Dead Space (PS3/Xbox360)
Electronic Arts is known primarily for three things: Yearly sports franchises, The Sims family of games, and buying game company after game company. Their Redwood Shores development team has worked on massively successful games in The Sims series, last year’s Simpsons Game, and a couple in the Lord of the Rings franchise. That isn’t exactly the ideal résumé for a team to work on a survival horror over-the-shoulder action game, though. Apparently this development team doesn’t care about résumés, because they’ve created a nearly perfect game, and absolutely a perfect example of how story, gameplay, and scary-as-hell moments can all come together for a really fun ride.
The scares start early, as you jump into the helmet of a voiceless character who thinks he’s going on a routine maintenance run, where he’ll also see his lady. The ship Isaac and his crew are going to do basic repairs on is in ruins, and a crash landing leads quickly to the first encounter with the Necromorphs, the alien threat that has destroyed the ship and slaughtered most of the crew. The story unfolds through your direct interaction, along with video, audio, and written logs left scattered around. These run from clinical reports on strange phenomena to chilling recordings of horrendous murder and destruction.
The story is great, but two things need to go hand in hand to make a great game: camera and control. Both are in great shape here. The controls are very natural, and easy to jump into. Extra functions on weapons, and extra abilities the suit gives you, are introduced just gradually enough to make it easy to grasp while not being frustrating. The various weapons are inventive and exciting. I found myself using the traditional guns about once each, then playing with the cutters (and that beautiful, satisfying flame thrower) for the grand majority of the game. The camera is generally positioned above your right shoulder, and the heads-up display goes at an angle in front of both the player and Isaac’s face. It shows everything you’d expect from a HUD: map, inventory, mission objectives. The map isn’t excessively necessary, as the next linear objective can be found with a click of the right thumbstick- a glowing line illuminates from you to the point you’re trying to reach along the floor. Feel free to stray from this line and do some exploring though, as that’s the only way you’ll find credits and power nodes.
These two items facilitate upgrading of your suit and your weapons. Rate of reload, amount of force, amount of “rounds” that can be fired, all these things can be upgraded to make Isaac a more efficient killer of the multi-limbed multi-sized Necromorphs. Don’t forget to log onto PSN or XBLM and download the system-exclusive souped-up suits. I mention the limbs, as that’s the focus of your fire; they die much faster with removed limbs than they do with body or even head shots. After taking off a bladed arm, you can use telekinesis to throw it at other enemies as a weapon. Stasis, which freezes time, is used in puzzle solving and when multiple enemies (or even just the ridiculously large ones) are coming at you- slow them to a crawl and take your time shaving off arms and legs.
As mentioned, the story is rather linear, as is necessary for this style of game. There are a lot of optional rooms and hallways to go down throughout the ship to keep explorers happy. Just be vigilant and listen. The music sets the eerie mood, but the creeping and crawling noises upon the metal of the ship can both freak you out and warn you of incoming baddies.
Zero-G sequences add an extra urgency to the action. There is a limited amount of air that the suit can hold, and navigation is tough at first, but when you get the hang of it, they make for some of the most fun sequences of the game.
This game is truly fantastic. It has set a new bar for survival horror by showing that this type of game can be equal parts scary, disturbing, and action-packed. This game is truly scary; there were times I needed to stop playing for a while to let my heart rate slow. Sure enough, I’d start playing again and it wouldn’t be long before I was nervously laughing, trying to cover up my fear. Great graphics, sound, gameplay, weapons, scare tactics, upgrade system, story, camera, and controls all add up to as good as a game gets. Plenty of Achievements and Trophies help extend the thrill past the first play-through. I don’t usually like to give scores, as I think scoring systems are arbitrary and can’t usually give gamers an idea of what the game is truly like, but I’m making an exception here: Dead Space is a 10/10.