In Dead Space the player takes on the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer in the distant future sent to investigate the fate of an interstellar mining ship that has gone silent in deep space.
Accompanied by several other equally befuddled would-be rescuers, Isaac soon finds himself marooned on the dark and dilapidated USG Ishimura after a menacing alien infestation cuts off communication and all routes of escape.
Something grotesque has taken hold of the giant planet cracker. A biological plague has transformed the Ishimura’s crew into monstrous, zombie-like creatures called Necromorphs. Whatever it is, this particular alien virus intends on making sure Isaac doesn’t get home in one piece.
And with that, Dead Space pits the player into an all-too-familiar setting.
Dead Space Pays Homage to Spiritual Predecessors
Gamers who’ve already survived alien onslaughts in such seminal sci-fi classics as System Shock, Doom and Half-Life will immediately detect the thematic similarities in Dead Space.
Indeed, the game’s “lost in space” ambiance calls to mind a whole slate of sci-fi influences beyond the realm of video games, including films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Event Horizon.
But that doesn’t mean everything in Dead Space feels hackneyed.Xb
Even with the clichéd plot and setting, the developers at EA manage to provide a very visceral and modernized take on the tried and tested space survival premise. In the process, the game offers up some truly memorable scenes.
Some of the best moments in the game come when Isaac is forced to venture outside the confines of the ship into the emptiness of space, with only his suit and canisters of air to keep him alive.
With his struggled breaths the only sound to be heard in the silence of the void, Isaac dismembers the hideous Necromorph creatures with an arsenal of deadly engineering tools (the game strays away from traditional firepower) all the while dancing precariously on the edges of the Ishimura.
Tense, sweat-inducing moments like these evoke a truly primeval sense of fear. The game’s organic shadows and guttural, bass-filled audio only serve to add to this delightfully oppressive atmosphere.
Unfortunately, these moments of true horror – surprisingly fresh at first – become few and far between in Dead Space. And that’s really the game’s biggest fault.
Rinse, Repeat Moments Abound on the Ishimura
There’s no doubt players will feel a sense of panic and shock at the first sight of a gang of Necromorphs dragging their horribly extended limbs menacingly out of the shadows.
But five hours later, the act of dismembering the game’s fleshy foes into another bloody heap of body parts boils over into tedium and frustration.
It really all starts to feel repetitive after a while. And there’s never much variance in the enemies themselves to make the actual act of shooting the creatures any more fun than the first time.
The control scheme and Isaac’s relative lack of mobility only make matters worse, especially in fights where five or more Necromorphs are ganging up on the player.
As the game is set in third-person perspective, the player is forced to enter the aim mode to fire a weapon, otherwise Isaac will just flail his arms and legs in an attempted melee attack when the action button is pressed.
Unfortunately, maneuvering Isaac around in this pseudo first-person view proves to be a slow chore and makes the act of blowing apart space zombies less fun than it should be.
Dead Space‘s stripped-back interface, meanwhile, is admittedly a breath of fresh air. Health and armor gauges are all shown on Isaac’s suit, and an ammo display is mounted on every weapon.
But problems start to arise when accessing the game’s clunky inventory and map system, which is presented through an on-the-fly holographic display.
There is no pause function when opening this menu, so players will often find themselves being picked apart while they frantically access the inventory to hit up medical kits and other important supplies. While the no-pause approach was probably meant to increase tension, it becomes infuriating in short order.
The relative lack of ammo in the game world and the implementation of designated save spots are other hang-ups that only add to an already frustrating experience.
Dead Space Falls Short of Expectations
At its best, Dead Space offers glimpses of brilliance and originality unmatched in previous sci-fi horror action games. The clever zero-gravity and outer space sequences are some of the moodiest, edge-of-the-seat moments to be had in a video game.
But Dead Space’s potential is hampered by a tiresome and overdone shooting mechanic that quickly becomes stale. The challenges posed by the game’s inventory interface and overall unforgiving design also make what should be an enjoyable experience only exasperating.
In the end, the trying moments outnumber the truly “wow” moments in Dead Space, which is a shame because the game had the potential to be a true horror classic.