Dead Space Review

Dead Space Review

Our full review of Dead Space and five reasons why you'll be playing through it at least twice!

It's been a few weeks since we got our advance review copy of Dead Space from EA, and we've finally completed it! Why so long? There are actually several reasons, among them being that we had to have another adult in the room with us while playing.

The story: Set in the far future, Earth's appetite for natural resources has become a major motivator for deep space exploration. Immense, privately-owned and operated mining ships called "planetcrackers" orbit planets and use sophisticated equipment to carve out entire city-sized chunks of rock, reducing them to component elements and raw ore. When communications go dead onboard the USG Ishimura, a famous planetcracker, systems engineer Isaac Clarke (you) is sent in to fix the problem. Once onboard the vessel, Isaac discovers that the crew has unearthed an ancient and malevolent alien presence far beneath the planet's surface and brought it onboard. Weaponless, alone and terrified, this lone engineer is burdened with much more than simple survival - he must seal the alien horror back into the dark rock.

Let's get the bad things out of the way first. Our biggest pet peeve is really the quick navigation path. You can click down on your right-stick (Xbox 360) to have the path that you need to follow to complete your current objective highlighted. It's a great feature, and it saves you from having to keep looking at your map. Our issue with is that we had a habit of accidentally triggering it when trying to aim at berserking necromorphs!

In many of the 3rd-person/over-the-shoulder games, the camera can be a huge pain, but we only had one or two times when it caused us problems during the 15+ hours we spent going through the game.

Some people may feel that there are too many save points in the game, as they are fairly plentiful (until the last level). This wasn't a huge issue for us. We're actually a little "save-crazy" and have even been known to travel halfway back through a level just to save our progress.

At first glance, this game looks like a typical shooter where you just blast your way through any creature you run into. I suppose you could try to play it that way, but it would certainly get you killed. There are a couple of areas/bosses in the game where you just can't blast your way through them as it's actually impossible. Several of the levels you have to just outsmart the boss if you want to get past it. On a couple of them it took a few times dying to actually figure out how to beat the boss as shooting them just didn't work.

The resource management isn't too tricky, although you do have to start watching your ammo and health packs in the later levels. The fact that all of your menus (inventory, maps, etc) don't pause the game can make for some tricky battles.

The in-game fighting has a nice twist as well. You not only have to shoot necromorphs, but if you're smart, you'll figure out the quickest way to dispatch them, and each one is different. The "strategic dismemberment" doesn't require just brains to figure out where to shoot the creature to do the most damage and take off its limbs, but then you have to actually do it, which isn't an easy task, especially against some of the creatures that show up towards the middle of the game. If shooting isn't enough, or you're getting mobbed, you can also melee/punch some space for yourself.

Using Kinesis you can move objects around, and even throw them, including bodies, to help slow down and stun enemies. It's also required to solve many of the puzzles that you encounter in the game.

The Stasis Module is probably the best item/ability in the game. Using it you can slow down items in the game including crazy mechanical devices and, more importantly, crazy necromorphs that come charging out of nowhere at you. There are several areas where you just couldn't make it without your Stasis Module, so we recommend upgrading it early.

This actually brings us to our next item, which is weapon/item upgrades. In Dead Space, to upgrade an item, you have to find, or purchase from a store, Power Nodes, which let you plug them into different weapon/equipment once you find a Bench. Sometimes you get them from enemies that you've defeated, and other times you can find them sitting on the wall, or in a locker. Keep your eyes open as you never know where you might find one.

The stores are nice, as they let you sell excess inventory, as well as purchase new weapons, suits, etc. Initially there aren't many items in the store, but as the game progresses you will find Schematics that you can take to a store to add new items/equipment.

The audio is great, including the background/soundtrack music. The environmental music is fantastic. The sound of pipes being knocked over behind you, and odd growling/creature noises will have you looking everywhere for something to shoot.

The graphics are really top-notch. It's obvious that the team spent a lot of time on the art direction. It definitely has its own unique look and feel. The attention to detail is amazing as well. We found ourselves stopping to read the scribbles on the walls in several areas, including the restrooms, just to see what creepy things people wrote prior to disappearing from the ship. Some of the views outside of the Ishimura are absolutely breathtaking.

The story is solid as well. At first-glance, it appears to be a pretty straight-forward story. But it's anything other than a "get on the ship, rescue everyone" type of game. There are several plot twists throughout the game, including four just in the last two chapters! The only thing about the story that's tough is that you have to piece a lot of it together from the various audio and text logs that you find around the ship. Skip these, and you'll still get the story, but it's definately the abbreviated version.

The big question: Is it scary? Heck yeah! We weren't kidding when we said that we had to have someone else in the room when we were playing. Oh, and we had to have the lights on too (we made the mistake of playing it the first night with them off). Now, in our defense, we had to have the other person in the room with us so that they would stop creeping up on is in the middle of the game and scaring the crap out of us. OK, we're kind of weenies too :)

The thing that we liked is that it's not really the creepy "The Ring" type of scary, but more the "Aliens" suspenseful type of scary. As soon as you start felling comfortable, they throw something new at you, whether it's a new type of necromorph, attacking you in an area that's normally safe, or coming at you from a new angle (including above, below, behind ... you get the picture).

They do a nice job of adding replay incentives as well. Not only do you have achievements that you can earn/complete, but there are several different difficulty levels as well. The hardest of which, Impossible Mode, is unlocked after completing the game for the first time.

Here are five quick reasons why you'll be playing it within minutes of completing it the first time:
1. You get the level 6 Military Suit
2. All of the back story logs are unlocked
3. 50,000 credits (which get you half-way to being able to buy the Military Suit)
4. 10 Power Nodes
5. Impossible Mode is unlocked

Note that the level 6 Military Suit costs 99,000 credits, so you better save up! You also get to start with all of your upgrades, equipment and credits when you start the new game. There's just something fun about starting Round 2 with a fully decked-out Plasma Cutter and ripping through the first few levels.

We honestly can't say enough about this game. It's simply amazing! Right now, this by far our favorite game, even without any multiplayer capabilities. It's really a breath of fresh air. Something so completely different and surprising that we're glad we began keeping tabs on it early. They keep you guessing and jumping all the way to the very end of the game (literally)!

Final verdict: 10/10

Make sure and check out our Dead Space pictures area to see some snapshots we took of the Military Suit, as well as the Marker (the mysterious artifact causing all the trouble), and the Hive Mind (the final boss)!

You may also want to check out our Exclusive Dead Space interview with Senior Producer Chuck Beaver! Note that we have to agree with him entirely on what the single-best moment of the game was.
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