Dead Space Review
By Corey Stoneburner |
There haven't really been a lot of newcomers into the survival horror genre. Most of the titles released have come from pre-established franchises, with gameplay mechanics and story threads that are well known and debated by fans of the series. As a result, trying to establish a new franchise in the genre can be an even steeper uphill battle -- the story, game mechanics, characters and scares have to be even stronger than most games to interest and even pull away fans of other franchises. This is the kind of challenge that Dead Space, EA Redwood Shore's upcoming game, faced because it was set in a completely new universe of survival horror (in more ways than one), one that EA has been supplementing with an animated movie, comic book and other assets. Fortunately for horror fans, Dead Space is a great example of the genre and is an awesome way to launch a franchise that could continue for many years to come.
The story behind Dead Space takes place hundreds of years in the future, during a time when mankind has exhausted all of the natural resources on Earth. Fortunately, in this dire time, humanity has mastered space travel, and a process known as planet cracking has been developed to combat this drought. A celestial body is split into pieces, and its minerals are strip-mined and melted, returning the byproducts to Earth for consumption. An entire fleet of ships sails the stars performing these tasks, and the crown jewel of this mining fleet is the USG Ishimura, which has performed more planet cracks that any other vessel. However, on a routine mission, the ship cuts off all communication from galactic command, which is somewhat strange. To discover what's going on, a small maintenance crew is quickly dispatched to the Ishimura from a nearby vessel.
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Players step into the boots of Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer that's part of the dispatched maintenance crew. Outside of fixing the communications issues, Isaac has a number of reasons for arriving on the Ishimura -- he has a number of friends that are stationed on the ship, including someone very special to him that sends an urgent holovid with a few cryptic messages before she disappears. Unfortunately for Isaac and his crew, shortly after they arrive on board the crippled vessel, all hell breaks loose. Their craft is destroyed, leaving them stranded on the Ishimura. The crew is attacked by nightmarish creatures known as Necromorphs, who kill most of Isaac's team and separate him from the surviving members. Even worse, the ship and its systems have started to be corrupted or are failing thanks to the Necromorphic infestation. It's up to Isaac to wander the halls, search for any friends or survivors that are still alive, and fix as many problems as he can until he can find a way to escape the ship, which can take you 12 or more hours to complete.
Isaac isn't the typical hero that you'd find in most sci-fi games; he doesn't walk into the Ishimura packing a firearm or grenades, nor does he have specialized training. Apart from the first one that Isaac finds on a workbench, all of Isaac's weaponry and items are found via schematics that are scattered across the ship. Only one of them is a true firearm -- the security pulse rifle; the rest of his "guns" are repurposed pieces of mining equipment used for planet cracking. However, Isaac can use his engineering knowledge to make these weapons much more powerful by analyzing their blueprints and rewiring them at workbenches with the use of power nodes. Thanks to these nodes, Isaac can improve their performance in a number of ways, such as carrying more rounds, shortening his reload time, or increasing their damage. This upgrade system even expands to Isaac's space suit, which can be improved to strengthen his suit's armor or his air supply in case he enters a vacuum. He can even use the nodes to augment the stasis or kinesis modules, which can be used to freeze monsters as they charge him or propel items into the creatures, respectively. What's creative about this system is that players won't be able to max out every weapon or every bit of gear that they have in one playthrough; this forces them to choose what they'll specialize in as they go through the ship.
Cleaning house with a little fire.This is an important decision to make, particularly because some weapons are more effective against the Necromorphs than others, and since you'll need to use strategic dismemberment to weaken and effectively kill them, the right weapon in the right situation can be the fine line between life or death in the game. See, unlike monsters in other games, Necromorphs will shrug off direct attacks to the head or chest and keep coming for more. Blasting their limbs off is the only way to cause enough damage to kill these beasts, and you'll frequently need to focus on aiming accurately and quickly at these weak spots before you're surrounded and dissected yourself. This is particularly true in later stages, when some of the Necromorphs start moving faster than before, and it frequently turns battles into brutal affairs, with severed arms and legs flying everywhere as you attempt to survive the onslaught of creatures. Thanks to the over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, this can add an extra level of tension to the game while you're fending off swarms of beasts, but be forewarned: there is no quick turnaround command. While some people may consider this to be a problem, this is actually a wise design decision because it makes you feel much more vulnerable and claustrophobic within the confines of the suit, and whether you're moving through a hallway covered in bodies or floating in a zero gravity environment, you always feel as though something could reach out and kill you at any time.