Monday, January 5, 2009

Dead Space (PC, 2008)

Dead Space is the story of an engineer named Isaac Clarke. Isaac is a man with hideously bad luck. The story goes, that Isaac has a girlfriend, who is stationed on USG Ishimura, a planet-cracker ship. In the game’s world, the way to satisfy humanity’s need for resources requires entire planets to be broken apart and processed for raw materials. Now, contact with Ishimura has been lost, and Isaac and his crew has been sent to fix the issues they might have with communications, or some other minor problems.

In the beginning of the game Isaac and the rest of the crew, Kendra and Hammond and some bloke whose name I don’t remember arrive on Ishimura in the most time-honored tradition of crashing in a ball of fire and bits of metal. From here, they decide to proceed into the ship, to contact the crew and find out what’s going on. If only everything was this easy. First, they cannot find anyone. Then, they noticed blood on the floor, signs of battle, and other less than encouraging signs. Next thing we know, the quarantine comes on and everything goes down the toilet. From here begins Isaac’s journey of running around a ship full of monsters with a penchant for being creepy buggers and slicing people up. Of course, being an engineer, Isaac responds by using mining tools to slice the monsters back up. The only problem is, that ammo is usually very short, and the necromorphs (that’s what the monsters are called) are quite durable and fast. Isaac is very slow and kind of squishy (although he has an awesome suit).

The game is basically quite close to survival horror on hard difficulty. Hard difficulty is the way to play this game, let me tell you that right now. Dead Space is at its best on Hard. Easy is just stupid, and Normal is not very challenging by the end. Hard is the most difficult, and scariest way to play this game.

As is the way with many games nowadays, Dead Space is ridiculously pretty in some aspects, and boasts many innovative decisions, such as using planes of damage instead of points of damage with weapons (well, they are cutters, used for slicing things up), as well as having a unique menu system seen from Isaac’s point of view. Many of the weapons are quite interesting, with flying saw-blades, machine-guns with 360-degree firing arc and many more quirks. There’s always the basic flamer, but it sucks.

The game is exceedingly atmospheric, and the makers have obviously put a lot of effort into art direction and sound design. The game is at its best when played alone, in a dark apartment, with the sound cranked up. The atmosphere in the game is simply great, and many of the creature designs are genuinely quite disturbing. You never feel quite safe, and this combined with general lack of ammo and the necromorph penchant for jumping out of vents, holes in the ground has the player sitting on the edge of their seat. When the critters attack, the game turns quite frantic when the player tries to desperately survive the onslaught.

Dead Space basically screams quality, from beginning to end, and it saddens me that I wasn’t quite able to get into it. I could see many of the scares coming, and this takes out of the enjoyment. I was never quite scared either, although the game does manage to keep the player tense, waiting for the next attack when it might not come, then surprising the player when they don’t expect it. From the reactions of other people who have played Dead Space though, it seems to hit the mark with the majority. I just never managed to quite “get it”. It’s definitely worth giving a shot if you like sci-fi and horror. The story is alright, though much of it exists outside the game in comics and an animated movie.

I played the PC-version of the game, and some of the issues I had may only exist in that. The problems were mainly with the controls. The controls felt somewhat clunky, and controlling Isaac felt at times more like driving a truck than guiding a man. However, this may be due to my set-up, and I don’t know how prevalent the issue is. Disabling vertical sync seems to work on most people, but had no effect for me.

Overall, Dead Space is a great entry to the survival horror-genre, if played in a certain way. It may not work for everyone, but for the vast majority, it seems to be just the thing if you want something to freak you out. If highly atmospheric horror games are your thing, get Dead Space. You won’t regret it.

Verdict: Win


is this your life? said...

I'm currently fighting the food storage boss, but I definitely know how I feel about the game. While it is fucking pretty, and there are some fantastic innovations to be had (lack of HUD, quick goal locator, ammo spawning for your equipped weapons), pretty much everything else in Dead Space is second-tier.

This game is not scary. Early on, there is a definite amount of suspense (mostly due to extremely rare ammo drops), but the game is so heavily scripted and the AI so heavily nonexistent that the immersion is completely lost. Just run forward, trigger an attack, then deal with one of two enemy types (slight exaggeration) who either run/crawl straight for you or fire projectiles at you. There is no dynamism to be had, no variety or new approaches that you can take. The scripting instills a special feeling of panic as enemies essentially spawn on top of you, but it's awkwardly transparent and does nothing fun for the gameplay.

Another thing that pulls me out of the game is the scenery. Now, camp is pretty essential for all horror, but the details of each room are just silly. Who the fuck writes on the floor like that when they're trying to escape alien evisceration, or even ever? Why the fuck are there giant fetuses propped up in random chairs? The audio and general game design get the horror mood down right nicely, but many of their design choices don't hold up to more than a passing glance.

So what does that leave? The actual gameplay, the surgical limb eviscerating evolution of horror fps's everywhere.'s alright. I'm playing through using only the, well, essentially the pistol and shotty, and it's pretty repetitive. I'm going to give it one more go on a new game+ to try out the other weapons, but the shooting definitely doesn't save the game.

In general, I think it's a decently entertaining game with some cool ideas and many more luke-warm mechanics, but it's definitely worth a rental if you're looking for a new horror/survival game to try out.

Rhan said...

That's pretty close to my impression of the game, though I keep having nagging feeling that I've missed something, listening to some other people gushing about it. I think that what killed the game for me was how utterly predictable and non-scary it was. Tense=/=Scary

is this your life? said...

yeah, I'm not too enthralled by it. I really just want to go play Resident Evil 4 again while I'm playing this :) I bought it for $30 on sale and it's still going for full price on Goozex, so it looks like I'm gonna trade it out soon.

Also, the Let's Play is going great so far.

Narian said...

Meta are you playing on Normal or Hard? Because going from Norm -> Hard makes the game a totally different beast (a lot better).

To me, I loved Dead Space but I felt like it was a SciFi Bioshock wherein the gameplay, setting, and premise were very well done but the actual storytelling in the game wasn't as... powerful as Bioshock or some other games I've played lately.

is this your life? said...

I'm playing on Hard. It's funny that you mention Bioshock, because it does remind me of how I felt playing that game - the presenation is fanfuckingtastic, but the gameplay itself just feels uninspired.

is this your life? said...

Ok, there is a definite increase in appeal to be had from switching out the line gun for the pulse rifle. I also really liked the section where you can't see much because of steam.

Still not very impressed, though.