Dead Space Review

 

I dislike having nothing new and exciting to play. We seem to be in the middle of a bit of a slump in terms of exciting new 360 content, particularly if – like me – your living arrangements prohibit getting onto Xbox Live.

 The lack of anything highly anticipated has caused me to skew my leisure balance heavily in favor of books and films. The change has treated me well – I’m working my way through the Black Triad Trilogy, and have recently moved on from The Taqwacores to Kazuo Ishiguro’s excellent Never Let Me Go. Summer is coming, and sitting around reading is starting to feel like the most natural state of being.

 That said, I don’t think I can play another minute of Fallout 3 and RE 5 has unsurprisingly worn out its welcome. Desperate for digital stimulation, I recently picked up a used copy of the 2008 horror/shooter Dead Space.

 There isn’t a lot to say about the game that others haven’t already; the combat system doesn’t get old, the plot is average but serviceable sci-fi horror fare, the main character is a little too tabula rasa (not tabula rasa, but tabula rasa – sorry). With that said I think there are a few things worth pointing out.

 The dismemberment system is a lot of fun. Rather than just shoot monsters in the head, Dead Space requires you to clinically dismember them with re-purposed mining tools. If that sounds bad-ass… it is. Tanith got a fine taste of it just 20 minutes into sampling the game when a disgusting necromorph leaped agilely towards him, intent on chewing his face off. Our resident storm trooper calmly quartered its movement speed with his stasis module and used a plasma cutter to cut off all its limbs, and when I say “all,” I do mean everything. Tanith didn’t leave that poor corpse-monster with any blood in its body or any of its flexible joints intact. Whoever designed Dead Space has hit upon the robust pretense that sawing up blood-soaked monsters in space is cool. They’re right.

It looks like theyre hugging... but theyre not.

It looks like they're hugging... but they're not.

 Hacking up monsters in dimly lit corridors does not automatically make for a good game; I ran out of patience with Doom 3 after about five hours of game play. Superficially Dead Space seems similar, except that every once in a while – right when you’re starting to get tired of hallways – the game throws some sort of awesome sci-fi vista at you. Whether you’re gazing through a hull breach into the infinite crushing infinity of space or watching an asteroid shower through the bridge windows, Dead Space constantly reminds you that you inhabit an alien setting. Those two examples are the very least of what DS has to offer; this is the only game I’ve ever played that actually let me walk through a magnetic field into outer space, and the area in which you fight the final boss is so completely spectacular that I’m not going to spoil anything by describing it.  

This kind of this actually happens.

This kind of thing actually happens.

 The game sparkles particularly brightly when it lets you get outside the stricken USG Ishimura. Zero-G and vacuum are handled exceptionally well, and can occur independently or in concert with one another. At least one boss fight happens in zero gravity, and environmental challenges make fine use of both mechanics throughout the game. The game’s audio design in vacuum is particularly good; making everything sound like just enough noise is making it through your environment suit to create a queer echo.

 Dead Space runs a bit long at 12-16 hours for single play-through on the medium difficulty setting, but I never found myself plodding like I did in Doom 3. Replay value will likely be limited to a solitary new game + run as Dead Space curiously does not let you change the difficulty setting on subsequent play-throughs. Despite these issues and a few plot short-comings, Dead Space in an enjoyable experience, and easily worth the $35 I paid for my pre-played copy. A must for anyone who wasn’t thrilled – and wanted to be – by Resident Evil 5.

7.9/10

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5 Responses

  1. The day after trying this game out at Rusty’s, I stumbled across a lone brand-new copy at Walmart, selling for the ridiculous price of $28.34. I bought it on the spot, having already been convinced that the game is worth thirty dollars. So far (20-25% of the way through) I have not been disappointed.

    Rusty (and Yahtzee) has pretty much said it all, but I would like to add my own praise for the sound design, which is very good indeed, and for the set piece areas that momentarily take you from claustrophobic starship corridors into absolutely breath-taking vistas. During one EVA foray, I spent so much time gazing out at the nearby planet that I nearly ran out of air.

    Further, the designers get bonus marks for creating situations in which the player expects to be attacked … and then not doing so, creating an even more intense atmosphere. So far, the game has done a much better job of scaring me than did RE5.

    My one complaint so far is that the “re-purposed” mining tools perform an awful lot like energy weapons. While my trusty plasma cutter has separated many a slavering necromorph from its limbs (or vice versa), it’s firing method is decidedly gun-like; I expect a plasma cutter to emit a beam or something. As it is I am left assuming that CEC miners spend their days shooting apart asteroids one fistful of ore at a time. No wonder the Ishimura has been in service for 62 years.

  2. Yeah, the weapons elicited conflicting emotions from me. On the one hand, they often like re-skinned versions of all the old standards – force gun = shotgun, cutter = pistol, contact beam = magnum, and so on.

    On the other hand the secondary fire setting are often neat, and the weapons usually feel just different enough to be unique. The military rifle, for example, is of limited use because of its tight shot grouping. This actually does turn what you expect from a shooter upside down, and makes the AR fun to use because you need to get good with it. A few (but not all) of the weapons manage to accomplish this… the cutter feels interesting because you can change its arc, and the flying circular saw gun is certainly unique. Just make sure not to waste time with the flame thrower…

    I also forgot to mention the lack of an HUD. Eveything you need to know is presented on the back of your suit, or in a real time holo display that your suit puts up in front of your avatar’s face. No pausing for relief in this game!

    …Tanith will also no doubt enjoy the game’s reliance on curb stomping which, while not all that effective as an attack, serves an important role as a biomass denial weapon against your enemies. Corpse-stomping, away!

  3. […] its own set of problems. The parade of games I’ve been playing in the recent release drought (Dead Space, H.A.W.X., and Eternal Sonata) have gone from good to pedestrian to occasionally infuriating. I […]

  4. […] Briefly mentioned in the Dead Space review was my consumption of Micheal Muhammad Knight’s The Taqwacores. Little did I know that the […]

  5. Man… I just bought this game for 19 euros on Xbox Live (Yep, I’m European, and I’m a lazy, cheapass dude when it comes to games, I always wait untill it comes online for a fraction of the price when it first came out) … Yesterday my wife reminded me I had been playing non stop since 8AM, it was 15:30PM! …I absolutely love this game, its the first game I fear to have become addicted to! ‘no multiplayer’ Who Cares?! the campaign is a technological and artistic marvel, the dark atmosphere of Dead Space realy comes to life with headphones, I jumped up starteled when my dog came sitting next to me in the sofa yesterday! I am in my 30’s… this game proved me I’ll never be to old for gaming! …my wife is not so amused though… ;-D

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