Dead Space Review: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

February 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

If we’ve learnt anything from science fiction it’s that when things go wrong in space, the shit really hits the fan. Dead Space is not the exception to this rule. When the Ishimura – a deep space mining vessel – stops responding to any form of communication you’re one of the lucky few sent to find out what’s going on. Predictably there’s been something of a major cock-up, and aliens now roam this ship, infecting the dead bodies of its crew, and attempting to kill Isaac ie. you. Not surprisingly as a result, throughout most of the game your aim is to escape. Whilst the actual story of the game follows a well-trodden path, the real appeal comes with the universe’s back-story, revealed through logs left behind by the deceased crew. These logs manage to give you just enough information to keep you interested, but rarely explain everything you want to know. It’s a slightly uneven formula but it’s a well told story, and the clear objectives mean you never get bored just going from A to B.

For those who are unaware, Dead Space is a staunchly third person shooter. Throughout the entire game you won’t leave this viewpoint, and nor will you ever want to. With this consistent camera and control-set a moment never arises when gameplay feels alien or different, and thus even though the game is peppered with alternative gameplay sequences these never feel out of place in the experience. During normal play, your movement is kept quite slow, in effect causing you to consider your shots much more carefully, in order to effectively dismember enemies. Dismemberment is a key theme of Dead Space’s when more often than not it’ll prove to be the most effective means of stopping an enemy in their tracks. It’s an interesting mechanic, forcing you to think much more whilst aiming than in other shooters, and then when you finally do let fly with the lead the visual destruction hammers home the impact of each shot.

Dead Space is a game which borrows profusely from others, constantly adding its own ideas and refining others. It’s therefore quite depressing to see that whilst boss battles do make an appearance, they’re neither original, nor fun, each of them tasking you with shooting a weak spot continuously. When in the rest of the game the impact of every shot is immediately apparent, these battles feel painfully drawn out and repetitive. The dismemberment mechanics present in Dead Space mean that the developers could have done something really interesting in these set-pieces, but instead they just feel like one fat missed opportunity.
Whilst the graphical competence the game possesses is certainly nice to look at, it’s the sublime animation which manages to give it its character. Although Isaac Clark stubbornly refuses to speak throughout, his subtly changing movement animation and breathing give an effective means of gauging his physical well being, to the extent that most of the time you won’t even need to look at his health bar to know when he’s in trouble. His animation is at its best when in close quarters with enemies, when his panicked movements do much to show not only his, but the players sense of panic, trying desperately to get some distance between them and their adversary. When the game throws story events at him however, his reactions are non-existent. During certain events it gets to a point where the significance of your actions isn’t relayed to the player at all, and this lead to me personally paying much less attention to sequences which I should have been enthralled in.

For it’s minor annoyances there’s really not much that can be said for Dead Space. It’s an extremely well put together piece of entertainment, and whilst it may not bring many of its own ideas to the table, the ideas it manages to take from elsewhere are interesting enough to keep you involved throughout. Fans of a good, solid, third person action game should find something to enjoy here, but a word of warning, survival horror fans won’t be losing any sleep due to this one.

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