Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dead Space (Sony PS3)

Dead Space
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action/Survival-Horror
Release Date: 10/15/2008


I have to admit, Dead Space is a game I have really been waiting for. I’ve enjoyed the downloadable webisodes from the PSStore, I’ve read the comics, and I even managed to get a screener of the anime. All were quite enjoyable and made me really pumped for the game.

I have a thing for the concept of survival horror in space. However, it’s usually very poorly done. Countdown: Vampires? Ick. Dino Crisis 3 Awful. To my recollection this has only been done right twice. The first was the movie Event Horizon, and the second was Echo Night Beyond for the PS2. In both cases, they had their issues, but were for the most part entertaining. ENB stands as the best “monsters in space” game I’ve ever played even though it’s more akin to a Victorian ghost story in mood and theme then the “kill a bunch of monsters dead before the eviscerate you” that Survival-Horror games are known for.

So how did Dead Space turn out? Did it live up to the hype of being the latest and greatest survival-horror game, or is this another example of EA promising a lot and then not being able to deliver?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Here’s the thing. I didn’t really find Dead Space to be survival horror. I found it to be a really good sci-fi action game, but it was neither scary nor original story wise, so that was a bit of a downer, especially to compared to how creepy and atmospheric the non-video game Dead Space prequels all were. Dead Space in a nut shell is basically a big planarization of the Aliens films with a few bits from The Thing and Event Horizon thrown in. it was almost as if the people who did the anime and comics were a totally different set of writers from the game. This is not to say that the game’s story was bad; just that it wasn’t nearly as good as the pre-release content.

The planet-cracking ship, The USG Ishimura has gone silent. Recovery and repair vessel, the USG Kellion has been sent to intercept, repair the vessel, and recover any survivors. Of course, right as the Keillion approaches, it is hit by some debris and crashes into the Ishimura. Once onboard the crew of the Kellion quickly discovers that the crew of the Ishimura is dead…and yet not dead. They have been transformed into necromorphs. Necromorphs are reanimated dead bodies infected with a strange virus. The virus mutates the corpses into new forms that are only vaguely human and gives them an insatiable need to kill and infect other life forms. You play as Isaac Clarke, a mostly silent protagonist without any real
depth or personality save for his love for the Ishimaru’s senior medical officer, Nicole Brennan.
That’s not to say the other characters in the game are lacking in character development. Isaac is just a throwback/homage to Samus Aran in the original Metroid, right down to the “in armour until you beat the game and your reward is seeing his face at the very end” bit. Other characters like the insane Dr. Mercer, the pitiable Dr. Kyne and the annoying Kendra Daniels are very well done and you ultimately care about their fates, even if it’s a “Thank god ***** just died in an exceptionally gruesome manner.”

Yes, the plot is basically the Alien quadrology. You have the investigation of a mining colony by the Ishimaru (Alien). You have the investigation of the silent Ishimaru which went to the mining planet even after the government declared it off-limits (Aliens). You have the vast government conspiracy and betrayal by those supposedly on your side (multiple films) and of course the final battle with the Hive Mind that has a telepathic link with all of its offspring (Alien Queen). After the awesomeness and originality that was The Marker, and the slow descent into religious based insanity of the Ishimaru crew in the comics/websiodes, I was really disappointing to see the actual game plot was a generic paint by numbers game complete with a hackneyed and predicable ending straight out of one of a hundred 1980’s horror films. Dead Space featured one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a survival-horror game, and this is mainly because it was so obvious and felt like a total cop-out.

Again, the plot wasn’t awful – it was just lackluster compared to the previous Dead Space materials released. What’s here is a fairly serviceable generic action game plot that just happens to have the death count of a survival-horror game. Echo Night Beyond is far superior in plot if you’re looking for a spooky things in space story, but as we’ll see through the rest of the review, the only real complaint I can make about Dead Space is that the story is mediocre.

Story Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

Wow, is this game beautiful. Okay, maybe beautiful isn’t the word I should use to describe hideously mutated human corpses come back to life, or to describe how richly detailed the gore and death scenes are in this game, but it is in fact so. All of the necromorphs are very freaky, and are obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing. All of the monsters, with a few exceptions, still somewhat resemble humans, which makes them even creepier then if they were fully alien in appearance. Even the final boss, the hive mind, which I first dismissed as silly in design, is amazingly well done. The size of the beast, along with its fluid movements and realistic death-throes were enough to change my first impression.

Probably the weakest aspects of the visuals are the non-monsters in the game. All the human faces are poorly rendered and they look like something out of a PS2 rather than a game two years into the life cycle of the PS3. This is probably part of the reason Isaac is in full body armour for the entirety of the game.

Backgrounds are nicely done and game does a great job of presenting us with a spooky dilapidated spaceship overrun by undead mutants. There are times when I would have an issue with the shading, or lack thereof, in the game, but these were generally minor episodes at the very beginning of the game.

Overall Dead Space is a visually stunning title that boasts some pretty grisly kills and death scenes. There are a few minor flaws and it’s by no means the best looking game I’ve seen on the PS3, but it’s close.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound

One of the things I really loved about Dead Space was its use of sound. There were times I could hear a necromorph shuffling about or even making verbal noises and was able to lie in wait for the approaching beastie and systematically dismember it. Too often games of this nature only include those subtle sound effects as an afterthought. Thankfully the Dead Space design team was aware of how important even thing from footsteps to the complete LACK of noise can actually enhance a moment.

The score of Dead Space is well done and tends to provide foreshadowing, especially in those early missions. Although well done, the score actually detracted from the mood a bit for me, as I would have found it spookier if the game was silent save for the noises and screams of those aboard the Ishimaru. That’s not to say all of the music pulls the game down. When you first turn the game on and you get that spooky version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” you’ll be getting goosebumps. That my friends, is an excellent way to set the tone of the game. Creepy.

The voice acting cast did a topnotch job. Without this cast, the story of Dead Space would have been subpar due to the lack of originality. The cast and crew really made me care about the characters, or in the case of Kendra Daniels and Dr. Mercer, HATE them.

Aurally, I couldn’t have asked for too much more from this game. The sounds and little effects sucked me into the game where the plot left me irritated and disheartened. Although it’s hard to due at times due to the frantic nature of the fights, I strongly suggest you sometimes close your eyes and listen to all the creaks, shrieks, and alien gurgles that can be found throughout Dead Space. You might gain an appreciation of how all those little things in a game can add up to one nice package.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

I’m generally not a fan of the controls that can be found in a lot of survival-horror games. The early Resident Evil and Silent Hill played like crap and took away a lot of the fun for me. Adventure horror games generally have amazing plots and the right atmosphere, but they can often degenerate into repetitive point and clicking. I’m happy to say 2008 has been a banner year for survival horror games with great control schemes. Silent Hill: Homecoming was a huge step up in regards to the control scheme, even if everything else suffered. Siren: Blood Curse boasted the best controls I think I’ve ever played in a 3-D SH game. Now Dead Space comes along and although it has some flaws, it’s still a huge improvement over most of the genre.

The biggest difference with Dead Space and other games of this nature is that eschews both the traditional first and third person views that 3-D games are known for and with it, the usual camera angle issues people swear about for hours on end are gone as well. Isaac is always in the lower left hand side of your screen, save for a few specific battles. This means that the camera is very stable. You know those times in games like RE or the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox where you would the camera would end up at such an angle you can’t really see what you are doing and you’d end up getting killed because of it? Well not here. Only in two occurrences through my entire first playthrough of the game did I have camera issues where I couldn’t see Isaac or aim properly. I really loved this layout and presentation, although one obvious flaw is that it is harder and slower for you to aim at something on Isaac’s left then on his right. To counter this, just hug close to a wall, which will give you a bit of a buffer from the necromorphs and make it easier for you to dismember them.

Controls are pretty straight forward. The left analog stick controls your walking while the right controls your camera. Left triggers control your aiming and running, while the right triggers control your attacks. Each firearm has two modes of fire, and you can toggle between the R triggers to use either or method of shooting. Your D pad controls your inventory. The select button pulls up your map, suit info, stored items and more, while the triangle button is a quick view into your inventory. I do have to point out that when you go into your inventory, map, or weapon list that a big translucent holographic screen comes up allowing you to navigate through your options. The downside is that you have to look through and access all these while the game is still going on, so if you’re looking to change your weapon or look at the map while a horde of necromorphs comes at you, be prepared to take some damage. These screens can be pretty distracting at times, and I feel they could have been implemented better, especially as computers and interactive items pull up a similar screen. This can clog your vision pretty at times.

I love that there is a quickslot for healing. Just tap the square button at any time and you are healed up – as long as you have healing items in your inventory. This was a fun little touch. On the other hand, the reload button is the X button, as we all know from experience, this is usually the button developers assign for shooting weapons or attacking. As you can imagine, you have to train yourself a bit here at the beginning to NOT press the X button when you are surprised by a necromorph. The first time I booted up Dead Space I wasted so much ammo because my instinct was to press X instead of R1 or R2. I also didn’t like having to holding down L1 while aiming and pressing the triggers because I still needed to use both analog sticks. At first, this is a really unwieldy thing to do in the heat of battle and it may frustrate some games.

Gameplay is equally as impressive. It’s really interesting to see the dismemberment aspect of the game come into play. Unlike most other horror games, it’s not about just shooting a creature until it dies. Each section of the necromorph can be sliced, shot, punched or stomped off. This is equally true of the occasionally human corpse you find. I once stomped on a dead person’s neck and watched the head roll off into the dark. Disturbing and neat! Each necromorph has its own weak spot and specific order that is most effective to dismember them. Personally, I tend to go for the legs and watch them crawl around for a while in a pool of their own viscera before stomping on their heads. I love that this is possible and love even more how easy it is to aim in this game instead of blindly shooting things.

There are a lot of ways to die in Dead Space, from being overrun by the offspring of a pregnant necromorph to simply having the tar beat out of you by a brute necromorph. Some times its fun just to see how something kills you.

One thing I find as a personal pet peeve are the limited save points. This made sense back in 1988 as save capacity was limited. In 2008 though, you should be able to say where ever you want, whenever you want simply because things can come up. For some reason people seem to think this makes the game harder, which isn’t true. It just makes one frustrated when they have to give up a decent amount of progress simply because a friend came over or a pet got sick or a you got sucked in and realized you are now late for a doctor’s appointment.

Overall, Dead Space is a surprisingly solid game. This is a great engine I’m sure EA is going to milk for everything its worth.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

This is one of Dead Space‘s few weak areas. There are four difficulty settings, one of which can only be accessed after you beat the game and only if you start a new game immediately on “Nightmare” and play until you reach the first save point. I feel this is a pretty stupid way to give you the new difficulty level as it should be unlocked and stay unlocked.

Dead Space is a VERY linear game with only one ending. Everything happens in the same order at the same time regardless of the difficulty. It’s just that the monsters get harder to kill and you take more damage with each increase. You don’t get anything new story or gameplay wise on each successive play through, which is a disappointment. You do however get a new suit and a bunch of items to give you a strong advantage on your next playthrough unlocked, which is a bomnus that will no doubt appeal to some gamers.

Although Dead Space is a lot of fun, it’s really only worth one play through thanks to the mediocre and threadbare plot. You might play it again to try the new unlockable armour that you can get from beating the game or that you can download from the PS3 store, but that’s about all the game offers here. This fatal flaw probably makes Dead Space a rental over a purchase.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

There is a noticeable increase with the monster AI from one difficulty setting to the next. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the game is that difficult. In fact, the game in pretty easy until Nightmare. Even the Hive Mind goes down in about two-three minutes. That’s a bit lackluster for a final battle, but it’s also more realistic then say, 50-60 shots to take down a last boss.

I really liked that each monster was unique both in terms of offensive and how to defeat them. Sure you could fire blindly, but that’s going to use up your ammo and eventually your credits. Because the enemies go down to intelligent attacks rather than button mashing, Dead Space puts a whole new twist on undead genocide.

Dead Space also allows you to upgrade your weapons via power nodes. This was something I really enjoyed in Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and it’s nice to see it EA steal it for a non rail shooter.

The game occasionally shifts play mechanics on you. Usually this is done in a very annoying fashion ala the last level of Lost Planet, but in the case of the zero gravity bits of Dead Space you are forewarned in the manual and in the game, so there are no surprises here. There’s also a bit in the final battle where your aiming controls are inverted. I won’t spoil it for you but it makes sense and adds to the game rather then makes is a frustrating mess.

Although a bit on the easy side and featuring only two real boss battles, Dead Space is a well balanced title that requires you to think about things like creating barricades or what part of the creature to shoot rather than mindless hack and slash button mashing.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

Sadly, there’s not a lot of originality to Dead Space save for a pretty solid engine. The story is put together from several movies without any real attempt to hide the source material or even modify it slightly so it feels like a different spin. The characters are interesting, but they are ultimately two dimensional save for the voice acting. Even the whole “spooky spaceship” angle has been done in everything from Lifeline to Echo Night Beyond.

I hate harping on this, but I wish the game would have been more of a slow burn with suspense over waves of monsters and gore. You get the latter in the other forms of Dead Space but not here with the core piece of the project. Survival Horror is not just mindless violence and shooting. That’s an action game. We saw Resident Evil make the shift from SH to action with RE4 and Umbrella Chronicles (which are ironically the two best games in the series) . Anyone can put together a high quality game with lots of enemies to kill. It’s something quite different to create a came that sends shivers down your spine or fills you with nameless dread. Dead Space is great at the action, but when it comes to the horror/terror, everything in it is taken from something else and the game doesn’t even to obfuscate the fact.

Fun little title, but definitely lacking in this category, which is where I had the highest hopes for the game. Pity.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Nothing truly impressive here. On one hand, it is fun to dismember monsters and the game is pretty entertaining in regards to visuals and gameplay. One the other, the story has no depth and the obvious nature of what is going to unfold wears on you.

There are times when the length of the levels and the repetitious nature of killing the same things can get boring. Thankfully the development team seems to realize this as its when you are starting to feel a yawn coming on when you are given a bit of zero gravity or a giant boss or an important plot point. These things help wake you back up from the everyday doldrums of vivisection and get you back into the game.

I enjoyed Dead Space and beat the game in just two settings. I just wish there had been a little more variety and depth to the overall title. As long as you’re not too hung up on the story and the lack of “big moments” in it, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with this. Otherwise, you’ll probably just be a bit bored when everything starts to run together.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

EA + massive marketing budget + the general sheeplike nature of the average gamer = Dead Space selling a ton of copies. Thankfully unlike titles like the year rehash of Madden, gamers are getting a well done game that will surely entertain. Survival Horror fans will probably be split on the “excellent gameplay vs. highly generic and cliched story.” You’ll notice a lot of debate about the game from your average gamer even while Dead Space is getting critical acclaim from reviewers. Regardless of your thoughts on the story, it’s hard not to have fun with Dead Space unless the gore and violence is a turn off for you. I mean, I generally hate 3-D action games, and I really enjoyed this game. That should be a testament to the quality of the title.

The vast majority of gamers will find something to love about Dead Space from its non-sucky camera angles to the ability to jump up and down on a now legless necromorph until it is dead again. Thanks to the comics, downloadable episodes, and movie, Dead Space has real potential to be a huge franchise for EA.Even if you don’t like the game, you might be surprised at how good the spin-off’s are. Let’s just hope that the next game uses the engine from this one and the atmosphere/writing from the non video game bits.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

As I mentioned in the story part of this review, Dead Space harken back to a lot of 8 bit games. Besides the Samus Aran comparisons, there’s a lot of old school bonuses in Dead Space include in game codes you can enter to boost your stasis energy level, your health, and even your credits. Here’s one from me. Enter square,triangle,triangle,triangle,square,square,triangle with the game paused for a huge credit increase.

When you beat the game you get a lot of neat stuff unlocked ranging from the military suit to the enjoyable backstory logs. Listening/watching these is great, even if it does show you how much the main game story pales to the prequel bits.

Probably the best thing to mention here is how impressive EA’s marketing of Dead Space has been. With all the extras out there, Dead Space has been marketed to comic book fans, anime fans, and many more people who might not have picked up this game without them. This was a brilliant way to make Dead Space a hit on multiple levels and although the story seems almost too perfect for a schlocky live action sci-fi film, which I’m sure EA is counting in.

Finally, this is the first game I’ve had the chance to review for the PS3 with the new trophies aspect. Although Sony’s version of “Xbox Achievements” doesn’t do anything for me personally, it’s been a big hit with some gamers and it’s very cool to finally play a game that puts this into action.

All in all, Dead Space is an excellent package, albeit with limited replay value. I haven’t been this impressed with an EA title since Mutant League Football so a big round of applause for everyone involved with this title.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores:
Story: Decent
Graphics: Great
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Good
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Dead Space is a fun action game, but as a survival horror title, it just isn’t scary. It’s still a solid game sure to entertain most people who pick it up, but if you’re looking for a creepy atmosphere, pick up the comics or watch the webisodes and soon to be released animated feature. For those of you only concerned about the video game, it’s a well made title with an excellent engine and camera angles that won’t make you swear. It’s only real weaknesses are in the cliched and predictable story and the lack of any real replay value.

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  • Turd Furgusun

    Nice review. I’d have to disagree with your statement that the game “isn’t scary” though. I live for horror games and I’ve never played anything as creepy as Dead Space. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I had to turn it off for a few minutes because I was so nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that with any other game. While it devinateley isn’t “survival” horror, it is one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. By the way, It’s good to know the old mutant league games aren’t forgotten. Wish they’d make a new one.

  • Turd –

    No problems at all with your difference of opinion. What scares one person doesn’t scare another. It’s all a matter of taste. I personally find Hell Night/Dark Messiah and Clock Tower to be the scariest video games every made but some people find them boring. That’s what makes reviewing so subjective. Glad you liked the review!

    Also – I think we ALL wish they’d make a new Mutant League Football. They did re-release the old one for the PSP. That’s something at least, but it just doesn’t feel right without a Genesis controller in my hand.

  • Turd Furgusun

    Word. I’ve never played Hell Night. Might have to check that one out if I can find it. But yeah, Clock Tower on PS1 was pretty creepy.

  • Trent

    There’s really a lot to think about with the ending of this game, though. Most people rush to the conclusion of ‘Oh, Isaac’s girlfriend got zombie-fied and he killed him. That sucked.’

    Here’s my theory.

    The Hive Mind controls necromorphs telepathically and is destroyed by Isaac. The Marker seals it where ever it is on the planet. It’s nearby at least.
    Nicole committed suicide, and Isaac just imagines the necromorph attacking him, which is supported by his ‘visions’ of Nicole in the game. Isaac is suffering from the dementia that effected the colonists of Aegis-7, which caused them to see dead people they were close with. His fate is unknown.

    The ending brings a lot of possible conclusions. Apparently a sequel is in the works too, so we’ll just have to see.

    The replayability I agree on. The game loses it’s true scare when played again, and it just seems like a pointless task to attempt the game on ‘Impossible’ difficulty.
    I do however disagree with the originality and the scare factor. Don’t rush to conclusions with the originality. A lot of thought went into making this series it’s own.
    Also, I found the game extremely atmospheric, just down right creepy. I did fall for most of the jump scares however. Everyone has their own opinions on this matter though.

  • Oh, there is certainly a sequel in the works. EA wouldn’t have invested in a comic book series AND an animated movie for the game if they weren’t planning to squeeze every drop of blood from this stone.

    The visions/delusions are a defnite possibility for the ending. Personally, I don’t think Isaac died. It’d be silly to make a game where a single zombie took out the guy who defeated the Hive Mind. I’m sure Isaac was caught by surprise, but he probably dispatched Nicole pretty easily. She was no Brute afterall.

    I can’t really agree on originality though. There’s very little here that I would call original and innovative. Everything here is cribbed from something else and just kind of stuck together. Aliens. The Thing. Even Horizon. It’s all one big homage/rip-off of space horror that has already been done before. Don’t get me wrong, I like the game, but because everything was so obviously cribbed, I saw the plot unfoldings hours before the game’s story actually unleashed it and I called the ending by the end of chapter two. But then, maybe I’ve seen too many horror movies and played too many s-h games.

    But then like eveything, it’s all relative and opinion. I liked the game a lot, especially the controls and engine, but I just felt the cartoon and comic had a much better story and characterization.

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  • rc

    who did the version of “Twinkle, twinkle little star
    that’s featured at the beginning of the game and on
    the televison commercial?