Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-Fi/Third person shooter
Developed by Visceral Studios
For Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC
Since I dedicated my first essay for this blog to Dead Space, I figured I’d also dedicate my first review (First review written specifically for the blog, anyway) to Dead Space as well. In fact, because the Dead Space franchise now spans every medium from video games, film, comics, and even literature (Yes, there’s a tie-in novel now), I’m actually making it a point to get my hands on and review it all, even the Wii game, which is going to available for the PS3 when the sequel comes out.
So the basic plot is pretty standard horror/sci-fi fare; a repair team is sent to fix a deep space mining vessel called the USG Ishimura, with which they’ve recently lost contact, only to find that the ship is now overrun with those lovable undead mutant monstrosities known as necromorphs. With the repair mission naturally abandoned, the three surviving members of the repair team (Engineer and protagonist Isaac Clarke, computer specialist Kendra Daniels, and security sergeant Zach Hammond) must attempt to find a way off the ship. Or, rather, Isaac must find a way off the ship while the other two hide in their cubby holes telling Isaac what to do like he’s a fucking two-year-old who’s never seen a space ship before. It’s also heavily implied that the reason Isaac is even part of the repair team is because he volunteered so he could check on his girlfriend, Nicole, who he is apparently worried about. This is, as you may have figured if you read my Dead Space 2 essay, where I run into the most damning fault this game has to offer. While a story about some guy toughing it out against mutant zombies to find his girlfriend is in itself not a bad thing (In fact, it’s actually a really awesome idea, if a bit reminiscent of Silent Hill 2), the game seems to forget that Isaac is a silent protagonist with no real personality to call his own and, as such, it’s impossible to form the necessary emotional attachments to him that would make the whole “he’s looking for his girlfriend” plot actually work. After all, at what point does Half-Life try to make you feel sorry for Gordon Freeman? The answer is “never;” rather, Half-Life gives you a cast of interesting and sympathetic NPCs to feel sorry for instead, which is what Dead Space should have also copied from Half-Life besides just the gravity gun thing and the totally-not-made-for-combat badass powered armor suit. Either that, or made Isaac a speaking character…
One of my other major narrative-related annoyances was in the way other characters usually interact with Isaac, especially when they want him to do something for them, which I already not-so-subtly hinted at somewhere above. Every time the player has to do something new, the support characters will usually explain it to Isaac as if he’s retarded and doesn’t know what he’s doing, even though he’s supposed to be a particularly skilled engineer who’s been making a living working on ships like the Ishimura for a while now (He even gets this shit from his suit, which blurts out this little gem of advice at the very beginning; “Use run to move quickly”). Not only does it make no sense, but it’s also unnecessary, because even if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, there’s a perfectly good locator button (Which projects a line on the floor to tell you what direction to go), and if you absolutely must know what it is the support character meant by “start the engines,” you can just go to the objectives menu where Isaac himself will tell you what you need to do via text commentary (Which is usually nothing more complicated than “go near a panel and press a button” or “grab macguffin ‘A’ and bring it to place ‘B’”). Hell, if Isaac had been a speaking character, they could have done something like what Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath did and had a button that made him talk to himself about what he needs to do, which would make more sense than you’d think, given Isaac’s rather tenuous mental state even early on in the game (He’s hearing voices within the first thirty minutes; talking to himself isn’t that much of a stretch at that point).
But, other than those two little hiccups and one relatively minor, but still very noticeable, plot hole regarding the game’s big reveal at the end, I actually found Dead Space to be fairly interesting plot-wise. There’s potential for true narrative depth hidden behind antagonistic entities like the Church of Unitology (An unholy mash-up of Scientology and Christianity), the Concordance Extraction Company (The giant mining company that owns the Ishimura), Earth’s government, and the Markers (Big stone obelisks that also seem to be alive somehow, but are more importantly the root cause of the necromorph infections), and especially within the broken psyche of Isaac Clarke himself (Did I mention that he’s going to speak in Dead Space 2?).
So now that we have my feelings on the story squared away, let’s move on to gameplay, where my biggest complaint is with the mission structure. A level will usually have you hunting for some useless random object, like a door key, an electronics part, or whatever else the support characters have sent you off to find. Needless to say, it gets repetitive, and often times illogical. One level, for example, had you gathering up parts to build a thermite bomb to destroy a metal barricade, when at that point in the game, you are likely armed with at least one mining tool specifically designed for cutting rock and metal. Why couldn’t you just use that? Also, that’s the medical deck; why is there thermite just laying around? It’s all very idiotic and stinks quite a bit of being rushed (Assassin’s Creed had almost the same exact problem, actually). Level design also lacks variety, generally alternating between brown metal corridors, brown metal corridors covered in blood, and brown metal corridors covered in that nasty fleshy shit. Everything else is fine, though, especially the combat, which I found to be visceral and thoroughly enjoyable (On normal, anyway. Easy is a bit too easy, especially since you’ll usually be picking up more ammo and health packs than you know what to do with). The only combat related complaint I have is that the boss fights are way too easy. Granted, they’re usually really big, but they’re attacks are generally very easy to avoid and they display their weak points like they’ve got some sort of death wish. The only boss creature that actually gave me a challenge was a decidedly smaller one called the Hunter; basically one of the normal Slasher necromorphs, only it regenerates its limbs when you cut them off, which means normal weapons will only slow it down. You have to fight it twice during the game and both times the only way to truly stop it is by using the environment. In fact, the Hunter and any area where your ability to hear your enemy is impaired (Vacuums or areas with very loud background noise) were the only things in this game that honestly scared me, which brings us nicely into another of this game’s little issues; that it’s just not scary. Sure, it does a decent job of startling you, on the first playthrough at least, but it’s rarely ever scary in the pure, atmospheric sense. This is only a really minor complaint for me, though, because I don’t mind a game being just a competent sci-fi shooter with horror trappings. So, overall, I liked Dead Space. Not exactly Half-Life 2 or Call of Duty 4 level material, but still enjoyable enough that I play it often. I’d say it was worth the $30 I payed for it (And, yes, instead of star ratings, if I say a game is at all worth buying, I’ll be giving them a dollar worth rather than a star rating. That’s just the way I roll).