Dead Space comic books. Dead Space animated films. Electronic Arts' marketing push behind their new survival horror IP has been nothing short of epic. To put this much faith in an untested product, EA must be pretty sure they've got something special on their hands, but then again parents often think their children are much more attractive and intelligent than they actually are. It takes an unbiased outsider to tell you if your baby is hot or not, and that's where the game critics come in. Hit the jump to see if Dead Space is the terrifying little darling that EA hoped for or just another ugly baby.
Motes of dust drift lazily in the air, mist curls up from ominous shafts, flickers of light illuminate skittering shapes in the distance. Isaac's protective suit (which you can upgrade throughout the game) is a curiously old-fashioned mixture of textile and brass, with weave and rivets clearly visible as you prowl the darkness from over his shoulder. The textures don't always keep their detail at close range, but considering the frame rate is rock solid and there's absolutely no screen tearing that seems like a minor compromise. This level of technical polish holds true on both 360 and PS3 versions, you'll be pleased to hear.
Dismemberment works wonderfully well in Dead Space, and you'll at times find yourself playing with it just to see what you can do. Eventually Isaac gains access to a time-slowing stasis ability, as well as a Gravity Gun-style kinesis ability. By combining these abilities you're able to control the crowds (which, by the way, can get very crowded) and often conserve fire by turning the Necromorph's weapons against them: Stasis one Necromorph, tear off it's claw, use kinesis to drag it towards you, then remove the rest of its limbs with its own arm.
The unsettling nature of the world is heightened by the fact that there is no specific HUD to speak of — Isaac's health is presented on his back, his ammunition is holographically projected above the gun, and incoming transmissions that he receives pop up in front of his face. Even checking his inventory is pulled up via holograms, and it is done in real time, meaning that a Necromorph can come crawling through the floor or leap from a vent behind you and strike you at any time. Because you're never removed from the action, you feel much more immersed in the world...
Combat is visceral and intense. Necromorphs pop up from grates, explode through walls and reanimate dead bodies. Since the best way to slaughter these abominations is to slice off their limbs (a head shot may or may not kill them) you'll engage in a vicious ballet of blood, severed body parts and assorted gore. Combine that with Isaac's ability to stomp on corpses, one of our guilty pleasures, as well as use melee attacks, and Dead Space has its share of disgusting moments.
Integrating some nice variety into one game while maintaining its decidedly action-oriented dynamics, Dead Space is appealing across a wide cross-section of gameplay styles. Wrap an engrossing plot that is a veritable warren of intermingling themes around this and you've got a game that is basically a guaranteed experience. Dead Space is a solid realisation of several of our favourite gameplay mechanics in a way that we've only seen in blockbusters like BioShock, Half-Life and Resident Evil 4. Its quality is undeniable and we have no reservation in recommending its potent mix of panic-inducing plotline, furious action and deep customization.
Sounds like the beginning of a beautifully terrifying franchise.