My first hands-on with this action/horror shooter from EA Redwood Shores was at E3 where Devin and I were both dumbfounded by what we saw. I couldn’t stop talking about it for hours and Devin eventually told me to STFU. It was dark, gruesome and I had to have it, which is why I attempted to ‘accidentally’ walk away with a build during E3. The graphics and gameplay alone had me sold but it was the soundtrack that put me over the edge. And EA was the last place I expected to find a shooter worth playing in an already saturated market.
The game is set hundreds of years in the future where we’ve ravaged the Earth of all its natural resources and now we’re scouring the far reaches of space to pillage other planets for their resources. For whatever reason the USG Ishimura has cut off all communications with the governing body that manages the pillaging of planets and a small maintenance crew is sent out to figure out what happened. This is where you takeover as Isaac Clarke and begin your lonely mission to find out what happened to the crew and try to find a way off the ship since yours is unfortunately blown to smithereens while trying to keep the rest of your crew alive. As you progress through each section of the Ishimura you’re tasked with little missions to fix what you can and along the way you find clues (usually audio clips) left by crewmembers that give insight as to what happened. Most are cryptic and I eventually stopped listening to them. You’ll find out why in just a bit. The storyline is entertaining, but it’s not something I focused on too much.
Your enemies throughout this space odyssey consist of various Necromorphs that get progressively harder to kill and just scare the shit out of you. The main feature of this game that piqued my interest at E3 was the dismemberment aspect and it lived up to all the hype. You have to dismember these creatures or they will come after you with their scythe-like limbs (hits to the body and head don’t do much, so go after the limbs) and your ammo situation can be limited at times, so you have to get creative. More on this later. I especially liked the curb stomping ala Gears of War that was thrown in and I spent a few minutes stomping dead enemies just to see the rest of their limbs dissipate.
About halfway through the game the Necromorphs are able to regenerate so you’re SOL if you get stuck in a room with a few too many beasties. However, with the click of the left joystick you’re presented with an illuminated path that shows you where you need to go. Kind of like the illuminated path that might show up on a plane if the power goes out. This was extremely helpful, but it’s a crutch that I fell back on many times simply because I could. To be honest without it I would have spent hours and hours just wandering around for no reason. It’s a blessing and a curse, but you do end up backtracking to unlock certain areas of the ship and it can get confusing at times. (This is also why I stopped listening to the audio logs)
Let’s talk about the weapons in Dead Space now. There isn’t any one weapon that’s worth zeroing in on, but my usual rotation consisted of a rifle, line gun, plasma cutter and flamethrower. Each having its own secondary function that I unleashed one too many times in elevator shafts inflicting damage that ultimately lead to my demise prematurely. But my favorite weapons were the line gun and plasma cutters. Each of these weapons can be upgraded via workbenches scattered throughout the ship and I typically focused on upgrading the capacity of each weapon whereas as a smarter player would have focused on improving the overall damage inflicted, but said player must also be savvy with the stasis utility. Remember the low ammo situations where you have to get creative that I mentioned earlier? Well, this is where a more veteran shooter would slow down their enemies via stasis and dismember the Necromorphs with a few pistol whips rather than unloading clips upon clips of bullets. Certain Necromorphs are unaffected by certain weapons so it’s a crapshoot when you encounter new enemies.
I’ve grown quite accustomed to the third-person shooter genre, but DS manages to revitalize the genre, which I feel is getting stagnant, whether we like it or not. The HUD system is like nothing else and I hope to see other developers clone or improve upon this system. You no longer need to pause mid-game or dart your eyes to the corners of your screen to see your vitals. Isaac’s life meter is exactly where you’re looking 90 percent of the time and stopping to look at how much ammo each weapon has or where you are on the map is a risk because the game keeps going even if you’ve decided to take a tiny break.
The zero gravity sections of the game were challenging and frustrating at the same time. It kept things fresh and trying to maneuver yourself while being chased by aliens had me sweating bullets at times. I can sort of imagine what it would be liked based on the zero gravity flight I took the other month and I’m pretty sure I’d be dead within seconds if I ever find myself in a real life space odyssey.
So, should you buy this game? You’re going to need something to keep yourself occupied before Gears of War 2 comes out. Heh. Honestly, I enjoyed Dead Space and it lived up to my expectations. If Bioshock creeped you out then you better wear a diaper when you load this game into your console. Pick it up today for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.