Dead Space – PC
Developer: EA Redwood Studios, now Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 20, 2008
Nerd Rating: 9/10
Reviewed by Proto Joe
You may recall that I reviewed Dead Space 2 several weeks back. I enjoyed the game, though it wasn’t quite as scary as I hoped it would be, so I thought to myself, “If the second game is good, the first one must be too!” With that in mind, I booted it up and expected more of Dead Space 2’s action-filled gameplay with a slight hint of horror, but I actually got something a little different. The first Dead Space is actually scarier than its sequel, though this comes at the cost of somewhat clunkier gameplay.
Like in the first game, you play as Isaac Clarke, an already weary engineer who’s been sent with a team to answer an emergency maintenance call from the USG Ishimura, a massive spaceship built to harvest planets. Things quickly go wrong once they arrive, and Isaac soon finds himself trapped on a floating deathtrap filled with zombie-like Necromorphs. With no way out, he has no choice but to journey deeper and deeper into the Ishimura while searching for his girlfriend, who just so happens to be stationed on that very same ship. The story is actually fairly well done, in part due to the way it handles its exposition. Unlike other games that shove everything story-related into their cutscenes (Dead Space 2 is somewhat guilty of this too), Dead Space tucks much of the details behind its setting and plot into various logs you discover as you roam through the ship. It’s a more interactive form of story-telling that helps immerse you in the bloody ship from hell that is the Ishimura, and it feels much more natural than having a bunch of characters, or even worse a narrator, explain everything to you with unending lines of dialogue.
However, the developers took a page from the Half-Life method of characterization by making Isaac completely voiceless; he doesn’t speak a word throughout Dead Space, not even when he’s being flung around by giant meaty tentacles. Some people might like Isaac’s muteness, but I personally find it weird that he absolutely nothing to say about the crazy crap constantly happening around him. To each his own, I suppose.
Dead Space’s gameplay is predictably similar to its sequel’s, with an emphasis on conserving your ammunition so you can survive each grueling encounter, lopping off the limbs of Necromorphs to keep their claws off your back, and using your Kinesis and Stasis modules to manipulate the environment to your advantage. Unfortunately, some of the game’s mechanics feel a little clunky and unpolished. For example, your Kinesis module is so woefully slow and inaccurate that by the time you’ve grabbed a blade to throw at a Necromorph you’re already being chopped to pieces. Your weapons are about the only reliable things you have for combat, which isn’t too bad thanks to the large variety of guns (or rather power tools you’ve turned into guns) you have to choose from, but it still feels quite limiting and makes fighting even more tense than it should be. Perhaps that was what they were going for?
Dead Space’s combat isn’t quite as empowering and satisfying as Dead Space 2’s, but the game makes up for it by being a fair bit scarier. Much of this has to do with the game’s pacing. In the sequel, you’re almost always chopping up Necromorphs or running for your life in a high-speed chase scene. In this game, the scares take their time getting to you, so you have a chance to soak in the dark, gloomy setting of the USG Ishimura. Unfortunately, the game still relies heavily on jump scares, but the dark, tense atmosphere does a better job at filling you with suspense and fear than the bright, busy space station you fight through in Dead Space 2.
So yeah, Dead Space might not be the better action game of the two, but it certainly is the better horror game to me. If you haven’t already, give this classic a shot and see where the whole Dead Space franchise began. You may just be pleasantly scared.
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