What Makes Dead Space's Plasma Cutter Such A Great Weapon

Dead Space's Issac Clarke isn't a space marine. He isn't a special operative or part of a highly trained anti-alien task force. He's just a ship engineer in a bad situation. But Issac does have a trump card: His trusty, powerful plasma cutter.

We recently started a playthrough of Visceral Games' 2008 sci-fi horror game Dead Space on Kotaku US' Twitch channel. The game focuses on an alien infestation aboard a mining ship called the Ishimura. Issac Clarke is an engineer sent in with a small team to investigate the situation and repair the ship. Mere moments after stepping aboard, the team is attacked by shambling, bloody creatures called necromorphs. They are relentless and stand up to even the fiercest attacks from assault rifles and flamethrowers. At first Issac isn't armed with any of these; he's armed with a mining tool called a plasma cutter. While he isn't a master of high-tech weaponry, he does understand tools and it just so happens that the plasma cutter is exactly what he needs.

Necromorphs are strange. Conventional wisdom in an action shooter is to aim for the head, but necromorphs' weak points are their limbs. With precise aim, players can blast legs into chunks, disarm the creatures by dicing off their mandibles, and cut off heads. The underlying rhythm of Dead Space's combat is percussive as a result. Players chose the right weak points and blow them off. Sometimes, you'll aim to slow an enemy down, and in other cases, you'll try to cripple their means of attack.

The plasma cutter complements the combat in a few crucial ways. First, it is incredibly suited to cutting off limbs. Its laser-assisted aiming allows for precise shooting, and it is surprisingly strong for a default weapon. Resident Evil 4, the landmark horror game that Dead Space most emulates, escalates so much that pistols lose their effectiveness. Protagonist Leon Kennedy amasses a huge arsenal of shotguns, sub-machine guns, magnums and grenades. Isaac's plasma cutter never loses effectiveness even as newer necromorphs are introduced.

It also stresses Dead Space's combat through powerful sound design. Its booming report makes every attack feel meaningful. The beam slams into monsters with a great deal of force, and in some cases it will even rip through them to hit whatever is behind them. Multiple limbs can be blown off enemies standing in a line. Every time you fire, the gun roars like a dragon, adding a dramatic exclamation mark to your actions. This isn't a pea shooter; it is a musical instrument, each shot punctuated by a massive and definitive boom.

Shift left, aim down. BOOM. Back up, get the enemies in a line. BOOM. Circle around and hit their weak points. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

In the first Dead Space, Isaac doesn't really speak or show much character. Instead, players learn about him through combat. The plasma cutter demands concentration and precision. It is an improvised weapon that nevertheless manages to excel at defeating necromorphs. Isaac is similarly misplaced but effective. He succeeds through ingenuity and grit, tackling each new objective with consideration and raw determination. The plasma cutter's secondary fire mode doesn't launch a grenade or place a mine; it simply changes the orientation of the beam from horizontal to vertical. Likewise, Isaac adjusts to each new complication.

Plenty of games have iconic weapons. Half Life 2's gravity gun memorably allows players to shoot toilets at enemies but also stressed Gordan Freeman's role as scientist. Doom's super shotgun tells you everything you need to know about the Doomguy: He tackles things head on, in the bloodiest way possible. Dead Space's plasma cutter isn't just fun and powerful; it helps characterise Isaac. Misplaced but dangerous, focused on doing one thing incredibly well: Cutting off a ton of alien limbs.


Comments

    I played through all three dead space games using nothing but the plasma cutter. I'm not even sure what the other weapons in the game even did lol.

      Its a great weapon and game. Rather than just making enemies more damage resistant as a means up upping difficulty as you progress they make them faster, more points that need to be taken down, different attacks. It was a great way of doing it instead of making them bullet sponges.

      Try out the foam hand pistol. It's funny and yet still effective at the same time.

    I also spent the majority of my time using the plasma cutter, love that weapon.

    I very rarely go back and re-play games once I've finished them once, but as soon as I was done with Dead Space, I went back and did a plasma cutter only run. It was so satisfying. If only you could've used the plasma cutter on those darn asteroids...

      Yup. I was thinking there was something that I hated about this game. Then you said Asteroids.

    I don't think I imagined this but...I also loved the subtle change to how the weapons sound from when they are stock, to fully upgraded. The line gun was my favourite once fully upgraded, but both the plasma and line gun gave and extremely satisfying sounds once fully noded.

    All of my upgrade materials were for plasma cutter upgrading first, everything else secondary. There was hardly ever a reason to use anything but the plasma cutter bar lack of ammo. It truly was an amazing starter weapon.

    One of the all time great weapons. It made for some pretty original action gameplay when it came out (which was into a gaming space filled with copycat 3rd person shooters). The precision and control... it felt like it was in your hand - enhanced by Visceral's great game design with no clunky game interface > just you + your cutter + and a bunch of aliens.

    That's one thing EA will never understand when they made and subsequently failed at DS3.

    "But we made all these custom guns and assault rifles and you get -lots- of ammo this time!"

    We just want a plasma cutter.

      And we want to be fucking terrified of running out of ammo for it.

        Too true. I still remember finding the first ammo crate and being like "the f- this ain't Dead Space"

    God damn I miss the Dead Space series, I played the first game twice, it just blew me away both times. One of the most polished, smooth, consistent, atmospheric and seamless games I ever had the pleasure of playing.

      Agreed. So good. The sequel was ok, and the third one lost me early on, but the original I have played through 4 times and it is a masterpiece.

        At the time I loved both fear and dead space. Both had nice horror moments in the originals. Then both did a good action horror mix with out loosing the horror in the sequels. Then both managed to completely ruin it in the 3rd.

    Absolutely gun...um...gun. Best weapon in the game hands down.

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