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Review: Dead Space

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This game had been on my “to play” list for quite a while now and I have to say that when I finally found time to jump in, it was worth the wait.

It’s become a bit of a stock standard in horror game lists, with the originality of the enemies and the gameplay being paramount – backed up by its unique level of gore and the subtlety of its fear-provoking scenarios. It’s basically up there with Bioshock (you will probably hear that comparison a couple times in this review) and the original F.E.A.R. with the ingenuity of its scream-producing (and occasionally pants-soiling) scare scenarios.

On the surface it’s a pretty typical Sci-Fi setting. A large space mining vessel, the Ishimura, goes quiet out in the depth of space. A rescue crew is brought in to find out exactly what happened to this colossal ship and salvage what remains of its cargo and crew members. As a part of this three person crew aboard a much smaller ship, Isaac the mechanic, you board the Ishimura to try and repair its systems and save its crew – only to quickly find yourself trapped with a dangerous alien virus in the dying ship.

The game plays out from here, with you separated from your two colleagues and forced to battle the Necromorphs (basically the zombie-virus on crack, warping dead human bodies into deformed monstrosities which are especially effective at latching on and biting down hard) throughout the various areas of the ship – all while trying to get it back online so you can go home.

The Ishimura itself is an amazing setting, with diverse rooms and scenarios which combine short and claustrophobic corridors with huge zero gravity environments. Puzzles and dead bodies abound, as well as a sophisticated level of environment design – complete with chilling graffiti and the ever-present blood stains in strange locations. The Necromorphs traverse the ship through the air vents (not unlike Bruce Willis would) and have a nasty habit of popping out of windows or fleeing back through them.

The creepiness of this ship is only added to by the audio, often making far away enemies seem close and vice versa – reminding me a lot of the constant mumbling from the splicers that often echoed around the halls of Rapture in Bioshock.

But it’s not just the scariness of Dead Space that makes it an exemplary game, it’s the way it seamlessly blends in customization aspects and unique weapon effects to just feel different to most generic shooters at the most basic levels. For example the lack of Heads Up Display (instead featuring a small ammo counter on your gone and tracking your vitals via the lights on Isaacs armor) alone makes a massive difference to most shooters – and the improved range of view only leaves more space for you to see Necropmorphs sneaking up on you (or more likely, not see them).

On top of standard weapons (which often are anything but) you have the telekinetic abilities of Isaac – being able to both slow his enemies and manipulate objects. These accentuate the various strategies the guns require, while also helping to negotiate the puzzle areas of the game.

At its core Dead Space is a simple game of a man trapped on star ship with zombie-aliens (not unlike Halo’s Flood if I have to be honest) with just a gun, a melee attack and a stomp to navigate his way to freedom. But it’s the level of sophistication in virtually every aspect that guaranteed this title its success – and that’s something which still holds up even now, about five years after its original release.

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