Review: Dead Space

A deeply immersive sci-fi survival horror game about kicking undead arse in space. Dead space.

Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: October 24, 2008
Reviewed on: PC

Enter the King

Survival Horror, the genre that had us mowing through crazies in the classic Alone in the Dark games, boxing with mutant bears in Ecstatica, and blowing zombies away in Resident Evil just had EA Redwood Shores crown it a new king.

If I were Yoda I’d say, “For more talk no need there is,” and then proceed to force slap you until you play this game. And then I’d do a double somersault just to show you I mean business.

Gordon Freeman Walks Into a Bar and Says…

The game stars the mute protagonist Isaac Clarke, who (much like another famous character from a very different game we won’t mention) wields a high-tech suit and balls of solid steel into battle.

You’ll spend most of the game exploring the mining vessel USG Ishimura, a giant ship that mines planets by cracking them open with a huge-ass laser. All transmissions from the ship mysteriously cease some time before the game starts, and Isaac and his colleagues are dispatched on a routine repair mission to this floating Planet Cracker. Thanks to some fantastically incompetent teamwork, the people piloting the repair vessel manage to crash it into the Ishimura. After the dust blows over, Isaac and his colleagues venture deeper into the mining ship in their attempt to figure out what the hell happened to its communications. Not much deeper, though, because that’s when the monsters decide to show up.

Half the crew is promptly slain.

The three people standing after the gore-fest are systems engineer Isaac Clarke (you), the repair vessel’s captain, and the annoying communications array specialist, so it’s up to you three to clear out the uglies and repair the Ishimura. Or, as the saying goes, die trying.

The Great and Terrible Tale of Isaac Clarke

The game is experienced from a 3rd person over-the-shoulder perspective. I found this to be jarring at first, as the camera is very close to the character, but thirty minutes and fifteen corpses into the game I stopped caring. Dead Space is a fairly linear game if you discount the occasional backtracking. The missions (or “chapters,” as the game calls them) have you direct Isaac through the darkly atmospheric Ishimura as you try to bring its major systems online, all the while unveiling more and more about what happened on the ship. And to keep things interesting, the game lets you introduce the monster population of USG Ishimura to the manly soles of your space boots while you’re at it.

Each chapter’s objectives are given to you by one of your surviving crew members. The dialogue is surprisingly well-written and voiced, and each mission helps drive the plot forward. Combine that with immersive gameplay, and you have an experience akin to an interactive high budget science fiction movie.

The sort that doesn’t suck.

And forget heads-up displays and in-game menus. Isaac’s health bar is integrated into his suit, and ammunition counts are shown on the weapons themselves. Every time you come across an audio log or receive a video transmission, it’s displayed as a real-time holograph in front of the engineer, so there’s nothing to distract you from the game’s gritty world. More games should try to do this, but in Dead Space’s case, it’s just one of the many little things propelling the game towards the throne of Survival Horror badassdom. Dead Space will often offer you the chance to upgrade your suit and weapons of choice as you progress through the game, making the job of slicing, dicing, and stomping baddies a little easier.

Off With Their Hands!

The majority of the Horror in this Survival Horror game is delivered via the Necromorphs. These are the USG Ishimura’s transformed blood-thirsty crew, who are one of Isaac’s main concerns throughout the game. All of the creatures look original, if a little sickening, and even the most basic of these are lethal if they catch you with your pants down.

In addition to your suit’s built-in powers that let you slow down time and telekinetically throw stuff around, Isaac dispatches the creatures with plasma cutters, ripper blades, flamethrowers, contact beams, and other home-defence inventory items. The catch is that to bring down your foes in Dead Space you have to cut or shoot off their limbs before stomping them in the face. Shooting them in the head or torso doesn’t quite do the trick. To make things even more interesting, some of the battles play out in zero gravity, having you leap wall to wall, Necromorph legs, arms, and other unidentifiable body parts flying around while you squeeze off shot after shot from your Plasma Cutter.

It’s a sight to behold.

Dead Brains

Necromorph AI is generally good, and in Dead Space they can travel through Ishimura’s ventilation systems, sometimes popping out from a vent right behind you. The game doesn’t go for Doom 3’s cheap scripted scares with monsters constantly falling on your head out of nowhere, though, and that gets my seal of approval (at least as soon as those guys from PETA give me my damn seal back). Sometimes a Necromorph will get too close to Isaac for comfort, initializing a mini cut-scene where you have to keep tapping a key to throw him off. Depending on the Necro you’re fighting, Isaac would either just smack him back, or brutally execute the fool.

Fighting these bastards never feels like a chore. It’s fun and it’s satisfying and that’s what good games should be all about.

Blood Aesthetics

From level design and weapon effects to the enemies that look like they’d just stepped out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, Dead Space looks gorgeous. Graphics are fantastic, the animations are great, and the game sounds amazing, too. A good example would be when Isaac has to venture into the cold of outer space. The screen tings ever so slightly and all sounds not coming from the inside of your suit are muffled as asskickery continues in Zero G.

One of the few complaints I do have is about the physics engine, most notably the ragdoll corpses. It seems that as soon as Isaac’s foot comes close to a dead body (Necromorph or otherwise), the corpse is auto-kicked away from the character model, sometimes bouncing off doors and walls and whatever else it touches. In lack of a better explanation for this strange phenomenon, I blame the gravitational pull of Isaac Clarke’s giant balls.

Final Verdict

Dead Space is not revolutionary. What it is, however, is a clever, beautiful, and exciting game. And above all, it’s a hell of a blast to play.

I think it’s worth mentioning that there have been numerous times on my first playthrough where I thought, “Okay, if this was your average game, such-and-such is bound to happen right about now. So let the zombie face-pouncing commence.” And the game proved me wrong almost every single time. Revolutionary or not, it’s most definitely not an average game, and everything it tries to do, it does exactly right and without having to rely on cheap tricks to make everything work.

So go on and buy it. Because if you learn from Isaac Clarke’s example, and all of a sudden monsters from a strange alien dimension eat your neighbour’s cat and piss in your teacup, you’d now know how to ruin their shit in a heartbeat.


My Rating: 4.5/5 Penguins

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