The lights are on
It's fairly obvious how late I'm touching on this game. With Dead Space 3 releasing just over a month ago, I've finally found myself putting Dead Space into my PS3. I admit my first two experiences with Dead Space weren't in my favor, which in turn, lead to the game sitting on my shelf collecting dust for over a year. However, after clearing my mind and playing the game through a new lens, I've come to have a deep appreciation and respect for it.
When I first attempted to play Dead Space, the visuals appeared quite dull to me. Talking place on the Ishimura, a space ship that has been overrun by an alien-zombie-like life form, there are a lot of dark areas. This presents a lot of similar looking environments, but the lighting itself is remarkable. From flickering lights, or flashing orange sirens from the ships automatic quarantine the lighting is quite extraordinary once you pay attention to it. It helps put things into scale, such as larger objects like a ship of the Ishimura's massive engines.
As amazing as the lighting effects are, the darkness plays an essential piece in the design. You open a door that reveals a long, dark hallway, and the first thought that comes to mind is: "Is it really worth the risk to find out what is at the end of the hall?", and "What exactly could be waiting in this hall to ambush me?"
Sound is on par as well, Random noises such as a pipe dropping will set you on edge, and the screeches of the Necromorphs, the games alien race, will have your neck hairs on end before you even see them. Particularly one enemy that has an absolutely guttural scream, who charges at you and then explodes kamikaze style.
The enemies themselves look gruesome. The Necromorphs aren't just an alien race, but an organism that kills and then claims control of the body, making horrid "alterations". They're not pretty, making them even more creepy.
The Lighting, ambient noises, and disgusting enemies, combined with the rarity of interaction with "living" people, produces a feeling of isolation that rivals with the likes of Metroid. In fact, I kept thinking that Dead Space is the outcome of a fusion between the movie Alien and Metroid, which results in a dangerously beautiful sci-fi horror adventure.
You play as Isaac Clarke, a space engineer among a small repair team. You and your team have been sent out to repair the USG Ishimura, which went dark and fell off the radar. But there's a bit more in it for Isaac; his girlfriend, Nicole, is working on the Ishimura.
When the team arrives, no one is there to great them, and it's not long before they encounter the Necromorphs, dropping their team of 5 down to 3. It's now up to Isaac to find out what happened to the Ishimura, and furthermore: find a way off the ship.
The story for the most part is told through audio recordings, video logs, and text entries that you find throughout the ship that further illustrate the events of what went wrong on the Ishimura. As for Isaac's story, there's not much to it other than what's been said in the intro. And even then, there never really seems to be a big emphasis on finding Nicole. Which makes her role a small one. One thing leads to the next, and that's how the game is pushed forward up until the last portion of the game where a few twist can be found. Let me provide you with an example of what I mean: You finally activate a distress call, but the satellite is off angle. When you get there and fix the satellite, it then becomes apparent that something else is additionally preventing you from moving on, and you have to attend to that.
Most unfortunate is the lack of emotion portrayed through Isaac. This is mainly due to the fact that Isaac doesn't talk, and he wears a full body suit at all times that prevents and physical display of emotion. You're bound to forget about Nicole, which could have been stronger motive for the plot. Instead, Isaac comes off as a stone heartened alien killer. (Samus and him should meet for a cup of coffee sometime!)
The game does stay true to whatever character Isaac does have though. He's no military soldier, so he doesn't go around toting machine guns and such. Isaac's weapons mostly consist of mining equipment from the ship, with the exception of one gun, which does feel quite military. The lack of proper fire power increases the feeling that no one was prepared to face this kind of threat.
The story is very intriguing with some good twist towards the end, however Isaac's inability to display emotion is a heavy weight. To get the most out of the story, I recommend watching Dead Space: Downfall, an hour-or-so long anime that shows the events and some back story of what went down with the Ishimura.
At it's core, Dead Space is a survival horror. You can expect a scarce amount of supplies and unexpected ambushes. The low amount of supplies becomes even more rare of harder difficulties, forcing you to really use your ammo conservatively.
Speaking of conserving ammo, the way in which you fight off the Necromorphs is quite unique. Due to their alien traits, they can absorb a lot of damage to their torso area. Nor do they require a head to continue pursuing an attack. Though you can eventually kill these guys with blast to the torso (takes a lot more ammo, of which can be hard to come by), the best way to take them down is to dismember the limbs, which the game will constantly remind you of during the first couple hours. This puts some serious innovation on an otherwise generic third person shooter. The weapons are even oriented in this manor as well. For example, the first weapon you acquire, the Plasma Cutter, shoots an energy blast about a foot in length, however you can alternate whether the beam shoots vertically, or horizontally. This allows you to target enemies in a way that will guarantee a good shot at dismembering a limb. They generally fall after loosing two to three limbs.
The atmosphere has a bigger affect on gameplay than in most games. It's really not that scary of a game (I guess that depends on your preference), but you spend a lot of the time in suspense of what's going to happen before, and if something actually does happens. As a result, I was almost always on edge, despite not being particularly scared of the Necromorphs themselves. Eventually you'll catch onto cues such as a long dark hallway, or an abundance on ammo on the floor before entering a large room. These will tip you off that something, whatever it may be, is coming, but the action remains exciting.
You'll always know where to go, but exploring is usually available, but as I said earlier, you'll be weighing the risk and rewards before wandering off. And the rewards can be pretty good. There could be credits for use in the store, or power nodes which are used to upgrade the stats of your gear. So you're risky trips down that dark hall pay off. Or maybe they won't, only one way to find out.
Zero-G areas feel a bit disorienting, but they do add in some variety. In addition, areas void of oxygen add a bit of stress as you race against a clock on your back counting down your remaining oxygen supply. This small inclusion makes these moments highly exciting and fast paced.
Dead Space's gameplay is fun. Simple as that. Just when things are about to become boring it throws something new at you, whether that be a new enemy, or something you weren't expecting at all.
I regret neglecting Dead Space for so long, as I seem to have completely fallen for the game. Great visuals even in such dark environments exciting gameplay, and a haunting enemy. The only downside is that even though Dead Space has a good story beyond just Isaac's struggles, you have to put in more effort to get it all (searching for and reading text entries, and even watching the anime). If you're a fan of Bioshock or even Metroid, I'd highly recommend this one.
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