Game: "Dead Space"
Published by: Electronic Arts
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: Lately, there have been a lot of overrated games showing up on the 360 and PC, so I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up Dead Space. It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised for a change.
The plot to Dead Space is about as generic as space horror games come: a maintenance ship comes to perform repairs on a giant mining ship that is curiously silent. And wouldn’t you know it, your ship crashes, and you and the red shirts are stuck aboard an alien-infested ship with no immediate means of escape. Your boy, one Isaac Clarke, is an engineer hoping to meet up with his old girlfriend while visiting the mining ship. Why, oh why, does she have to be so hard to find?
So off you go through the bowels of the ship to figure out what happened, find your ex, and hopefully save yourself from death, or worse. Given that the game takes place on a huge spaceship, I was expecting to see a lot of bland environments with an unhealthy dose of gray. The environments do use a lot of metallic colors, but the whole effect is executed in such a way that it comes across as more scary than just dark and depressing. Also the level design is varied nicely so that you won’t have to endure an endless series of dull hallways leading to unremarkable rooms filled with monsters. The game even throws in some anti-gravity situations, wherein you leap around from one surface to the next, hopefully not disorienting yourself to the point that you can’t fight off the agile monsters stalking you therein.
There’s certainly something to be said for subtle scares in a survival horror game, but Dead Space proves that you can get just as much done with a few gallons of blood. The “necromorphs” are strangely resistant to direct gunfire, but luckily, the now-dead crew discovered the best way to kill them: chop off their limbs. Yes, it’s a pretty blatant excuse to have lots of dismemberment in the game, but man, is it fun. The very first weapon you get is the plasma cutter, a curiously gun-like engineering device that fires a line of energy that is perfect for cutting the limbs off of those disagreeable aliens.
And speaking of weapons, you’ll start off with only a few basic weapons available to you at the “store”, a series of electronic kiosks where you can buy all manner of sadistic implements, but you’ll soon find schematics for newer, even deadlier tools. One of my favorites has got to be a circular saw that, when fired, shoots out a spinning saw blade that hovers in the air wherever you point it for a few seconds. It’s a great tool for sawing off arms and legs, but I have to wonder why an industrial saw would have such a strange function.
The one problem with the weapons is simply this: the plasma cutter is just too good. The very first weapon you get has some of the cheapest ammunition, it’s very easy to aim thanks to its wide beam, and it does a fair amount of damage in a single shot. Sure, you could buy an assault rifle and try to carefully machine gun off the limbs of your attackers, but one or two shots with the plasma cutter will accomplish the same thing. And that saw I mentioned, it’s a lot of fun, but the short range will absolutely kill you when you’re not dealing with straightforward enemies that just lunge at you.
Dismemberment aside, the game does manage to have some decent scares in it. At the beginning of the game, things seem very simple: one necromorph comes at you, you slice off a leg, then maybe an arm or two, then you move on. Then all of a sudden, you’re encountering strange new necromorphs that will make you wish for the times you had it so easy. Plus, the game rarely results to cheap, overdone scares, apart from a handful of fairly obvious “playing possum” necromorphs (I’ve never seen a dead necromorph just lying around, but I’m sure that one right there is the first of many-ohcrapitsmoving!).
That said, however, the game is far from the scariest you’ll ever play. There’s a goodly amount of combat to the game, and while it is entertaining to be challenged by a big group of marauding necromorphs, it’s still doable. Indeed, Isaac’s own competency tends to hurt the scariness ever so slightly. For example, unlike the poor saps in the Resident Evil series, Isaac can actually move left and right without having to pivot on a single point like a tank. Also, as long as you don’t fire shot after shot into the torsos of the necromorphs, you’ll probably be alright for ammo throughout the game. And last but not least, Isaac has one seriously badass curb stomp for finishing off grounded necromorphs. Personally, I love it. Isaac gives a furious yell, stomps his foot down, and you’re treated to the sound of someone crushing a watermelon. It’s worth noting that one of the only times you’ll hear Isaac’s voice is when he’s going “raaaaagh!” *crunch* *splat*.
So maybe those things do compromise the horror a little, but the game is still scary, and what’s more, it manages to stay fun at the same time. I have yet to grow tired of dismembering the alien horrors that rise up against you, and the combination industrial/dormitory atmosphere of the mining ship is very reminiscent of Von Braun from System Shock 2, albeit with more grit and grime you’d expect from a large-scale (planetary-scale, in fact) mining operation. I like this game so much that I’d almost be willing to overlook EA’s tiresome DRM security measures on the PC version. Almost. Just rest assured that when you see the user ratings on Amazon, it’s because people hate the DRM, and not the game itself.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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