Review: Dead Space

Russ Pitts | 3 Nov 2008 21:00
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Let's instead pretend that Dead Space is the first game to ever attempt to bridge the gap between sci-fi horror films and sci-fi horror games. That's a happier way of looking at things, because in Dead Space, it's done right. Imagine yourself stranded on a gigantic, decaying, broken space vessel full of the various noises, sights and equipment you'd expect to find on such a fantasy craft. Now imagine that all of it - the ship, the equipment and things you cannot see - is trying to kill you. Dead Space does what only the truly best fantasy manages: It makes the fantastical seem real.

Walking through the dimly-lit, abandoned corridors of the Ishimura, you know you've never set foot on a space vessel of this kind, that one, in fact, doesn't and can't exist, but you know down deep in your bones that when it exists it will look like this.

Dead Space's similarity to BioShock is less accidental, but you can hardly blame it. There are only so many models in existence for futuristic sci-fi shooters with weapon upgrade and customization components. And the basic fact is Ken Levine and Co. pulled a hat trick in terms of innovative, yet non-intrusive story design. Anyone who's not trying to copy BioShock in that regard deserves to have their head examined.

As in BioShock, a good percentage of Dead Space's story is told through found audio and text logs, detailing the adventures of the ship's crew as they begin to realize something has gone horribly awry, and fight for their lives against it. Some, as in the case of one crew member whose log you'll come across in a later level, fail to escape with their lives and their last moments, as recorded on audio, are chilling.

If you don't care for story, you don't need to. Dead Space will stay out of your way as you roam the corridors of the Ishimura and dispatch bad guys with a host of improvised and fantastical future weapons, all of which you can upgrade to make them more lethal.

There are also, in what seem to be becoming standard, the "magic" options: a telekinetic booster pack that allows you to grab far away objects and hurl them across the room (not the only slice of Half-Life cribbed by Dead Space) and a "stasis" mechanism that lets you to dramatically slow down the actions of various monsters and machinery, sticking open malfunctioning doors, or freezing in place that bad guy with the weak spot on his back. The game could easily have done without these cash-in mechanics, but they're implemented flawlessly and don't detract.

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