It’s dark, my leg brushes something and sends it clattering across the floor. Instinctively I bristle, what else could have been alerted by my clumsiness? A second later I feel it’s safe to breathe out, and as I do an inhuman moan issues from around the next corner. Frozen in place all I can do is watch as the sleek, monstrous form comes into view. Turning towards me with eyes glowing in the darkness, it says ‘Meow?’
Dead Space is EA’s latest game in which you’re a regular joe trapped on a huge industrial capital ship in space as biomechanical monsters try to eat your face. Sounds familiar? It should; it’s the setup for just about any space monster movie ever but don’t be quick to dismiss it for it’s mildly cliched setting, Dead Space captures the atmosphere of such movies with aplomb dropping subtle hints to its inspiration all the time.
As I hinted at in my slightly misleading intro, Dead Space keeps you on your toes, unlike an overzealous feline jonesing for dinner number 3. I can’t say it’s strictly scary but it is tense. The designers have gone to great lengths to keep you guessing from where the next hideous, screaming monster is going to pop up from, and it’s here that the slightly annoying camera comes into it’s own leaving you frantically waving the mouse around to get a bead on a destructible chunk of necrotised flesh. Many are stating that the game isn’t survival horror but I beg to differ, the over-the-shoulder, clunky nature of the camera, light backtracking, ammo management, space-zombies and atmosphere all put it firmly into survival territory in my book. What other game have you stopped yourself from saving because you thought you heard some creature nearby as you were just accessing the save screen?
The only reason I can see that some are loathe to avoid the survival horror moniker is the fact that you’re actually pretty lethal to the beasties inhabiting the ship. Equipped from the start with a tool that lets you cut limbs from your assailants, a single bad guy proves little challenge provided you can catch him at range; but don’t expect this to be the norm. Later on you’ll be beset by bads from all corners and it’s here the game’s other main tool takes over; the stasis tool allows you to slow down time for a target, at the expense of draining it’s own ammo reserve. Together with inspired weapons, such as a remote control buzzsaw, you feel quite well tooled up to take on the Ishimura’s crew but don’t think that you’re going to be running around guns blazing. Without careful management you may end up swinging or throwing blunt objects at the monsters, a less than ideal situation.
I may be a little biased here, I got my copy of Far Cry 2 on Thursday but felt a little disappointed by it, so I decided to swallow the expense and pick up the game on Friday night after work. By midday on Sunday I was watching the end credits. Weighing in at about 12 hours the pace is good, and I never felt like any part was over long nor were there any obvious attempts to artificially lengthen the gameplay.The inventory management and weapon and character customisation, while fairly cosmetic, add to the game a surprising amount, forcing you to make trade offs in your gear. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Diablo but a nice addition. Story-wise, it’s not Poe. The plot and ineviatble twists are perfectly acceptable and feel built into the game, rather than a last minute addition but never threaten the realms of genious.
Dead Space feels like a slightly brawnier version of Bioshock mixed with Paul W.S. Anderson’s only good movie, Event Horizon, with queues taken from Aliens and Resident Evil 4. Cinematic, tense and brutal it’s superb fun; highly recommended.