Friday, January 22, 2016

Dead Space

Dead Space
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Third Person Shooter - PS3
1 Save Slot
1 player
Dead Space

Surprise review! Actually played through half the game years ago, but life got in the way. I just set up my entertainment center and hooked up the PS3, and decided to start over from scratch.

Dead Space is... was... a new franchise from EA Redwood Shores. The IP may be sleeping/dead now, but it made a real splash during its debut. It was popular enough to spawn numerous sequels and spinoffs, after all. Capitalizing on the survival horror revival from Amnesia, revived Resident Evil games, F.E.A.R., etc., Dead Space went big budget. Like a sci-fi horror movie, there are many cinematic scenes both pre-rendered and in-engine for the player to witness. There are numerous plotlines that unravel and converge. And there are jump scares aplenty. Still, it's remarkable that there's a decent game underneath it all.

The story begins with a stranded space vessel and a SOS signal. You assume the role of an Engineer aboard a small starcraft, as part of the rescue effort. When no one in the stranded USS Ishimura answers any communication efforts, you quickly discover that things are not right with the world. Two of your other crew members are immediately torn to pieces by horrific lifeforms, and you are separated by the ensuing struggle.

One thing that makes Dead Space different is that you seem like less the main character, and more like a member of a team. In other survival horror games, you do all the exploring, and you pick up pieces of the story as you go along. Here, you do a fair amount of that, but it's in the context of assisting your crew members (and commanding officer) with their objectives. As a result, the game isn't one big open-world with massive back-tracking, but instead a number of discrete stages with its own set of maps and enemies. Nothing is lost in this structure, because there's a lot of ground to cover in each stage anyway.

The other thing that makes Dead Space different is that the third person gunplay is interesting. Rather than just generically shooting enemies by pointing in their direction a la Resident Evil/Silent Hill, or even going for headshots like Fatal Frame, Dead Space is about aiming for limbs. Body and headshots generally don't do much damage, but taking off limbs not only cripples enemies in the game, but makes them severely weaker. So when an enemy rushes at you, you may have to shoot off a leg to drop them to the ground, and as they're crawling towards you, you have to aim for an exposed arm or two before they're finished. Different weapons and a limited ability to slow them down using stasis, will assist in that endeavor. This makes the action a lot more interactive than most survival horror, and even most shooters! It's like what Bioshock was aiming for, but didn't quite achieve. Maybe because enemies in DS are much more resilient?

Whatever the case, I just found Dead Space much more fulfilling to play than most mainstream games. It definitely does do the creepy vibe thing right, with lots of attention to gory detail and intentional lighting. Add to that a mix of good puzzles, items to collect, secrets to discover, and precision-based shooting, and you've got plenty of things to entertain. The end result is a horror game that is better than it needed to be. Still, for some reason, I'm not particularly interested enough to play the sequels. I got my fill, and I'm quite satisfied.