Another aspect of the game that I’m pleased to tell you is damn near perfect is the absolutely stunning sound design. Even wearing just little
headphones the atmosphere was almost pouring into your ears. Sound is
possibly the most important element in a horror game like this, and the part I
was most worried about going into my playtime. During my hands on with
the game at E3 I really dug the game, but couldn’t get a real
impression of it since I was playing it in a packed room, next to
the insanity and gigantic explosions of Mercenaries 2. It really was not the best place to experience the game, although it was obvious that the controls were solid and fun.
Talking to a sound designer from the game (of whose name I forgot,
sorry bro!) who was working insanely long hours to finish up his work
this week (Seriously. It was 10:00 at night and he had to head back upstairs to do some more work), he mentioned how they occasionally threw random sounds into
the background to keep you jumpy. They also have a system in place that adds more and more layers to the creature noises as you get closer to them. It definitely works. Sometimes you can’t tell if the strange moaning sounds you hear are
creatures or just metal from the hull under stress.
The controls are perfect. Isaac walks at a slower pace than you’re used to in most games, but then again, this is not a game that’s meant to be played as an action title. You will die fast if you try that. Sometimes, running from enemies will not only be a smart decision… it’ll also be the only decision. It also manages that fine balance of enough enemies to keep things exciting with just enough ammo to make you think about every shot- really a must for games like this. You can also aim and walk at the same time, something the Resident Evil should have learned by now (and still hasn’t, if Resident Evil 5 is any indication.) There’s also a nify guiding system when you click in the right analog stick that lights up a path on the ground for you to follow to your next objective.
Besides the weapons you also have a few abilities, ones that are also explained via the story. For example, you have a skill named Stasis that will slow down enemies and portions of the environment. It was created to work on high-speed motors and such on the ship, but it works just as well for slowing down charging enemies. There’s also a telekinesis ability that you gain at the beginning of the second level that will allow you to pick up items and move them around, or use them as weapons against your enemies. Nothing like throwing dismembered portions of a creature’s body against them.
One strange part of the game was the shop. I’m not sure why you can’t
just break in the stupid thing and take what you want, but throughout the
game you’ll pick up money for new weapons, armor and equipment and be
able to spend it at automated kiosks. It’s a little bit of silliness on
line with the merchant in Resident Evil 4, but it still works well.
Cooler still are the upgrade benches you find throughout the game that
allow you to use nodes (rare items usually only found after defeating
big enemies or hidden in secret areas) to upgrade your weapons, suits
and abilities. You really have to be careful what you upgrade and buy, though. You can only carry 4 weapons at a time, and it’s essential to have the right ones for the job, as I found out the hard way when I sold all the rest and just bought the sawblade-shooting weapon. The thing didn’t do much for me during a portion of the game where a tentacle grabs you and pulls you down a corridor.
Graphically Dead Space has few peers. Like the best horror movies, the environment is as much a character as anyone in the game, and here the place looks just as it should- previously used and now abandoned. The lighting is fantastic. As we were shown between gameplay sessions, the lighting system is one of the best every used for a game- allowing for a near infinite amount of lights to play off a surface realistically. For most of the lights they went for a rounded look to them, making them feel like surgeon or dentist lights.
The last level we tried (the 6th) was much less linear and much longer than the two before it. In it you are trying to hunt down these necromorphs that are pumping out poison
gas to help transform the air to the alien’s liking. The creatures are
pretty disturbing, with wide-open white eyes and gigantic pulsating
poison sacs on their back. Creature Designer Ben Wanat says he used
the android creature from The Last Starfighter as
influence here, and it shows. Slimy and new-looking, they pump out gas
that’s a hazard to your breathing- until you go over there and stomp
them to to bits (why waste ammo on a creature that doesn’t try to
attack you when you can melee to your heat’s content?) There were a half dozen creatures to find and eliminate,
and you can take any different path through them.
One more innovation was shown off in a section of this level, and that’s zero gravity. While other places in the game you might walk out to an area where the hull’s been compromised (and had only the air in your suit to last you till you got back to the atmosphere), sometimes you might run across a part of the ship where the gravity’s just been turned off. What this means is that it’s time for some jumping. Thankfully your boots appear to be magnetized, keeping you from floating around the environment. By aiming your weapon at a wall you can hit the Y button to jump and fly through the air to that point, if you’re allowed to walk on that surface, of course. It’s a dizzying experience but one that you’ll soon get used to as you try to find the exit.
It also makes for quite a unique look, as well. Dead bodies will float through the air, blood trailing out of their wounds in globs. Items and containers float around also. Your enemies will have trouble getting at you since you can jump around and avoid them so well, but they’re very adept at latching onto the walls and floors to pull themselves close.
The setting for this level is the Hydroponics Deck, the place where
all of the ship’s air (and food) is created. Filled with plants and
greenery, it made a nice change-up from the more industrial sections of
the previous levels. The only problem is that you won’t really get to
enjoy it. There are TONS of enemies here, from the humanoid
slashers to creepy little baby-like creatures that sprout tentacles
from their back and shoot spikes at you. If you’re not careful you’ll
run out of ammo fast.
After you’re successfully saved the section’s atmosphere you find
bigger problems- much bigger problems. Shown already in a few videos
online, the Leviathan creature is one that we’ve all been waiting for,
the one that showed the extreme variations in enemies. The beast is absolutely
enormous and fights you in a few stages, first with 3 tentacles that
attempt to sweep you off your feet and then again when it reveals
itself and spits gigantic balls at you. All the time, you’ll be jumping
around in a Zero G environment, and it really makes the action that
much more exciting.
I have to admit to having a couple of minor issues with the game. Due to the fact that it’s
in real time and there are no cutscenes, the story happens right in
front of you. To make sure you see what a creature is about and what it
does, there were 3 moments I counted when something happens to someone
else on the other side of bulletproof (laserproof?) glass. Very similar to that scene in Bioshock where the Big Daddy and Little Sister first appear. but it’s a little
annoying to have a little introduction like that every time. The voice
actors, while good, were nothing too fantastic- although the fact that
videos play on holograms in front of Isaac when you talk to other
characters is a real nice touch. And the Zero-G does feel like it could
get a bit gimmicky at parts.
I was also a little surprised to find out that Isaac is a mute protagonist. Thankfully, the 3rd person allows you to see his reactions to certain events (oh, and he will jump and be startled by things) but it’s a little strange to have people talking to you and no one talking back. What is this, a Japanese RPG? I presented the question to director Glen Schofield who eased my concerns a bit by saying that they struggled with that decision for months- but ultimately decided that the best way to put you in his head was to make sure you didn’t have a character presented for you, saying things that you wouldn’t. It’s worked before… let’s hope they made the right choice!
Really, these are all very minor issues, ones
that I’m sure won’t detract from an otherwise fantastic game. Dead Space
is as good as you hoped… lets just hope the whole game (which will
reportedly take around 14-15 hours to complete) introduces enough new
creatures and awesome boss battles to keep us scared throughout.
See, I had to be pulled away from this game. I honestly did, a tap on the
shoulder the only thing that woke me up to reality and made me realize where I was (and that everyone was being hustled out of the place). We played the
game in a room packed with tons of LCD screens, journalists, and PR
guys, but when you put your headphones on and cranked the sound you
were pulled into another world and forgot about your surroundings. All
that was there was you, the game, and tons of lethal foes, and I can only imagine how much
more immersive it’s going to be when I play it on my TV at home with
the surround sound booming and scaring the shit out of me.
We’ve got another serious contender for the survival horror crown,
people, the perfect game to pick up this Halloween. It’s about damn
time. Dead Space hits Xbox 360, PS3, and PC October 21st.