You are Issac Clarke, an engineer sent to the deep space mining vessel, the USG Nishimura to investigate why the ship has recently stopped communicating. However once onboard, Issac soon learns that this is no typical mechanical fault and that something has gone horribly wrong during their latest expedition. An alien presence has taken control of the ship and the entire crew appears to have been gruesomely murdered. Now, completely weapon-less and untrained in any form of warfare, it is up to a simple, lone engineer to save mankind.
Dead Space doesn’t waste any time. Instead it throws you into a big can of freaky and lets you sweat it out for yourself. The latest third-person shooter from EA falls into the horror category and at first glance is fairly reminiscent of games like Doom III or Resident Evil. A large amount of the gameplay takes place in dimly lit corridors, ammunition is sparse and you’re up against a goulash of horrible critters that want to wear your skin as a hat. But Dead Space does offer some interesting new elements that steer it away from other games in its genre.
The main one is the dismemberment feature. With ammo being a prized commodity in Dead Space, you’ll find yourself wanting to conserve every shot possible. So rather than fire off an entire clip at an alien’s torso, you can choose to instead target a leg and cripple them with one or two well-placed shots. Slowing down enemies to a crawl in this manner gives you time to better target a more effective part (ie: the head) for your second shot, or to concentrate on other targets closing in on you. You can even use this dismemberment system alongside another weapon in the game, the all too familiar anti-gravity gun. After blasting off limbs or appendages off your enemy, you can then use it to hurl the severed body parts back at your foes as well.
Dead Space’s limited ammo supplies cause you to think on your feet and to make the most of each situation. A lot of the weapons that you’ll encounter are actually mining tools, so the amount of damage that you can inflict is… decorative to say the least. The game’s dismemberment feature allows for colourful sprays of body fluids and bone fragments to litter the screen. It’s messy, but beautiful to watch. You’ll want to finish the job too as even a dismembered body part can still cause you some damage if it’s moving. Another interesting weapon that can help matters is the Stasis gun that allows you to freeze aliens in their tracks for a short period of time.
The resources you have at your disposal add a lot to the survival tone of Dead Space, making it feel like you are always in control and that your quick-thinking alone will be what gets you through the next hoard of bad-guys. But even the atmosphere of the game is well crafted and by creeping around the pitch-black ship you will witness eerie video logs on nearby screens or hear nightmarish audio recordings prior to the alien attack. Every corridor seems ominous and you can easily be startled by an enemy suddenly leaping out of the shadows when you least expect it. Every clang of metal or shuffle in the distance will cause your heart to skip a beat. Some alien life-forms even feign death, lying among corpses scattered on the ground only to leap forward and attack you when you least expect it.
But despite all this, Dead Space still isn’t the blood-curdling, heart-attack experience we were expecting. This is mainly because the weaponry that you’ll get access to, plus your intimidating armour that you’ll soon earn gives you a sense of empowerment that counter those first thirty minutes of the game where you were completely useless. You’ll go from a timid, defenceless nerd to a fairly well equipped bad-ass who looks like he should be playing for the bad guys. But Dead Space does balance the nail-biting suspense with some great gameplay and the end result still delivers in the end. After running around squealing like a little girl, it’s quite rewarding to be able to dish some back in the second half of the game.
Dead Space is also surprisingly long for a shoot-em up, taking over 10 hours to complete. Although parts of it seemed repetitive (often you’ll find yourself trekking through identical corridor after corridor) the combat sequences were varied and enjoyable thanks to the need for different techniques to get through them. The gunplay is also broken up with aspects of puzzle-solving to keep things interesting – usually requiring you to manipulate gravity or to locate keys for locked doors. They’re nothing too taxing, but fairly well thought out and executed to be a welcome change to the gore and horror sections of the game. Although it’s not as scary as a room full of clowns all holding rabid lemurs, it’s probably not an ideal game for grandpa and his pace maker either. But Dead Space is definitely a solid third-person shooter for those who feel they’re not getting enough nightmares.