Isaac Clarke has taken the long trip out to the giant spaceship USG Ishimura, a "planet cracker" class ship that has not been heard from in days. Isaac is an engineer. His mission is to inspect the communications system and get them up and running again. That is his professional reason for going on the mission. There is also a private one. His sweetheart Laura is a scientist, and she has sent him a message that he has watched over and over again. Isaac goes head first into the mission, and after an all but successful landing on the Ishimura, it becomes apparent that something is awfully wrong aboard the ship. Things have been going on there that the scientists onboard have kept from the rest of the humanity.
A leg, a claw, a severed head and the bleeding torso of a monster floats quietly through the air amongst boxes, tables and chairs. The room lacks artificial gravity that keeps things in place on the rest of the ship. We've severed limbs, and removed monster's heads. It's the best way of disposing of them. We have almost become experts in the field, and have learned that their bodies contain plenty of blood. We've cut off arms, pulled off legs, blown heads up, flambéed tentacles and shattered torsos into tiny little pieces. Dead Space is very violent and extremely bloody. We are fighting for our survival. We're on a mission, and Isaac is the quiet, silent type who takes his mission very seriously. He is just as talkative as Gordon Freeman, and lets his actions speak.
It is no coincident that we're bringing up Valve's famed scientist. Like Gordon, Isaac is in possession of a gravity gun. Isaac can remove obstacles, "suck up" explosive containers and shoot them at the Resident Evil-esque freaks that plague the ghostly USG Ishimura. It is also no coincidence that we're mentioning Resident Evil, because apart from the monster design, Isaac can also buy and upgrade his weapons for money he finds along the corridors of the spaceship, similar to that of Capcom's survival horror classic. Like many third-person action games, Dead Space has taken inspiration from Resident Evil 4 when it comes to camera positioning.
It isn't a problem that Dead Space has borrowed ideas and concepts from other titles, as it brings its own ingredients to the table. The future EA has imagined is beautifully crafted. When you check your inventory, it is done in real-time as a hologram in front of Isaac. There is no pause in the gameplay, and the atmosphere is not interrupted. You can also read messages, and communicate with your superiors. Another great piece of game design is that the information typically placed in a heads-up display (HUD) can be seen on Isaac's suit.
Another obvious area of innovation is the tactical dismemberment. Attacking an enemy weak point for massive damage may not be new to video games, but the fashion which EA Redwood Shores have realised feels fresh and exciting. Far removed from the standard pistol, shotgun and sniper gun, the weapons in Dead Space originated as mining tools. There is the plasma cutter, the pulse rifle, mine, sawblade and flamethrowers. There is a weapon for every occasion, and every enemy.
Apart from the gravity gun, which you won't be using half as much as in Half-Life 2, there is a stasis function on his weapons that allows you to slow down the movement of enemies. In other words, you can suspend the aggressor in the air, and as it slowly moves towards you, you can cut off its limbs one by one. The stasis function is also used to solve the not-so challenging puzzles you encounter as you traverse the ship.
Just as you have been fooled into believing that EA has created a standard space shooter with a few new ideas, they literally turn everything around on its head. Rooms were the artificial gravity has been put out of commission sees you walking on walls, ceilings and floors. You will take walks through meteor showers, you will shoot down giant space rocks, and there are even giant boss fights that break up the pace from time to time. This is definitely necessary as Dead Space has a very linear experience, that also feels a bit repetitive. Each of the twelve chapters takes place in closed off sections of the ship. A tram transports Isaac between the areas, and it's not just the tram stations that resemble each other. The basic level design stays the same throughout the game. Every time you reach a new area you get the feeling of dejá vu. Same creature, same colours, and the same linear progression of the missions. It is not a fatal flaw, or something that robs you of enjoying the game, but it prevents Dead Space from becoming a true classic. That said, Dead Space is another great example of EA trying to move away from relying on licenses and sequels, and that there are plenty of creative and fresh ideas yet to come.
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