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ESRB RATING: M
They did it. People wondered if EA would be able to pull off an original horror game, after all the hype and product tie-ins. But they have created a horror game that deserves to be mentioned with the greats. Is it everything it could be, though?
“Dismemberment has never been so much fun!”
It’s the future. You’re Isaac Clarke, systems engineer for the
Concordance Extraction Company, or CEC. The huge corporation sends out
these gigantic mining spaceships (of a “planetcracker” class) to dead
planets around the galaxy to literally rip them apart in order to get
at all the juicy minerals inside. You’ve been tasked with finding out
what happened to one of them, the USG Ishimura, that has been out of
contact since their last planet crack.
“Well there’s your problem!”
Arriving on the ship it’s soon apparent that something’s wrong. The lights are all off, there’s no welcoming committee, oh, and some creatures that resembled twisted and broken corpses start killing everyone. You get separated from the rest of your crew during the attack and are left on your own to survive, and find out just what the hell happened.
Dead Space is a third person over the shoulder horror game, much in the same vein as Resident Evil 5. In fact, a lot of parts of the game will seem familiar to anyone who’s played a game or watched a horror movie in the last few decades. But it manages to take from the greats and add enough originality to make it feel unique.
It’s also scary as shit. It turns out that a spaceship is the perfect setting for a horror game after all, as the creaky metal, crazy lighting and electrical problems and (most of all) potential for breaches in the hull make the mood truly unsettling. Part of what makes it work so well is that this feels like a realistic future. The technology isn’t that far off from our own, and by keeping everything in-game (there’s no HUD to speak of, at all) and assigning uses for every single object (your life bar on the back, for example, is used by the crew to keep track of their co-workers) the world becomes believable and alive.
CHUDTIP- See a lot of dead bodies on the ground? Stomp them to pieces before they get reconfigured into a Necromorph. May be messy work, but you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble for later on.
The best part of the game is easily the unique “strategic dismemberment” system. Enemies will not go down easily, and you’ll soon find out that the best way to take them down is to take them apart. The more common and mostly humanoid creatures that you’ll mostly run into will charge right at you even if you shoot off theirs heads, so going for the legs is key. Of course, this won’t stop them completely either, as they’ll crawl on their arms to get to you… till you chop them off, too. This really manages to keep things fresh and exciting, throughout the whole game.
It helps that the weapons aren’t really weapons at all. Besides the inclusion of a pulse rifle, everything you wield is a tool with a specific purpose for an engineer. You’ve got laser cutters, a bolt gun, and my personal favorite, the Ripper, which is a buzzsaw that hovers in front of you, allowing you to easily slice and dice your attackers.
So as you probably have figured out, this game earns its M rating! The gore isn’t just relegated to your enemies, however- you will be torn asunder in more ways than you can count. It’s not scripted, you see- everything happens in game. So it’s possible for you to die dozens of different ways. They even gave him intestines so that when you get cut in half they spill out all over the place!
CHUDTIP- Those little creatures that pop out of the “Pregnants” (you’ll know what it is when you see it) do a lot more damage than you’d think. Take them out at a distance if you can.
The other big innovation for the game are the environments you’ll pass through. At various points in the
game you’ll step into zero gravity environments, or places where the
hull has been breached and there’s no air- sometimes both at once. The
zero g works damn well, as you have magnetized boots and can jump to
any floor or wall just by aiming your gun and hitting a button. You’ll
soar through the air, weightless. When you kill an enemy there, blood
will splurt out from it in globs that float away. It really is a beautiful
thing. The air vacuums are a lot scarier. You’ll hear Isaac choke and cough as his air supply starts to run low. You have to find air tanks to refill it, or simply get through an air lock to save yourself. Those parts get tense as hell since as there’s no air there’s no sound, and creatures will creep up on you very easily.
Despite the obvious gore and horror to be found here, this is a lot more of an action
game than the developers would like to admit. Sure, the beginning is scary as hell
and full of tense moments, but the game shifts gears about halfway
through, where it becomes much less scary and more about the shooting.
While there’s one invulnerable creature that stalks you (like a certain
nemesis from another game) and forces you to run away, for the rest of
the game you’ll be killing everything you come across. The enemies tend
to come in large waves at points, too, leaving you to shoot and shoot
till there are body parts splattered all over the place. Not that this is a bad
thing in any way, but once you get used to killing the creatures and hitting their weak spots they
become far less scary, even though they do tend to still pop out at
inopportune moments and make you jump. But adding to the action game
feel, most every enemy drops something useful, ensuring you’ll never be
without ammo, health packs, or credits.
Credits? Yep. While it’s a little silly you will find weapon stores around the ship where you can use your cash to buy new weapons, items, and most
importantly, suit upgrades. There’s no way to overstate just how cool
Isaac’s armor is, and he gets more and more ribbed (for your pleasure)
as you get the newer versions, which do a better job of protecting you and giving you more inventory slots. Which you’ll need more than anything, because space is pretty tight around here.
There are a few gripes that keep the game from being perfect, however. For one thing, there aren’t nearly enough big boss battles. At the midpoint of the game you’ll fight a gigantic beast (the Leviathan) in a zero g environment, and it’s an awesome, exciting battle. Unfortunately it’s the best one there is. A few that should have been more are a bit of a letdown, and big and memorable moments like that seem to be few and far in between. Also, athough there are places where you have mulitple objectives and can tackle them in any order, for the most part the game is very linear. It’s also shorter than you’d expect (more on that later.)
plasma cutter is the best gun in the game. Upgrade it and it’s near
unstoppable, and the secondary fire (that switches it from a vertical
to horizontal beam) ensures that you’ll always have the right angle to
blow limbs apart.
If it weren’t for the comic and website (and upcoming movie) I’m not sure how much I would like the story, either. It’s standard stuff if you don’t know all the history behind it, and some of the characters can get pretty irritating. Knowing the backstory changes things around, though… and there is a ton of it out there. Just a shame that people have to pick up the comics and snoop around the site to get the whole experience, even if all the tie-ins are really well done and entertaining.
But on a whole, this all just knocks down what could have been perfect to “merely” a great game. You can’t complain about that. This game does what it does very well, and if we’re all lucky we’ll see more installments in the future.
Graphically, this is easily one of the best-looking games you’ve ever seen. Part of that is due to the fact that instead of doing what every other developer is doing and just using the Unreal Engine, they built theirs from the ground up. The lighting alone will stun you- the engine allows for literally thousands of lights to play off surfaces realistically, and in a game as dark and spooky as this one, it adds much to the mood. It even helps with the level design, because even though there is a bit of backtracking in the game the lighting can make any area have a different feel instantly.
CHUDTIP- As with most games, if it glows bright orange, SHOOT IT!
As far as the sound, it might just be better than the graphics. The music is almost overpowering at times… it gets real frantic when you’re in an attack. On the flipside when the music is gone, the atmosphere really comes to life. The game loves to fuck with you- your video communicator opens with a loud squelch, similar to sounds of the Necromorphs. Really fun when you’re in a quiet section of the game, let me tell you.
The game will swallow you whole, though. Not since Bioshock has there been a game as immersive, as realistic and (most of all) freaky. Playing through the game a second time allowed me to appreciate it even more, as sound (and visual) cues were different all over the place. Surround sound is a must here, because you want to be sure that when you hear something fall to the floor behind you that it wasn’t a creature that did it.
This is where people will have an issue with the game. I beat it in around 10 and a half hours. Now, take into consideration that I’ve played three of the twelve episodes before and had a good idea of how to play, and you’ve got a game that will come in the 12-15 hour mark. Maybe too short for some?
Fortunately, there are incentives for another playthrough, and being in the middle of the second one myself I can tell you that it’s a whole lot different the second time around. A lot less scary, yes, but you become almost unstoppable since you keep all your weapon and suit upgrades. You will want to play through at least a second time, too- the game is just too much fun to play. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a bit more.
CHUDTIP- About to need a save station? Uh oh! Don’t worry, there’s a smart checkpoint system in place that’ll make sure you’re never far from where you died. Only save if you need to turn the game off.
Not the absolute masterpiece we were hoping for but truly one of the best games of the year so far. It’s got just the right mix of action and horror and playability to please any video game fan.
Turn the lights off, crank the sound and prepare to get sucked in.
9.1 out of 10