Dead Space Review

Posted: May 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
Dead Space

Dr. Terrence Kyne "God works in mysterious ways."

Dead Space, developed by Visceral Games, was unleashed on the world on October 14, 2008. It can be beaten in about 15 to 20 hours, depending on player skill level.  Dead Space is perhaps the last great survival horror game. It’s certainly the defining survival horror game of this generation, much in the same way that Resident Evil 4 was the definitive survival horror game of the previous generation. Dead Space is very much a spirit successor to RE4, but it also takes inspiration from classic horror films like Alien. Dead Space also pays homage to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke , two classic ScFi writers, by naming their silent protagonist Isaac Clarke.

Almost immediately, Dead Space gives off a somewhat subtle save the environment message that’s fairly common in SciFi movies and games. Dead Space is set far in the future. Humans have consumed all the natural resources on Earth and now have to send ships into space to mine other planets for resources and bring them back to Earth. Enter Isaac Clarke, Hammond and Miss Daniels and a few no-name extras that are doomed to die horribly in the opening scenes. This small team, piloting the Kellion, are working for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (CEC).  The Kellion is sent to investigate the USG Ishimura, a planet cracker or mining ship which sent an SOS signal while mining Aegis 7, a mineral planet.  There’s just one tiny problem. The Ishimura isn’t responding to any of the Kellion’s transmissions .

It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going.  This is a classic SciFi horror movie setup.  Isaac Clake is an engineer serving on the Kellion. His job is to assist Hammond and Daniels in getting the Ishimura up and running again, but he also has a personal reason for coming along on this mission. He’s searching for a woman named Nicole (after receiving a strange message from her; it’s implied that they are in a relationship and have a history together.)  Once Isaac and his team arrive on board the Ishimura, they are almost immediately attacked by hideous monsters.  The monsters, or Necromorphs, come in many different breeds, some of which are human alien hybrids.

The game’s early sense of dread and impending doom is quickly replaced by all-out horror.

Overall, despite a predictable setup and the fact that Visceral throws almost every single horror movie cliché at the player, the story manages to be quite good due to the in game HUD setup and the creepy, atmospheric levels. Horrible monsters, crazy scientists, religious zealots, a disturbing new religion, an ancient artifact, etc…. You get the idea.

Another thing that helps make the story rather memorable is a twist that is revealed at the end of the game. I don’t want to give anything away, but after the twist is revealed, you will see that Visceral was parading it right in front of you the whole time.  The characters are good, but nothing exceptional or particularly memorable. Isaac has a chance to be an interesting character in future games, but that’s about it. Nothing stands out with the voice acting either. Everyone involved does a solid job with the material they’re given.

The visuals in Dead space are absolutely beautiful and detailed. (The levels are designed so that Isaac has a good deal of backtracking to do throughout the game, so it’s good that each dimly light corridor looks as good as they do.)  Dead Space has a bone-chilling atmosphere. You get to see messages written on the walls of the Ishimura from people who had lost their minds, some written in blood. You will also find text logs that will serve to explain what happened to the Ishimura.  A strong sense of isolation, mutilated dead bodies, dismembered limbs, disgusting alien tissue growing on some walls of the ship, space itself, and horrible monsters make the bloody visual presentation of Dead Space unforgettable.

The audio is even better.  The disturbing audio and video logs that have been left from the Ishimura’s crew do their part to make the game that much more disturbing. The sounds of the Ishimura’s hull creaking, the little drops of water you might hear above you from a little pipe that sprung a leak, the sound of the Necromorphs using the ship’s ventilation system to scurry around the ship, the individual sounds that each different type of Necromorph makes, sounds of crewmembers who have gone insane screaming in the darkness or laughing manically, and the sounds of Isaac’s engineering tools are expertly done. The most noteworthy thing Visceral did with the audio is noticeable when Isaac is floating through a zero gravity section of the ship. The sounds of Isaac breathing and screaming in pain are amplified, while all external sounds are muffled. It’s an incredible sound design choice that audio director Don Veca should certainly be commended for.

“As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”


The gameplay is built around a system Visceral calls “strategic dismemberment.” Necromorphs aren’t killed by the typical headshot. (Oh no! That wouldn’t be graphic enough for visceral.) A disturbing message written in blood that you encounter early on explains what you need to do. “Cut off their limbs”  Ironically while some of the characters that accompany Isaac brought guns, their guns won’t be very useful against the Necromorphs. Isaac’s engineering tools are designed primarily for cutting. You can probably figure out the rest.

The Necromorphs come in a variety of grotesque forms. These are my two favorite types of Necromorphs.  The Lurker is an alien fused with a human infant. (Yes, it is as horrific as it sounds.)  The Lurker’s hunt in packs and they have three tentacles growing out of their backs. They shoot sharp projectiles out of their tentacles and can also use their tentacles as melee weapons.  They are small, agile, quick, and deadly. The Leaper is an alien/ human hybrid. They are one of the fastest Necromorphs Isaac will encounter. They have no lower torso, they just have a tail that they use to attack with.  They are dangerous because of their incredible leaping ability.  As a whole, the AI is varied, intelligent, wonderfully animated, and very dangerous.

Another thing that ensures that Dead Space is a true survival horror and not just another scary action game is that Isaac’s weapons are tools being used as weapons. There is the 211-V Plasma Cutter, SWS Motorized Pulse Rifle, RC-DS Remote Control Disc Ripper, PFM-100 Hydrogen Torch Flamethrower, M-822 Handheld Ore Line Gun, C99 Supercollider Contact Beam, and the Force Gun.  The Pulse Rifle is the only weapon in Isaac’s inventory that’s actually a gun. The true stand out tool, however, is The Ripper. It’s as brutle as it sounds. It’s literally a remote controlled buzz saw blade that can be used to dismember the Necromorphs.

Issac also has two more tools to assist him– his Kinesis and Stasis modules.  His Kinesis module can be used for moving objects out of Isaac’s path, to solve Dead Space’s few puzzles, or just to hurl objects at the Necromorphs if you run out of ammo.  The Stasis module is used to solve puzzles, slow down fast moving hazards so that Isaac can pass safely through them, and to bring fast moving Necromorphs to a crawl so Isaac can kill them easier. The Stasis module, unlike the Kenisis module needs to be recharged and needs to be used sparingly.

The most unique thing about Dead Space’s in game design is that every facet is designed to keep you immersed in the moment.  The game is played from a third person over the shoulder view. Isaac’s remote contact with Hammond and Daniels is handled in game through a TV screen that will appear directly in front of his face via his rig or suit. Being able to continue moving forward while in communication with your crew is a huge asset to Dead Space. Isaac’s health is prominently displayed by a blue line running down his back. His ammo for his current weapon is displayed right on the tool model itself.  These may seem like small things, but they are all invaluable assets in making Dead Space an incredibly immersive experience.

Because the Necromorphs were once human, some will be carrying credits, the in-game form of currency. This can be used to upgrade Isaac’s suit, weapons, and gear through automated stores and work benches scattered liberally throughout the game.  It will take multiple play-throughs to fully upgrade everything. (Trust me, it took me four playthroughs. )

Dead Space is a bloody and scary game. Because of all the in-game nuances, you will always feel vulnerable. You will find ammo and gear throughout the game, but never enough to feel safe. Necromorphs can and will attack you in places that would be safe spots in other games. You might see a save station on the wall and go up to save your game, only to be attacked from behind. Elevator rides and narrow corridors are also not safe. You never know when or where the enemy will attack and this uncertainty adds fear to an already scary game.

Now, there are a few flaws in the gameplay:

1) The camera has a tendency to lock in the zero gravity levels, and there is a ridiculous amount of backtracking.

2) During the game, you have the ability to illuminate a blue line on the ground of the ship, showing your character which way to go. This can mess you up as it sometimes leads you in the completely wrong direction.

3) Isaac stomps on boxes to get ammo and items. This feature can be very imprecise and lead to the occasional visual oddity.

4) All of your weapons and equipment carry over if you start the game again, but you are restricted to playing with the difficulty that you chose the first time.

5)  Slowdown sometimes occurs when things get frantic and some of the visuals can get a bit pixilated at times.  There are some loading times when you open a door. The game has to load the next room before the door opens. This isn’t always a problem, but when you are in a zero gravity room, running out of air, running out of ammo, and watching Necromorphs closing in on you– you will not appreciate that you are going to die because the game wasn’t finished loading the next room.

This game is the last great survival horror game to come out on consoles. If you are a horror movie fan or you just want to get scared out of your mind, do not miss out on this great game.

8.9 out of 10

  1. I love the way you write reviews…

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