Review: Dead Space

Science Fiction.  Writers Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov have been the cornerstone of many a movie and video game, but never before have they so obviously influenced a development team so much as to ever name the player character, Isaac Clarke, after the pair of them.  In an attempt to immerse the player as much as possible, there’s little fluff to the back story, an up-close and personal viewing perspective and, crucially, nothing that breaks the fourth wall (apart from the Save function) – much like the best novels, then.

In fact, Dead Space is so good at this that you’ll forget you’re playing a video game.  I know, it’s a cliche, but it’s totally deserved here: the way the HUD is presented, as a floating hologram in from of you, the way that shops and upgrade stations are totally integrated into the environment, the way that cut-scenes always play out directly in front of you without forcing you to watch or even remove control from the player: it’s all brilliantly done and absolutely crucial in keeping you locked into the game.

The storyline itself is pure science fiction, mixing elements of the movie Alien with videogames such as Resident Evil 4, but controlling much like a slower, more considered version of Army of Two.  Essentially, Isaac is a space engineer who is sent, along with a small crew, to investigate a distress call from a huge mining ship called the USG Ishimura.  As you might have guessed, things start to go wrong very quickly and soon enough you’ll be left fighting for yourself.

We don’t want to ruin any of the plot, suffice to say that the monsters now inhabiting the Ishimura, dubbed Necromorphs, are able to possess any of the dead humans, reanimating them in a frightening, violent puppet-like manner capable of huge leaps and great speed.  Naturally you’re not unarmed, although your first weapon, a basic mining plasma cutter, isn’t exactly Vasquez’s minigun.  

The gunplay is intelligent enough, with careful aim winning out over outright blasting, and the various upgrade modules (of which there are many more than can be used in a single playthrough) ensure that you can customise and choose weapons suited to your style of play.

Your suit itself can also be upgraded, not just in terms of the protection it offers but also in the amount of inventory slots it can have (although the numerous Stores dotted about the ship double as storage bays) and the various special abilities Isaac can utilise throughout the game.  With a massive amount of weapons, items and abilities it’s worth mentioning that the controls are extremely streamlined and once you’ve got to grips with the L1-aim/R1-fire mechanic, and remember that once aimed the face buttons perform the other tasks it all clicks into place.

Visually it’s stunning.  Apparently Dead Space uses parts of the Godfather engine, but we have no idea where, because this is probably the best looking third person shooter this generation: the animation is wonderful, the lighting effects sublime and the frame rate is 99% constant at a steady 30fps.  

It’s the environment effects, the smoke, the way the lights close in on you and bounce shadows of distant Necromorphs around each corner that totally draw you in.  Sure, it’s gory, but only as much as Doom 3 or Half Life 2, and it only adds to the atmosphere.

Sound too is expertly done, and this is where the PS3 version wins out over the otherwise identical 360 version in that the digital sound is utterly incredible.  The spacing of the surround sound is movie-like, completely enveloping the player in a believable, solid 3D soundspace – the orchestral music, the scraping sound effects, the banging doors, the guns, the Necromorphs’ screams, all produced to such a high standard that everything else on the console seems archaic.  If you’re still running in stereo through your TV, shame on you, but hopefully this will convince you to upgrade.

Sadly, there’s no multiplayer, but it’s a lengthy game, and one full of surprises and challenges.  The only downsides we could find are that the option to start a new game after completion appears to only let you replay on the same difficulty level (but you keep your guns) and that the first time through it’s unclear which guns, upgrades and items you should really be specialising in (although there are Trophies for kills with each) and on anything but ‘Easy’ the game really does test you.  But it’s a fantastic game, a complete surprise for us and one we have no hesitation in recommending.  Have fun in space.