The Good, The Bad and The Buggy: Dead Space (2008)
Dead Space is a unique 3rd-person shooter, horror survival game. The game was developed by EA Redwood Shores and also published by EA. As such, the game's animation and graphics are cutting edge. There is no extended use of cinematic cutscenes in the game which likely made room in the pipeline for greater refinement of the UI and character animations. The story is unique and the Necromorphs make for thrilling enemies. These are the top 10 highlights for Dead Space.
I also now have a gameplay review for Dead Space 2.
I also now have a gameplay review for Dead Space 2.
10. Long Gameplay
Dead Space on easy difficulty means that your character will seldom die. If all areas are explored, text logs read and audio logs listened to in full, then the gameplay is about nine hours. There are some worthy easter eggs and in-game achievements making the replay value pretty decent. There aren't any logical puzzles like those found in Silent Hill, but this just keeps the action suspenseful in Dead Space.
9. Ambiance and Suspense
Dead Space is one of the more frightening horror games in existence. The labyrinthine environments are loaded with spook enemies and you are constantly encountering the dead crew of the USG Ishimura. Light level is low and many areas of the ship are damaged leading to cable sparks and sketchy doors. There is a good sense of being trapped on the ship despite the extended exploration of its areas. In addition, there are moments when the player must enter the vacuum of space. The sounds become muffled and the player's breath is audible in these moments. The presentation of enemies is muted and as oxygen becomes depleted the player must quickly identify their exit. In other areas of the interior of the ship, the Necromorph aliens have created an overgrowth throughout the ship. When the overgrowth is on the ground, the player's character loses the ability to run and the slog is quite similar to the experience of moving in a nightmare. The game would have benefited from greater use of vacuum and overgrowth.
8. GPS System
The game allows the player to constantly check their route to objectives. This can be extremely handy when under duress against a wave of rushing enemies. The GPS system also allows the player to quickly check their escape route. The system helps in eliminating dead time in the gameplay. Older games that do not help the player locate objectives in the environment often means that the player is subject to aimless wandering and wasted time - and the player is brought out of an immersive state. The GPS system fits in pretty well to the technology of the diegetic time and space in the game, making the GPS system a minimal plot contrivance.
7. Death Animations
Dead Space has an array of exciting death animations. Obviously, the goal of the game is to survive but when unsuccessful in that endeavor, the character is slaughtered in dramatic fashion by heinous, grizzly necromorphs. Each necromorph enemy type has a unique way to kill Isaac Clarke as well as a unique mode of latching onto him and attacking. It would be worthwhile to play through the game for fun testing out the different death sequences.
There are areas in Dead Space where the player has to enter zero-gravity environments. Not all of these areas are also vacuums which means that oxygen isn't always depleting. This allows some zero-gravity areas to be fully explored and enjoyed for the wall-jumping mechanic. In zero-g environments, the player can have the character aim at wall panels and jump to them. This may turn the perspective by 90 or 180 degrees. It is a lot of fun to evade enemies through zero-g wall-jumping and then to shoot them down as they also wall-jump in pursuit.
5. Small Packs
Throughout most of the game, the upgraded suit available to Isaac doesn't provide enough slots to fit all the items that are picked up in the environment. There are stores in select locations that allow the player to store all of their surplus items. However, fully upgrading weapons requires a certain number of power nodes and power nodes are expensive at the store. All excess ammo needs to be sold off to upgrade all the weapons, suit and modules. This means that the player has to go through many levels twice to grab all of the drops that there wasn't room for on the first trip through. This ferrying process can get annoying and the trade-off is to continue through the game without all the upgrades that are necessary for survival. The game could have been made more interesting by repopulating areas with enemies that on second instantiation do not drop more items when killed... or at least drop with less frequency.
4. No Shots from the Hip
In Dead Space, there is no possibility to shoot from the hip. This can be annoying when the player is attempting to run through enemies or quickly evade a situation where they have been pinned down. However, the restriction is still consistent with other horror survival shooters, such as Resident Evil. It is thought that taking away the ability to shoot from the hip adds suspense as a player is forced to slow down and properly target the frightening enemies. What should have been the shooting-from-the-hip button in Dead Space, instead becomes the largely ineffective flailing melee button.
3. 3rd Person Anonymous
It is traditionally thought in the game industry that a 1st-person shooter emphasizes a lack of identification with the playable character and thus interpellates the player as the character in a virtual way. Conversely, 3rd-person shooters display the entire body and face of the playable character emphasizing the character's uniqueness and personality. Identification is with the character as an autonomous figure as opposed to a surrogate. Dead Space has an odd 3rd-person perspective that confounds the player. Isaac is never truly explored as a character - he neither speaks nor shows any range of emotions during cutscenes. The only moment for humanizing Isaac is that his motivation to be on the rescue team is that his lover was a member of the Ishimura's crew and he is hoping to save her from the necromorphic plague. The pathos of the romantic subplot is totally wasted because of Isaac's non-existent personality.
2. Aiming Systems
The standard array of weapons are very effective and trustworthy, however, there are moments in the game where aiming becomes a big headache. There are a few occasions where a necromorph tentacle grabs Isaac's foot and begins dragging him into a hole in the wall that equals doom. There are three or four chances to shoot a bright bulge on the tentacle to have it explode, however, the aiming is extremely tricky and in the end requires less of a steady trigger finger and more dumb luck. Also, there are a few situations in the game where the player must use a cannon turret. The effectiveness of the turret is gauged through the player's success to destroy projectiles that threaten the integrity of the ship's hull. The cannon's targeting sensitivity is very high because projectiles come in from all over the screen, however, this also means that targeting is very tricky because of the sway of the reticle. I believe that these special shooting moments could have been tweaked to improve targeting mechanics.
1. Sticky Doors
Dead Space likely has more doors than enemies. Some of the doors open with ease, while others take a long time to open. Likely, there is a loading issue in the programming of the game. The doors that open slowly are actually loading a new map without the player's awareness. The sticky doors can add suspense through an anxiety that a pursuing enemy will catch up to the player, but most often it is simply an annoyance. It almost seems like a loading icon would have been preferable to a situation where it simply appears that some doors are "dumb".