Dead Space - Space is Dangerous and Pretty Gross
By machinerebel 0 Comments
I’m in favor of space exploration in real life; It’s the final frontier with unlimited possibilities. However, space exploration in games always ends up being a bad idea. Dead Space is a prime example. As Isaac Clarke, space engineer, you arrive at the USG Ishimura on a routine repair mission only to find that the whole ship as gone to a nasty, gory hell. The deeper you go down the rabbit hole, Isaac begins to uncover a plot about space religions and alien artifacts. Through audio and text logs and brief encounters with the numerous psychos and crazies aboard the ship, you learn more about how dangerous space is and why we should never send anyone anywhere to do anything in the hellish black abyss. The rote plot twists and betrayals are all present and accounted for in this space station take on the original Resident Evil.
Each chapter of the game takes place in a different part of the ship. Traveling by tram, you run down a checklist that has you going from place to place flipping virtual switches and finding keys for doors that block your way to more switches. As expected, the ship is infested with grotesque creatures called Necromorphs – these enemies come in all shapes and sizes. Lucky for you, the biggest and most threatening are always dotted with helpful yellow weak points. Couple that with a breadcrumbs system that tells you where to go at the press of a button, and you have a game that wants to be beaten with the fewest number of speedbumps possible.
As Isaac is a space engineer and not, say, a space marine, your choice of weapons includes items like the saw blade-throwing ripper and the plasma cutter. You eventually acquire a pulse rifle, but that’s as close to a real gun as you get. Each weapon can be upgraded with power nodes at specific benches in the ship, affecting the damage, reload speed, and ammo capacity. Blueprints for suit upgrades are also available, allowing Isaac to access more golden plates of armor and more inventory slots. The game actively encourages you to focus on only a couple weapons in the game – it would be tough to get through the game by trying to use every weapon, as the ammo drops correspond to what you have equipped. Lug around a bunch of different weapons and you risk spreading your ammo distribution too thin. You have a melee attack, but I’m pretty sure the only time I ever used it was by accident, as it’s your default attack when you aren’t aiming your guns. For puzzles, you have what is essentially the Half-Life 2 gravity gun, as well as a stasis gun that slows down fans and malfunctioning doors.
Fighting the horde of monsters the game throws at you is mostly a simple matter of amputating limbs with your guns and stomping on their faces with your massive boots. Why there aren’t any upgrades for your stompers is beyond me, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Some enemies are quicker, some are slow, some have projectiles; one is embedded into a wall and will sprout little pods that shoot spikes at you, forcing you to dodge the spikes while chopping off its tentacles to stop production of the spike-shooter pods. Obnoxiously enough, the one enemy I had the most trouble with were the smallest, as their numbers made killing them costly to my ammo reserves and their speed allowed them to easily attach to my back – a problem remedied by mashing E repeatedly. The sounds in the game are excellent – Isaac’s grunt when he drops the boot on enemies and items boxes alike, the squish as you walk over dismembered body parts, and the screams of your enemies all contribute to the wonderfully chaotic and frightening atmosphere. The music appropriately crescendos as enemies descend from air vents and pop up around corners, otherwise giving way to the hum of computers and the roar of massive engines.
Dead Space was released on the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, but the PC port seems alright – there is an issue with vsync that locks the game at 30FPS while it’s enabled, but the support for high resolutions makes the game look sharper and cleaner than its console counterparts. Mouse and keyboard support is half and half – the button prompts change to reflect the keyboard, but mouse aiming is hampered by a bad case of deceleration. It’s not a deal breaker, as it just takes some getting used to, but I ended up using a 360 pad for most of the game.
While succeeding at creating an atmosphere not unlike Resident Evil, or even System Shock, the game fails at maintaining its momentum. After an hour or so into the eight hour adventure, you’ve seen everything the game as to offer. The enemies remain roughly the same, with slight variations, and the bosses seem to be nothing more than threatening target practice. Dead Space likes to replay the same notes over and over – the game likes to quarantine a room you’re in until you’ve defeated waves of enemies frequently enough that these scenes lose all tension by the second encounter. Jump scares about as frequent as they were in games like Doom 3, and Dead Space probably rivals Doom 3 for number of monster closets. Combat grows old as the ammo drop system discourages experimentation with different weapons; I used the plasma cutter for about 90% of the game.
Does Dead Space fail at being a good survival horror game? I’d say it hits its marks without exceeding expectations. It’s a fun thrill ride with plenty of gore and a few decent puzzles, but the overall experience is repetitive and predictable. The sights and sounds are impressive, even five years later, even if some of the voice acting doesn’t resonate enough to be as effective as others. I just wish it had attempted to surprise me in a way that didn’t involve a monster jumping out of an air vent.
Originally posted on my blog.