror. With a strong, obvious and unashamed emphasis on the survival aspect. But don't let that fool you, there's still plenty of genuine horror left to scare the bejeezus out of us. I would even go so far as to say it offers us a better horror of experience than a lot of the recent heavyweights of the genre. It's a different kind of horror than, for example, Amnesia, but no less effective for it. Perhaps even more so.

The premise of the game is that a giant Planet Cracker (a mining spaceship that literally cracks open a planet by pulling a mahoosive chunk of it up out of the ground) called the USG Ishimura has mysteriously gone silent. A recon ship, the USG Kellion, is sent to investigate with a small crew of security personnel lead by a Sergeant Hammond, a computer specialist named Kendra Daniels and an engineer called Isaac Clark (that's you). In a break from the more prosaic trends of recent gaming to have a vocal, often quite eloquent protagonist assaulting us with an unending stream of profound exposition and commentary, EA opted to go with the blank slate, mute protagonist. This allows the setting and events to speak for themselves, leaving you to decide, for yourself, what, if any, impact they have on Isaac as a person. And it works extremely well.

Wasn't me! Didn't see me! Can't prove anything!

Wasn't me! Didn't see me! Can't prove anything!

The pacing is extremely solid, starting with a seemingly dull and routine approach to the Ishimura which rapidly goes awry, causing an intense crash landing. All of which takes place entirely in game, allowing you no control beyond the position of the camera. For those who don't know, the first scene on the Kellion is the first, and only until the very end, time in the game you can see Isaac's face. He spends the rest of the time masked, which doesn't even allow us to judge anything about him based on facial expression. He is truly, the archetypal blank slate. This event, the sudden mad dash to land before splatting against the hull, sets a precedent used repeatedly throughout the game. A constantly repeating cycle of tense calm, punctuated by high intensity, very sudden shifts to intense action. And that's where the game truly shines. That's where the horror comes from. The persistent feeling of being on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next frenetic encounter.

The enemies themselves, the necromorphs, even add to this feeling on a singular level. You'll often hear them, and sometimes see them too, shambling around almost mindlessly. Like they don't have a care in the world. Just a leisurely bimble, seemingly oblivious to everything around them, including you. Only for them to shift at a moments notice and swarm towards you. Worse yet, they're not always polite enough to let you know they're nearby. Their ambling, awkward gait often makes them virtually silent in their approach. Meaning you will often not realise they were there at all, even on later playthroughs, until you see them weave in to view directly behind you. Still shuffling and sedate, making your heart thump as you fight against the insanely wide turning arc to bring a weapon to bear before they strike.

...Thor in space?

...Thor in space?

This seems to be an intentional part of the game, the oddly cumbersome turning speed. Unlike most games which allow your character to spin at a dizzying speed that would clearly induce vomiting after a handful of seconds, Isaac is decidedly lazy in that regard, actually swinging to bear, rather than just pivoting in an instant. Coupled with an almost clumsy control scheme, it works quite nicely in making the game more sedate and deliberate. Reloading is a tactical decision, as even the fastest weapon takes precious seconds to prepare. Seconds that the necromorphs will exploit ruthlessly as they wait, showing some quite advanced AI, for a chance to mob you all at once. So my advice, just like the game says, take out the limbs. But even that is no guarantee. Many of the necromorph types are only minorly inconvenienced by losing a leg or two, and can still lunge great distances to start munching happily on your face.

Animations, and visual fidelity overall, are fairly high standard. There are a lot of repeating textures, and some that are flat out, well, flat. It's no secret, Dead Space is a console port. There are no attempts, at all, to hid the fact. Even the way you shift between weapons, with an up/down/left/right that initially fit with a D-pad. But it's a strong example of a console port done right. It isn't going to win any grand awards for pushing the boundaries of graphical fidelity, but it looks good, with some great lighting and particle effects, smooth animations and good attention to detail. And the sky box in the final chapter is absolutely fantastic, not to mention the out of ship sections with Aegis VII in the background.

<Insert obligatory house joke>

<Insert obligatory house joke>

The audio is just as strong, with solid voice acting from the primary cast, Doctor Mercer in particular being extremely chilling, and far more frightening than the monsters. A testament to the performance handed in that makes him just ever so slightly...off. There's nothing, initially, you can really point to as being wrong about him, just something in the way he speaks, so by the time the full extent of his insanity is revealed it hits you like a physical punch to the gut. But the true strength of the audio comes in the background noises. Primary effects like weapon fire and such are great, but the incidental, little ticks and groans of the ship around you really bring everything to life. Was that just a hull plate shifting, or is there something stalking me?

The Verdict

Frankly, the game is incredible. It may not have the narrative complexity, or deep reaching psychological impact of the Silent Hill franchise, but it does make a good effort in that direction. The subtext of the dialogue, especially as revealed in audio logs, and the narrative as a whole, particularly the clear comparison between Unitology and the real world Scientology (the latter, granted, lacking the worship of a giant alien monolith) which makes the world seem a lot more familiar, and again serves to heighten the immersion as a whole. It is not perfect, no game ever is, and there are some moments (the final boss fight in particular) which are rather disappointing. The single, largest complaint to be made comes from the complete lack of interest in offering DLC to PC gamers. There isn’t all that much on offer, just some weapons and new armour. But the apparent disdain for the PC market feels like a real slap in the face. Besides that though, it's still a very, very good game and not one that I feel should be missed.

Case Review

  • Atmosphere: Something Dead Space truly has in spades.
  • Great voice acting: Everyone gives a strong, natural performance.
  • Pacing: The story is told entirely in game, allowing everything to flow constantly.
  • Console port: And a very good one too.
  • Length: Not gamebreaker short, but it clocks in at only about six to eight hours at best.
  • No PC DLC: None, at all. That’s actually rather insulting.
Score: 3.5/5
A solid, well crafted heart pounder of a game.
Comments (2)
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Posts: 2

I love this game. If you play it in a dark room it's like a roller-coaster ride - unpredictable and scary.

Posts: 10

It's a shame that the "Dead Space" atmosphere was not present in Dead Space 2.