Is this just a RE4 clone set in space or a new contender for the genre?
For a new IP, EA has definitely tried to make Dead Space a lasting franchise. Before the release, 6 animated web comics were released for free download, and upon release an animated movie was released for $15. EA placed some sizeable bets on Dead Space in the hope that this would stick, and they would be able to sell you more than just a $60 game, but also sell you on any other medium that would further drive your interests enough to open your wallets even more. While I wasn’t quite sure why they didn’t have a special edition of the game with the animated movie and web comic in the package, I have taken the time to watch both before sitting down to play this game.
Pitch and Perception:
The way Dead Space was pitched through trailers and interviews was that this game is going to be scary as hell and the HUD will exist in a non-traditional way. This was done by attaching the normal HUD items to either the engineer’s suit or by projecting a hologram in front of the main character Isaac’s face. This all works incredibly well for keeping you in the moment, why, because unlike RE4, you can’t just pause the game while being attacked to organize your herbs to make a strong health potion or switch weapons. The game isn’t paused when in the menus, so beware when looking at the map screen to see where the nearest save point is.
There are a lot of little touches throughout the game to shows the amount of care was put in by the developers EA Redwood Shores. One of the ways is that when moving around in the menu, Isaac’s head will look at the selected item. Another is that there are noticeable design styles to the Ishimura, the Valor, and the Colony while still looking like they are from the same universe. As a whole product, Dead Space has a very tightly knit style and this makes it stand out in the way that you can look at some games and know which series it is from, much like Halo, BioShock, Gears of War, and Half-Life.
Is this game scary? Yes and no. The background noises and lighting from the environment really add to the tension that you will feel when playing. From the scrapes and moans heard from the vents and through the walls to the flashing lights casting your shadow up beside you on the wall, there are many times when both of these elements will creep you out as you walk around with your weapon ready to fire at anything that moves. More often than not you can see your enemies as plain as day and from a great enough distance to loose some of that fear. The designs of the ships and the colony are only shown in their destroyed form; flickering hazard lights, crazy writing on the walls, busted up equipment, and blood and bodies everywhere. But it ultimately doesn’t look like and environment that people would live and work on for years at a time. It would have been nice to see the Ishimura, the Valor, or the Colony in perfect working condition through a video or a flashback, where we could see what it was like to work in this environment before everything hit the fan.
How are the controls of Dead Space compared to Resident Evil 4? The simple answer is better. For the most part, Dead Space controls great. The game allowed me to play this just as if I was trapped on the Ishimura myself, and by that I mean ALWAYS having my gun up and ready so that not a single Necromorph can make a lunchable out of my face, because I kinda need that. The developers made the controls pretty fluid, for example, when in the menu the game is not paused, if a Necromorph appears while im looking at the map I can just hit the aim weapon button to instantly switch from map to gun up in that rude Necro’s face. Also, while walking around over ammo and health packs you can pick the items up while still having your gun out, which is great when your in the later chapters with low health and one of the monsters drops a medium health pack and there are still more of them coming.
There are a few problems with the controls of Dead Space; aiming while in the zero-g environments, the 2 turret sections, and the 4 or 5 times that something is pulling you closer to it so that it may consume you like a crème filled Twinkie. The problems I ran in to while in zero-g where the platforming bits and aiming. Most levels you’re in smaller locations, but in most of the zero-g segments you’re in wide open rooms, and when your on one wall aiming to another wall there are problems with the maximum angle that Isaac can aim at. Along with a bit of orientation issues from being on the wall and trying to locate an enemy you saw before jumping to your current location.
There are 2 moments in the game where you man a massive turret, while this isn’t a bad diversion, the controls feel a little off and the weapon overheats fairly fast. They could have been a happier memory from the game if the controls felt right and if what you were shooting was visible sooner so you are given more time to line up your shots.
And one of the more irritating problems in the game, the areas where a monster tentacle grabs you and you are required to shoot its glowing joint until it explodes and sets you free. While this could be a great tension builder, it fails by shifting the camera so that the aiming is harder to tell what your pointed at, and the fact that you can only shoot when the tentacle decides to take a 2 second rest before pulling you another 10 feet. This camera issue also shows up in the final boss fight in certain sections if the tentacle grabs you, but the camera in this section is actually much worse do to the fact the camera is 50 feet away from Isaac and at an odd angle. Either make it so I can shoot while it is constantly pulling me in, or make it so that Isaac grabs on to something in the environment and needs to shoot the joint before the tentacle is able to make him lose his grip or the item he’s holding on to breaks.
But those complications are few and far between for the most part. While playing the game I didn’t find my self having to think around the control scheme, so I didn’t notice how tight the controls were. Then I popped in GTA4 one night to mess around and I was constantly aware of the controls. I was frequently reminded that I was playing a game and needed to think about the controls and deal with the weird collision detection problems. After 30 minutes, I quit the game and popped in Dead Space, and that’s when I realized how finished the game controls are. Now I know that an open world game is harder to program for the consideration of the amount of possibilities for gameplay, but the amount of polish for the common control and gameplay in Dead Space are spot on.
The Right Tools:
There are 7 weapons that are found in Dead Space. They are the plasma cutter, line gun, pulse rifle, contact beam, ripper, force gun, & the flamethrower. They collectively form a great selection of weapon types that find inspiration from games, movies, mixed with a little Ratchet and Clank inventiveness. Each of these weapons has its uses and limitations, but they all have been tweaked for Dead Space’s focus on dismemberment. Instead of the standard focus from most shooters of aim for the head, Dead Space wants you to cut off their limbs. A few games in the past have touted that you can shoot the gun out of someone’s hand and they will drop their weapons, but there is rarely a point to doing this, since most games don’t reward you for sparing an enemies life.
The way they accomplish this feat is by forcing it on you. Take the plasma cutter, it fires from 3 beams and the alternate fire rotates the angle of the beams from horizontal to vertical, so the cutter is aligned best for cutting of a particular limb. You can shoot someone in the neck and knock their head off, but they just keep coming. So you need to blow off 2 to 4 limbs so that you use less ammo than if you were making body shots.
You also have two ways that you can melee attack a monster or dead body on the floor, a stomp and a slap. The slap is a near worthless swatting motion that is so high and weak its damn near worthless and the stomp is Isaac’s size 20 boot pounding on the ground like a sludge hammer. The stomp is also a worthless melee attack, but it is very useful against creatures on the ground, dead bodies and item crates. I used the stomp on every single dead human body I found after one of them was transformed in to a Necromorph in front of me, and that problem didn’t show up again.
Besides using your weapons to save the day, you are given two more tools, Kinesis and Stasis. Kinesis is used to pick up objects, like explosive canisters and large objects, so that you can throw them at your enemies, or solve a simple puzzle/obstacle. And Stasis gives you the ability to slow down an object or enemy, which makes this my favorite weapon to use in the game. You can upgrade the Kinesis to reach farther and the Stasis to last longer and have more energy. Oh, and by the way, if you want to reload you stasis meter then press pause and hit triangle, square, triangle, triangle, square, triangle. This made the game very fun for me to play, but it will affect the fear you get from playing without the code.
There are a few areas in the game when there is no oxygen and you have a limited amount of time before your suit runs out. Most of these areas are not long so it’s not a big problem, but its just one of those annoyances when it becomes a problem. There is usually a refill station or two in the longer areas, but to relieve this irritation, pause the game then press square, square, triangle, triangle, triangle and your meter is full. Trust me, the 2 cheat codes will make the game more enjoyable for the easily scared. If you don’t like them because you’re masochistic then don’t use them.
Along the way you will find the occasional Power Node, which you will use at certain stations around the world to upgrade your equipment and weapons. While it sounds simple, they took the FFX route of having empty spaces that require a rare power node, which you can also buy for 10,000 credits, or use the one time codes to get 7 free. There are set points that you need to lay a node in first so you can get to the next, and you are limited to the areas next to a previously laid node for upgrading. You’ll get a trophy/achievement for upgrading all of your weapons to the max, which will require you to get through the story multiple times.
Know Thy Enemy:
While all of the standard enemies and bosses look cool and different from the others, there are four enemies that feel like they ran out of time. They are the black super versions of the Slasher, the Lurker, the Scorpion, and the Brute. The only differences in these versions are that they are more difficult, and they just went for a romp in some black paint. The models look the same as the standard versions. While this isn’t a big complaint, there are a few monsters that look nothing like the others that you only see 2 or 3 times in the game. I just wished that these super versions were modified to have more attacks and look different, or just don’t bother doing it at all.
The bosses themselves have many of the same problems that RE4’s bosses had, they are easier than being attacked by 3 or more standard monsters. The slugs tentacles need to be shot off, and the Leviathan and the Hivemind are both taken down by shooting their tentacles and then their mouth balls, yep, there yellow glowing mouth balls. The biggest difficulty you will find in the game is fighting a large number of Necromorphs and the times you run in to a brute, just like RE4’s villagers and dual chainsaw guy from the mercenary mode.
At least one of the bosses comes close to being a terrifying threat, and that is the regenerator. Why I think this boss succeeds partially is because it has the same movement freedom as the average Necromorphs you’ll come across, and it also strikes fear into you heart by making you worry if you have the ammo to deal with this thing right now. Where it fails is that after you know how to deal with the boss, it just becomes an irritating chore when it shows up. This is because it regenerates, go figure, so after stopping it for a moment and then watching it change from a giant beef McNugget back to the Über-Necromorph multiple times, it looses its effect on my need to make number two on the couch. This would have worked better if there was a way to destroy it that was just more difficult than cutting off limbs. In a way it feels like an ass-backwards escort mission. By this I mean that you’re required to drag your buddy along until you find the “I’ve Had Enough of This” switch to get rid of him for good.
There are a few small distractions in Dead Space, a shooting range, zero-g basketball, and the turrets I mentioned earlier. Let’s start with the basketball, it’s an interesting idea, but it’s not fun. You’re in a tube and a basket ball is shot out in to the center of the room, you need to get the ball back on to one of the four “hoops”. But, if you jump in to one of the glowing platforms that are spread out around the tube you will get a multiplier with a max score of 8. This game is like playing Blitzball from Final Fantasy X, and by that I mean confusing to why they even bothered to put it in the game. The game’s set up would be a more complicated version of an Arcade Basketball Unit. So it’s not like this could be a sport with teams and viewers like Blitzball.
I’ve already gone over the turret sections, so how was the shooting range? Well, when I first saw it in the level, I was kinda confused. But, I actually liked it. You can use any weapon that you are carrying on you at the time and are given unlimited ammo with a reward for completing each level of difficulty. The only problems I had with it was that the ramping difficulty was a little slow considering the limited amount of levels, and the fact that once you make it to the end and restart it, you aren’t given infinite ammo. One thing about the level your in with the shooting range, the room next door is loaded to the gills with locked up weapons and ammo that are just there for the hopes that Rambo is coming to save the day. That is just a cock tease, the one time you see the ability to have enough ammo for the rest of the game, or even the chance to stock up and you can’t touch a single round.
Having watched both the animated comic and movie just before playing the game, there were more than a handful of occasions where I knew why something was the way it was, but the game doesn’t really do much along the lines of letting you know why certain elements from the game are important. I was surprised that Dead Space’s story ended up as well as it did, but considering that Dead Space had a pretty weak start and leaves a lot of the interesting elements out, the fact that it actually remembers it wanted to tell you a story might have made it better than it would had seemed if it had been delivered correctly throughout.
So what does the game leave out or just gloss over? Well, the animated comic showed how the marker affected people with hallucinations causing them to write cryptic messages on the wall, the background behind the games religious zealots, and the disaster that unfolds from the time the marker was found to the Necromorphs destroying the colony. And the animated movie focuses on what happens when the marker gets to the Ishimura, the struggle to survive against the Necromorphs, and the fact that the Necromorphs are repelled away from the marker. The game overall doesn’t tell a story well, but I still walked away with a positive outlook towards the story, and hope to see it explored later on in the franchise.
This game visually was about making it look real by having the HUD implemented in to the game world. Unfortunately, that’s as far as they went to work around modern gaming conventions. For a game with such great sound, they still rely on using music to let you know that the tension is high or that the room is now clear. They could have done more along the way of having it so that as the tension got higher, the background noise of the broken down Ishimura could be drowned out by the sound of Isaac’s racing heart beat only to be broken by the increase volume of the Necromorphs Screams. The story mentions the hallucinations that the crew members have because of the marker, yet Isaac never hallucinates seeing a ghostly Necromorph lunge at him through his HUD or maybe just distorting the world as Isaac’s health and nerves are being tested, his few hallucinations are so simple that they can’t in anyway be detected as fake.
Now maybe that is a more complex thing they couldn’t do justice in the first game, but there are other standard game issues that pop up. After opening certain doors when the Necromorphs are already in the room, you can stand out side the doorway and pick them off. And I don’t mean one shot kill either, I mean that they will run up to the door but not pass threw. The once unlocked doors that become locked after returning to earlier areas, keeping you from checking to see if previously locked storage bins and doors are now unlocked. Finally, one of the survivors you run in to is a little shit, always causing problems for you by helping the Necromorphs. But you can’t kill him, because he apparently holds a remote control to all door locks. Even though he is always hidden behind glass, I just think one of my weapons should be able to put a hole in considering the Necromorphs are made of flesh, and they bust threw it quite easily. An example of how this could have been handled can be found in Metal Gear Solid 3. Early on you have a small window where you can shoot the boss “The End” and kill him skipping his boss fight completely. If you kill this prick then he won’t create the regenerator and you get to skip a boss fight.
Replay & Rewards:
Once you’ve beaten the game you are rewarded with 10 power nodes for upgrading your equipment, 50,000 credits for buying items from the store, Backstory logs which only a select few will care about, and a Military suit which kinda looks like a clone trooper if he existed in the Dead Space universe. Unfortunately, if you planned on playing a second time through on the newly unlocked Impossible difficulty, well tough luck cause your gonna need to start a fresh save for that. That’s right, no upgrades, no armor, no money, no nothing, well they do want it to be Impossible don’t they.
There is one thing I expected from beating the game, more “Extras” content. When you first turn on the game there is an option called “Extras”. Open it up and you will find a video of art assets, but that’s it, One Extra. So when I beat the game I went to see if there was a Mercenary Mode a la RE4, nope. Nothing was added for beating the game, so why is it called “Extras” when there is only one item. Well, my thoughts are that since EA has released downloadable weapon skins, armor, and some weapon upgrades available for purchase, that they might be planning some downloadable modes for a fee of course.
Dead Space is a Great game, the controls, pacing, art, environment, story (including the comic and cartoon), weapons, & enemies, everything is top notch. I can’t wait to see what they can do with a sequel and hopefully at least 2 full years to do it in. Despite all the little nit-picks, I only have 2 real gripes with this game. 1) To many “game” problems in a game that presents its self in a new way. And 2) No mode that just throws you in to an environment and then sends in enemies until you are ripped to shreds, introducing new boss like monsters exclusive to this mode. I know that last one is only because Resident Evil 4 had a similar bonus mode, but this game is more along what I think RE4 should have felt like. If you are looking for a shooter with an environment almost as good as BioShock and horror elements like Resident Evil, then I would definitely recommend picking this up, as it’s a sure bet that you will find Dead Space an enjoyable experience.
– Austin Trees