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I remember when Dead Space came out. It was all the rage if you were a horror fan. I even heard the word “masterpiece” thrown around. Well I had no interest at the time. But recently, I was thinking about Dead Space and the dismemberment-based combat intrigued me. Plus, someone said the game’s atmosphere is reminiscent of the film Alien. So I decided to give it a shot. Developed and published by EA, Dead Space was released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in October, 2008. For this review, I played the PC version. If you plan to play this on Windows 10 like I did, I would highly recommend you check out the game’s PCGamingWiki page. The game definitely has some issues that I would suggest you address before playing.
The story is set in the year 2508 and you play as Isaac Clarke, the ship systems engineer on the USG Kellion. After the mining starship USG Ishimura sends out a distress signal to the Concordance Extraction Corporation (CEC) during a mining operation on the planet Aegis VII, the USG Kellion is dispatched to investigate. As the Kellion crew members begin exploring the ship, they are attacked by very dangerous creatures known as Necromorphs. Isaac is a silent protagonist and makes his way around the ship completing various objectives in an effort to survive and escape. He also learns about the events that transpired before their arrival which involve a dangerous religion and a powerful relic discovered by the Ishimura crew. The story is told through interactions with NPC’s and logs found throughout the environments and the voice acting is pretty good. There’s not many cut scenes and Isaac interacts with most characters through his Resource Integration Gear (RIG). Now games don’t normally scare me. Jump scares will get me every now and then but I’ve never reached a point where I had to turn a game off because it was just too intense or scary. But I will admit, Dead Space is a creepy fucking game. The developers absolutely nailed the tone and atmosphere.
Dead Space includes four difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, Hard, and Impossible which needs to be unlocked. Isaac can walk, run, punch, stomp, and interact with things in the environments. He’s not very quick and moves quite slowly. There is no HUD. Instead, your health meter can be seen on Isaac’s suit along with his stasis meter. Health can be restored by using med packs. You can access your RIG to see a map of the area, your inventory which has limited space, a database, and mission objectives. The gameplay does not pause when you access your RIG so you need to be mindful of your surroundings. I think one of my favorite things about this game is the locator. At the press of a button, you can activate the locator which shows you exactly where you need to go. I love that. I hate getting lost. Early in the game, you’ll learn how to use two modules – Stasis and Kinesis. The stasis module can be used to slow down mechanisms and enemies for a brief time but does drain energy and Kinesis can be used to grab and throw objects. You will have to utilize these to solve puzzles but they can also aid you in combat. On your journey through the Necromorph infested ship, you will enter zero gravity areas where you can jump long distances. You’ll also have to traverse through areas open to the vacuum of space where Isaac’s suit provides him oxygen buy only for a limited time. Oxygen can be replenished from air cans and oxygen recharge stations found throughout the ship.
As you traverse the ship, you’ll come across all kinds of items and resources. Enemies can drop items when killed, you can find them lying around, and they can be found in containers. Credits are the form of currency that can be spent at stores which are accessed from terminals found throughout the ship. You can also find schematics which add new items to the store. You can purchase ammo, weapons, med packs, air canisters, stasis packs, suit upgrades, and power nodes. Upgraded suits increase your inventory capacity and armor. Power nodes can be used at benches to upgrade your RIG, modules, and weapons, or they can be used to gain access to specific areas. You can use power nodes to increase a weapon’s damage, reload speed, ammo capacity, and charge, or maybe you’d rather use them for module upgrades like stasis duration or kinesis range. You can also use them for RIG upgrades like increased health and air. I would say it’s best to see what weapons you prefer and what you feel are truly necessary to upgrade because power nodes aren’t found all over the place. Items can be stored in your safe accessed at the store and you can also sell items if you’re in need of credits.
I would say the combat is the real highlight of Dead Space. The atmosphere is fantastic but it’s the combat that kept me going. If you’ve played other shooters, you may be used to aiming for the head when engaging enemies. Unlearn that shit quick. Head shots will basically get you nowhere. It’s all about aiming for limbs and appendages, anything that can be severed. Although, you can blow an enemy’s head off, too. Not only does shooting off an enemy’s limbs do damage to them, but it also slows them down. There’s almost an addictive quality to it all. Enemies can come from anywhere and it’s very easy to not notice baddies coming from behind you which can be starling at times. You need to pay attention to your surroundings. As fun as the combat can be, Isaac’s slow movement speed can make any encounter where you’re seriously outnumbered sometimes tedious and frustrating. Some enemies can move really quick and if you get overwhelmed, it can become a very trial and error encounter. Even if you’re equipment is upgraded, getting overwhelmed is not good because enemies can grab you and Swarmers will literally swarm Isaac’s body, draining his health. So getting overwhelmed can result in constant button mashing just to get enemies off you. Luckily save stations are everywhere and checkpoints are also peppered about so if you die, you usually won’t have to trek very far to get back to where you were. You will want to take advantage of your punch and stomp attacks when you can because they can be helpful at keeping enemies at bay if they get too close and the stasis module can be a big help since it makes enemies easy targets.
The weapons in Dead Space are definitely interesting. You start out with the plasma cutter which is a weapon that can fire energy blasts in the form of a small line for cutting as the name implies and it can be rotated. The Line Gun is a wide-beamed slicer that can also launch timed mines. You’ll also get your hands on a Pulse rifle which is a great rapid-firing weapon and it’s alternate fire is great for crowd control. You can use a flamethrower to burn enemies or launch flaming projectiles and one of my favorite weapons is The Ripper. It can fire blades but it can also use a gravity tether to hold a spinning blade at a distance for slicing enemies. The Force Gun will fire a blast of kinetic energy and it can also launch graviton grenades. Finally, there’s the Contact Beam which can be charged up to unleash a devastating kinetic discharge or you can use it to fire a radial ground-based shockwave. All of the weapons do feel powerful and satisfying to use but you can only carry four at a time so you may find yourself swapping out weapons at the store frequently or using a set that suits you best. Each weapon has its ups and downs and some situations do call for specific weapons so you should try them all out.
Necromorphs are the enemies of the game. They are mutated and reanimated corpses. And they can be quite creepy. You’re going to encounter different variants that will force you to think about how you approach certain situations. They’ll come from the ceilings and walls or you may turn a corner and be face-to-face with one. You should always keep your eyes peeled and you want to keep your distance if you can because if enemies get too close, they can grab you and drain your health. There’s all different kinds. Guardians are stuck to walls and have deadly tentacles. They can also fire out pods that will sprout their own tentacles and fire quills at you. Infectors are bat-like Necromorphs that look for corpses to infect. You want to shoot an Exploder from a distance because its appendage contains a highly explosive compound. Pregnants are fat Necromorphs that can spawn enemies when killed like Swarmers which are these little fuckers that are just annoying. The most common enemies are Slashers, Leapers, and Lurkers which can sprout three tentacles that will fire projectiles. Later in the game, you’ll encounter the enhanced forms of these types which can take more damage before dying. There are some seriously dangerous enemy types like the Brutes which can crush you and need to be shot in the back to be taken down. The Hunters are probably my least favorite. They can regenerate limbs and are very good at causing you to waste ammo. As you progress, the encounters do get more challenging and sometimes I found it best to just run and avoid enemies. Especially, if you’re bound to get overwhelmed or are in a vacuum and don’t have enough oxygen to deal with them all. Plus, by running, you’ll save ammo and med packs. Now there are a few bosses in the game which are actually quite underwhelming. It doesn’t take very long to get their attack patterns down and once you do, they’re not very difficult. They’re more bark than bite.
Dead Space does a very good job at making you feel isolated and alone in hostile environments. The story plays out in chapters and each chapter will take you to different areas of the ship. There will be some backtracking here and there and the locator will point you where you need to go so getting lost is never a problem. There’s two sequences that require you to use a cannon to defend the ship’s hull but most objectives are pretty standard. You’ll have to retrieve items, activate things, go to certain areas, and solve basic puzzles to progress. Many puzzles will require the use of kinesis to move objects around but there’s no puzzles here that will break your brain or anything. They’re all pretty easy to figure out. There are some environmental hazards you need to watch out for like fire, electricity, and mechanisms that can kill you but you can usually use stasis to slow them down so you can get past them. Dead Space is a fairly linear game but there are rooms and areas off the beaten path that you’ll want to explore because you’ll want to acquire all the resources you can get. Anything you find can be helpful. Semiconductors can be sold for credits, ammo and medpacks are always useful, and the logs you find provide some backstory as to what the hell is going on.
Dead Space does look dated in some areas but it absolutely holds up. Some textures are a bit blurry but the presentation nails the whole dark and creepy sci-fi spaceship thing. Dead Space oozes with atmosphere and it’s all in the details. You’ll encounter crazy people who just kill themselves. Blood is splattered everywhere and dead bodies are littered all over the ship. Lights flicker, there’s writing on the walls, you can see the innards of dead bodies, and I really do love the visual and gore effects. Muzzle flashes are bright, a shot that makes contact result in a haze of smoke, and enemies will just spew blood when they take damage and lose body parts. It’s fantastic. Accompanying the details is the phenomenal sound design. From the sounds of weapons fire to the sounds of the Necromorphs growling and screeching, it all sounds excellent. You’ll hear a lot of creepy noises, things moving or falling, you’ll hear enemies growling in the distance, maybe they’re moving somewhere around you, and it all helps lend a hand to the creepy atmosphere. A lot of what music is heard is usually dark and ambient and ramps up during encounters. On the technical side, the game ran smooth for me. I did notice some bodies get stuck in the environment and I fell through the floor and died at one point but nothing really ruined the experience for me. However, the game does have some significant issues that can be corrected before playing. Seriously, check out the game’s PCGamingWiki page. Evidently, a high frame rate can make one area impassable so I limited the frame rate to sixty. Mouse input also has issues with a high frame rate. I’ve never played this on console but I did play it with a controller and there is some massive deadzones on the analog sticks. There is a program that can fix this but I never got it perfect. Apparently, the in-game anti-aliasing tends to blur the image so it’s recommended to force it externally.
Dead Space is a phenomenal horror game. Period. After a while, Isaac’s slow movement started to get to me but, overall, I had a great time. And I think the slow-pace is meant to emphasize tension but if I had to re-trek through an area, forcing me to collect multiple items all over again, or engage multiple enemies again, that’s when I wanted Isaac to a move his ass a bit. But I am grateful that save stations are not hard to come by. Mastering the weapons and combat is the key to success in Dead Space. You need to know what the weapons are capable of, what the enemies are capable of, and what weapons work best against what enemies. Aim for the limbs. Use the environment to your advantage. Use your modules. All of these things will help you stay alive and save ammo. Dead Space has some great pacing and just when you think you’ve seen everything, the game throws something new at you. Unfortunately, the bosses are underwhelming. The battles can feel less thrilling than encounters with some of the most common enemy types. Now Dead Space does contain a good amount of replay value. After beating the game, you’ll unlock a new suit, backstory logs, fifty thousand credits and ten power nodes for your next playthrough, and the Impossible difficulty mode.
I would absolutely recommend Dead Space to fans of horror games. Dead Space is up there as one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. The tension is consistent, the action is fun, and it delivers in terms of atmosphere. For me, personally, Alien: Isolation is still my favorite horror game but Dead Space does have it beat in the pacing category. It also contains some awesomely grotesque enemy designs and fun and interesting combat. Dead Space is brutal, gruesome, and creepy and an absolutely fantastic sci-fi horror game. Definitely check it out.