Dead Space was a series I was always curious about but never explored. I was a wimp when it came to horror until fairly recently, and I think I can chalk up my acclimation to it from bad horror films. I had forgotten the series existed until recent news broke about Electronic Arts dissolving the development studio of Dead Space. Late October to early November is turning out to be the period of time for EA to get another load of well deserved anger pointed at them. The death of Visceral Games (Dead Space), Acquiring Respawn Entertainment (Titanfall), and the massive controversy about Star Wars Battlefront II’s micro-transaction models and grind for a $60 game have soured my opinion of the company below the already subterranean bar it then held.
This is going to be a post-mortem for the death of Visceral, a review of their claim to fame: Dead Space. I decided I have waited long enough and jumped into the universe they crafted, filling the boots of engineer Issac Clarke. Part of a 5 person crew, they are responding to a distress call from the spaceship Ishimura, a massive planet cracker platform that has gone seemingly dark. Issac’s girlfriend Nicole is aboard the Ishimura and is desperate to find out what has happened to her. However, that is not shown, for Issac is a silent protagonist. I’m grateful for that in all honesty.
Dead Space is a game that displays the Visceral’s incredible ability to develop a world and everything that dwells within it. World building is subtle; automated messages, signs with underlying meanings, and the general condition of the Ishimura can really show how dirty this future is. The studio also shows many facets that are often ignored in sci-fi settings, such as oxygen production, food production, and recreation. Zero-G basketball is the greatest accomplishment of man, and anyone who tells you otherwise will never truly understand its greatness.
Like the set design, Issac is equally grungy and dirty. He’s not a space marine with high-tech gear, he’s just an engineer using the same equipment everyone else can use. You are able to upgrade Issac’s suit to gain more powerful armor, and it is visually pleasing to see how it is applied to Issac, equally so when he steps out of the shop chamber with new metal-plated threads. If I had the money, I would dress up as Issac and feel damn cool wearing the suit.
Dead Space is a game that will not give you safety behind any menu other than the standard pause screen. Need to look at your inventory or the map? Your suit will display a hologram for you to look at. Any information that is pertinent to you is handled by its relevant entity because there is no overlaying UI. Need to see how much health you have? Your suit will tell you, with your character’s heath being displayed as a bar embedded in the back of your suit. Need to know how much ammo is in your current magazine? The weapon will tell you, with a holographic projection. If you don’t think these elements are cool, you must be fun at sci-fi conventions.
Other than one dedicated space assault rifle, Issac’s arsenal is all equipment that fit the role him and other engineers aboard the Ishimura fill. Equipment such as a high-temperature flamethrower for melting material, a variety of powerful cutters, a supercollider beam gun, and my personal favorite: a controlled gravity disc launcher and cutter. They just make sense for the setting; every weapon is eye and ear candy in a single package.
Dead Space’s audio team deserve a lot of praise for what they crafted. Nothing feels held back in terms of sound. The violence sounds brutal, the Necromorphs sound disturbing, and all set pieces are given the audible depth they deserve. If you’ve ever used a turret in any other sci-fi setting and have felt let down by a disappointing sound when it fires, this game would be a treat for you. Perhaps one of the reasons I liked the gravity-tethered saw (The Ripper) so much was because of how dangerous it sounded as I violated safety standards with the necromorphs. If you cleave through them and hit a wall, you will know. It may be a small detail, but the audio detail is one of my anti-nitpicks. I will always notice when it is done well in both composition and use. Dead Space has both in spades.
What it doesn’t have in spades is the ‘dread’ feeling, standard in horror games. Granted, I’m potentially inured to this since it is a game, but Dead Space is more action than it is horror; hence its action horror genre description. Sure, the enemies and overall plot may be horrific by the definition of the word, but in practice, we have blood and dismembered corpses all over the place with shape-shifting monsters. It’s not something I’m new to in media. That may be disturbing to some people, but my point is that when it comes to the horror aspect, your mileage will vary.
Speaking of things that differ per player, your opinion of the characters that can actually speak will range anywhere from un-noteworthy to outright waiting for the inevitable cliché of horror cast thinning. Everyone in this game treats you like Ramirez, a workhorse who does everything while they “help” behind the scenes. Issac, spacewalk on the hull and dodge the debris and micro-meteorites to fix an automated turret. Issac, we need you to turn off the gravity, move an artifact, then turn it back on. At one point, the game’s cast throws at you what you need to do to defeat the Necromorphs, but repeats it around three more times in case you missed it. “I get it, thanks. No, I got it, thanks. I GOT IT ALREADY YOU P-”
There is one last subject that I must touch on. If you’re a PC player and are interested in this game, you will need to download a raw mouse input fix that allows you to control the game decently, and you will need to learn how to limit your frame rate to 60 FPS. This game has physics issues if your framerate is too high. A common problem that was solved with the frame limit was the inability to enter through one of the first open doors in the game.
Gripes aside, this is a game first and foremost. Dead Space was an immensely enjoyable experience throughout, even with my palpable hatred of 3 of the voiced characters. The atmosphere will suck you in, the gameplay will hold you tight, and the necromorphs will take a bite out of you. Just remember to cut off their limbs. Yeah, the limbs. Aim for the limbs.