Dead Space Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Dead Space box art
System: X360, PS3, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: EA Redwood Shores 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Electronic Arts 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct. 14, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
The Apex of Survival Horror
by Jonathan Marx

Ever since Dead Space was demoed at EA's E3 2008 presentation, I was very excited to see how the final product was going to turn out. Well folks, I am happy to report that it is a polished, cinematic experience that will rival just a handful of other titles for 2008's game of the year.

Dead Space screenshot

Dead Space is an incredibly atmospheric title. It is the kind of game that transcends the medium, lending clout to claims that video games, like film, are more than just entertainment. The artists at EA Redwood Shores have put together a title that expertly combines visual complexity, aural excellence, and an intense, visceral gameplay experience that simply should not be missed. Do yourself a favor this Halloween: pick up a copy of Dead Space, call up some friends, pop some corn, and hold on for dear life.

The game follows the exploits of Engineer Isaac Clarke and a couple key crew members of the USG Killion. The Killion and her crew were called in to help with routine repairs of the USG Ishimura, the largest and most successful "Planet Cracker" (deep space mining vessel) in the Concordance Extraction Corporation's (C.E.C.) fleet. However, there is more to this repair run than initially suspected. It turns out the Comms System and mechanicals aren't the only problems the Ishimura is experiencing. A relic found on the surface of Aegis 7, the planet being mined, has wreaked havoc among the transient human colony and, subsequently, the Ishimura crew. In fact, the entire operation has been destroyed by an alien, viral-like life form that has transformed the humans into Necromorphs (horribly disfigured drones that serve only to feed dead flesh to a larger sentient being).

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This is the background that sets the stage for Isaac's mission. After crash-landing onto the Ishimura, it is up to Isaac, as well as the Killion's Captain and the first mate, to get the Ishimura back to working order and destroy the Necromorphic taint - a lofty goal that will be nearly impossible to attain. You're their only hope; try to keep your nerves in check and your aim true.

The story in Dead Space was thoroughly enjoyable. It didn't buck with horror film conventions, but it certainly lives up to the most engaging films of that genre. In fact, the game feels like a mix between Ridley Scott's Alien and Danny Boyle's Sunshine. In order to reinforce that feeling, the team at EA Redwood Shores spent a lot of time perfecting the visuals and audio experience. The environments of Dead Space are truly frightening.

Dead Space screenshot

The visuals in Dead Space are second to none. There is nary a glitch to be found, the use of shadows and lighting is the best I've ever seen, and the detailed environments make it feel as if you were marooned on a real spacecraft. The game runs extremely smoothly; there are never any framerate hiccups to foul the cinematic experience. The use of different kinds of lighting as well as shadows keeps players on the edge of their seats. Upon entering a room, often Necromorph shadows can be spotted around a distant corner or in a vent, hinting at the danger to come. However, enemies can come from anywhere, and, ultimately, shadows can be misleading; a feint for a flanking attack. Environments like the medical deck, the exterior of the ship's breached hull, the dangerous, tight passageways that communicate one room to the next, and the window-laden atrium are all breathtaking and will have you looking for a change of underwear. The only modest complaint I could make about the visuals is the rather lackluster initial in-engine cinematic; the characters look quite stiff and artificial. But this lasts only a minute or two, and I'm mentioning it only to bring up some kind of counterpoint.

Combine the pristine visuals with the best music, ambient sounds, and voice over work around and you've got the definitive scare. Truly, this is the scariest game I've ever heard. The music heightens the experience with screeching violins and a brooding air. Ambient sounds such as distant screams, the strident clang of an unseen falling pipe, blood-filled gurgling from nasty beasties, and the satisfying rapport of mining-tools-turned-to-armament bring players right into the game. The audio presentation is nearly perfect, but it does mildly suffer from the occasional distortion of conversations. I'm not talking about the intentional use of interference by the developers across Comms equipment, but rather distortion that can occur when turning or moving away from a character. It seems as though the technical mechanic used to convey distance through sound is in need of a patch. Otherwise, the sound in Dead Space is amazing, and the voice actors did a great job of portraying their roles.

Dead Space screenshot

Gameplay consists of travelling to various zones of the ship where your engineering skills are needed, clearing out a ton of very scary Necromorphs, and completing a series of requisite objectives and their sub-objectives. Along the way, players will find weapon, suit, and item schematics that can be downloaded to the ATM-like virtual stores that allow players to buy essential goods with the credits found in footlockers and, inexplicably, on the corpses of dismembered Necromorphs.

I say dismembered because that is the only way to bring down the enemies. A simple shot to the chest or even the severing of a head is not enough. Indeed, the Necromorphs may be initially slowed by the loss of their legs, but they will find a way to chase you with just their arms. That means you'll have to systematically shave off the majority of their limbs so they quickly bleed out; later on, that's not even enough. Thankfully, Isaac has a host of weapons and powers that can get the job done.

Screenshots / Images
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