256th played so far
Genre: Survival Horror/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Sometimes you encounter a gem solely by chance. I originally obtained Dead Space before we started this blog, mostly on a whim. It was cheap, it looked interesting and different, and I wanted to try and see what it was like. It went onto the ‘to play’ pile, which was more or less put on hold with the blog… but at least I get to play and experience it now.
Dead Space combines two of our most worrying genres – it’s a survival horror (which is always interesting for us to play) and a shoot ’em up, the large category of games that we really think of playing. That tells us one thing, at least – we don’t need to worry about ammo conservation as much. We do want to shoot.
Due to my secondary vocation as a professional gaming chicken I am writing this whilst Jeroen is playing the game on the PC beside me. I am tense enough as it is watching this game without being the person being attacked by Necromorphs. I mean I thought zombies were bad (I still find the cartoon zombies in the first level of Timesplitters 2 to be suitably freaky) without having to deal with zombies produced by an alien virus.
Yes folks this is space-mutated-alien-virus-zombie game Dead Space where your task is to go about a newly derelict ship and fight these Necromorphs whilst making needed repairs in order to discover more about the fate of the USG Ishimura. Well there is more to to the story bringing in religion and hallucinations but I think that is more something to be experienced in the game. Call my old fashioned but I really do not like spoilers.
The version we played was the PC version which is known to be the lesser of the three releases. To be fair to us this was the cheaper version (and seeing how many computer games we have bought in order to do this legally I hope you’ll forgive this). This has therefore given rise to some control issues that was probably not present in the console versions. The controls to aim can (at times) feel sluggish and not entirely responsive enough for a game were danger can fall from an air-duct above your head. We shall assume that they were better on the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3 so this is where we’ll end that line.
To expand on that, one part of this is solved by using an XBox controller, one part isn’t. First, the mouse, from the moment you start in the main menu, is very sensitive. It’s jittery and unresponsive. The second part is looking around – this just doesn’t feel responsive, which means the camera gets in your way when you really don’t want it.
The first thing that I have to praise this game for is the atmosphere it creates. Not only are there corpses littering the Ishimura but also it is clear from the word go that this was a place where many people lived. A nice touch are the advertisement at the tram stations. Something that makes sense since the whole purpose of this ship is to crack planets open in the name of corporate profiteering. It also has taken major inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien film, right down to the look of the medical bay. There are obviously many other things that have influenced this game but that was really a major one that comes to mind.
This plus then bleeds into the graphical style. Contemporary games, such as Killzone 2, took fighting off of Earth to a place that was graphically dull. I mean sure it looked good from a technical standpoint by the palette of colours was incredibly limited to the browns and the other types of brown. Here they are not afraid to throw in other colours since (after all) this was a lived in spaceship. So whites and blues are used often alongside the traditional greys, browns and blood red.
On a more technical level, what’s as amazing in creating the atmosphere is the use of the setting itself. You’re in space, in a half-demolished space ship, and there are sequences where it happily show. Two scenes are close together that demonstrate this perfectly. First, you walk through a vacuum. Part of the ship’s hull has been blown off, meaning that you walk around in an area exposed to space. There’s no sound, even when you’re dealing with an attack, and you feel completely isolated.
The second has more of a ‘wow’ factor. There are zero gravity sections. You have the obligatory magnet boots, but you can disengage them to jump around the room. For once, this gives you an advantage as monsters can’t keep up as easily, making for some truly fun gameplay where I spend some time simply bouncing from side to side.
Another interesting point is the look of the aliens themselves. It is often said that the scariest enemies are those that are humanoid with a twisted element. Sometimes it works well but there are times (such as the acid flinging babies) where it almost segues into parody… something unintended I’m sure. Still, the idea of the scientists inflicting this virus on a bunch of babies in suspended in a green liquid. That’s getting towards the better side of grotesque.
It makes the game that more horrible, though. While the game doesn’t go for scary (most of the surprise attacks are introduced through musical cues and other warning signs), its horrors are all the more frightening. The babies suspended in green fluid, mentioned above, are one good example, another is seeing someone turned into a zombie in front of your eyes. It has you on the edge of your seat – especially as it leads into a boss fight at a point where you are low on resources already.
The aliens lend itself to the best part of the game, the dismemberment. For years I have been mastering the headshot (since my first taste of a blood fountain in Grand Theft Auto 3. The fact that the Necromorphs actively change tactics (even the coquettish ones hop from foot to foot) to compensate for their recently lost limb is nothing short of impressive. I think many will remember the cheat in GTA 3 that allowed you to blast off limbs with an assault rifle, well here it’s the best way to fill enemies and it never gets old.
As a survival horror game the use of horrible creatures jumping out at you at any given opportunity. The fact that you are not even safe when you check your inventory screen is a stroke of genius (something that always felt artificial in Resident Evil where you could quick-reload by accessing whatever you could find in your pockets). Even as a professional gaming chicken I have to say just how impressed I was with this game.
Quickly running through a last few features: The shop interface is a nice addition to handle some of your upgrades, leaving your weapon choices fairly open ended and giving you a chance to replenish (although upgrades fight with resources for this). The main upgrades go in through a fairly simple skill tree, but again the interactions are nice – both inside the skill tree where you need to worry about unlocking later paths or focusing on quick wins that don’t unlock much – and outside, where you can use your power nodes to open locked doors instead to get you other items and storyline items. They aren’t a big part of the game, but their trade-offs are just as interesting.
This game felt too intensive to play for too long in one sitting. After an hour and a half of deaths, scares and running away to survive, I had to get away from it for a while to let myself calm down. It’s not as creepy as, say, The Path, but the tension involved is still high and leads to something amazing.