Game Corner: Dead Space (Xbox 360)

Released: 13 October 2008
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Dead Space was the creation of Glen Schofield, who was inspired by the likes of Silent Hill (Konami/Various, 1999 to 2012) and Resident Evil (Capcom/Various, 1996 to present) and attracted the attention of a small, but committed, team of developers and Electronic Art’s (EA) Redwood Studios. The team worked tirelessly to put together a proof of concept and push the game within the company, and constantly tweaked the different gameplay mechanics to keep things action-packed and tense. Crucially, Dead Space opted to forgo a traditional heads-up display (HUD) and render cutscenes and story sequences using the in-game engine to avoid breaking the player’s immersion, and combat became more about dismembering enemies rather than mindlessly blasting away. Dead Space is an extremely well-regarded title; reviewers praised the innovative mechanics and horrifying atmosphere, though the story faced some criticism. Still, the game sold over one million copies and kicked off a successful new survival-horror franchise that came to be comprised of animated tie-ins, sequels, and even a next generation remake.

The Plot:
When a massive deep-space mining ship goes dark after unearthing a strange artifact on a distant planet., troubled engineer Isaac Clarke joins the repair mission, only to uncover a nightmarish bloodbath as the ship’s crew have been horribly slaughtered and infected by alien scourge known as Necromorphs.

Dead Space is a third-person, survival/horror action shooter with an emphasis on atmospheric horror, light puzzle solving, and exploration. Players are placed into the mute boots of engineer Isaac, who spends pretty much the entire game garbed in a steampunk-like work suit and hiding behind a glowing helmet. Isaac comes armed with a Plasma Cutter by default, but has a few options available to him when it comes to combat: players can hold down the Left Trigger to enter aiming mode (and, crucially, can move while aiming and shooting) and press the Right Trigger to fire their weapon. Outside of aiming mode, you can press RT to throw a slow, clunky, and awkward melee attack to fend off Necromorphs, hold the Left Bumper to jog along a bit faster, to press the Right Bumper to deliver a big stomp to downed Necromorphs or break open crates. There’s no jump or dodge function, but you can press A to interact with consoles or shake off Necromorphs when they grab or claw at you; providing you have some Med Packs on hand, you can heal yourself by pressing X, the directional pad (D-pad) functions as a shortcut to your weapons and allows you to quickly switch between up to four guns on the fly, and you can reload by pressing LT and A or switch to an alternative fire mode by pressing LT and RB.

Dismember enemies, move objects with Kinesis, or freeze them in place with Stasis.

While most of this is standard third-person fare, Isaac also acquires a couple of “modules” that allow him to perform a few unique tricks: You can activate the Kinesis Module by holing LT and pressing B, which will allow you to move certain obstacles out of the way, activate certain consoles, and move platforms and doors to progress further and solve problem. While you can use this as much as you like, the Stasis Module is limited by a meter than can only be replenished at refill stations scattered around the game’s locations or with a pickup. Stasis can be used to freeze enemies in place for a limited time, slow fans or other hazards, and is crucial to keeping you safe from attacks or the game’s many instant-kill traps. Unlike many other videogames, Isaac’s health, ammo, and Stasis meter are all displayed either on his suit or on his weapon, a system that easily allows you to see how well you’re doing or when you need to reload or replenish your meters. You can access your inventory, map, and current objectives by pressing the ‘Back’ button (though this won’t pause the game) and are given the option of dropping items if your inventory is full, or dropping them in a safe at Store stations found around the game’s environments. While the map isn’t too clear, you can press in the right analogue stick at any time to drop a light that will briefly point you in the right direction, which is super helpful; slightly less helpful is the abundance of text and holographic imagery that appears onscreen to advance the story and mask the game’s loading screens, though this does flesh out the story and point you towards your next objective. Although you have to manually save the game at save stations, the game does actually contain checkpoints; so, if you die halfway between save points, you’ll respawn pretty close to where you were split in two by a Necromorph.

Puzzles involve activating or repairing consoles, avoiding hazards, and eliminating Necromorphs.

Dead Space’s story is split into twelve chapters, with each one separated by a tram-like system around the ship, and can initially be played on Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings, with additional difficulties being unlocked after you complete the story. You cannot replay previous chapters at will, so if you miss any of the pick-ups or collectibles, you’re either going to have to start over or make multiple save files. For the most part, it’s pretty simple to figure out where to go and what you need to do but the camera is placed very close to Isaac at times; when aiming, I found that his character model took up quite a bit of the screen, which made it difficult to get off a good shot (something that’s pretty important considering you need to dismember the Necromorphs to kill them rather than shooting at their bodies). Isaac’s objectives don’t tend to get more complicated than exploring a foreboding area of the ship, fending off Necromorphs, and recovering key items such as a key card, a piece of machinery, or other object and bringing it (or them) back to another area or non-playable character (NPC) to repair a console, machine, or other part of the ship or progress further. Sometimes, areas will get locked down as a quarantine is put into effect and you’ll need to hold out against waves of Necromorphs; other times, the ship decompresses or starts exploding around you; but, mostly, you’ll need to use Stasis or Kinesis to slow down hazards, move platforms, or activate switches to get closer to your objective. While you’re often tasked with moving big batteries around with Kinesis to power up lifts, you’ll also need to kill special Necromorphs that are poisoning the air in the botanical gardens, watch out for air vents, whipping power lines, and laser cutters that threaten to splatter or skewer you or your enemies, clear an area of radioactive material in order to restore gravity and power, and dash through (or shield yourself) from bursts of flame while shooting electrical panels to open doors.

Watch your air supply in a vacuum, jump around in zero gravity, and blast asteroids with gun turrets.

Indeed, a prominent aspect of Dead Space is the presence of zero gravity areas; here, you need to hold down LT and press Y to leap across the environment, often while fending off Necromorphs, moving items with Kinesis or activating consoles. You can’t jump to every part of the environment, and the game will notify you when you’re trying to jump to the wrong part of the floor (or ceiling), and it can be a bit disorientating trying to direct yourself in these areas, though they do help to break up the gameplay a bit. There are also many sections that take place either in a vacuum or out in the depths of space; here, sounds are suitably muted, your flamethrower won’t work, and you are in a race against time to cross through the vacuum to the next air lock before your oxygen supply runs out. You can replenish your oxygen supply at refill stations or with items, though, and increase your capacity using Power Nodes; sometimes, you’ll have to deal with zero gravity and a vacuum at the same time. A little more variety is added to the game in a couple of sections where Isaac takes the controls of a massive gun turret to fire at incoming asteroids or a gigantic Necromorph using LT and RT (both separately and at the same time) to keep the ship from being destroyed, but don’t get too trigger happy or you’ll have to wait for the turret to cool down from overheating.

Graphics and Sound:
If I had to use one word to describe Dead Space, “atmospheric” would spring instantly to mind. Players spend the majority of the game exploring a deep space mining vessel, the Ishimura, which has been absolutely wrecked by the outbreak of the Necromorph virus. Dead bodies, blood stains, claw marks, and even dismembered NPCs are all over the place; sometimes they’re still alive and shoot themselves in a frenzy, other times they’re torn apart by Necromorphs, and there’s one harrowing moment where it looks as though a mass suicide has taken place. Ominous words written in blood can be seen everywhere and you can never be too careful when turning a corner as Necromorphs have a nasty tendency to burst out from air vents, glass capsules, or from every nook and cranny to attack you. Sometimes, a massive tentacle will grab at you and drag you around by the ankle, forcing you to blast at its tumour-like weak spot, and visibility it often low thanks to a foreboding darkness, intermittent lighting and power failures, and bursts of flames and electrical sparks in the flickering darkness.

The environment is suitably bleak, blood-soaked, and teeming with atmospheric horror.

The best way to describe this game is by calling it Resident Evil meets Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997); the technology and environments all have the same “lived in” feel of that gloriously entertaining space horror and the sense of dread that constantly hangs in the air is just as palpable. Nowhere is this comparison more apt than in one particularly annoying mission where you have to plant markers on a giant asteroid being mined by lasers; the asteroid is protected by huge concentric rings that will slice you in two and is heavily reminiscent of Event Horizon’s Gravity Drive. Other notable areas of the ship include a cargo bay medical facility, the aforementioned botanical gardens, and the main bridge, all of which are crawling with hazards or Necromorphs waiting to pounce on you. You’ll find workstations in disarray, ammo, credits, and collectibles in lockers and crates, and areas frozen from exposure to the void of space. At one point, another ship crashes into the Ishimura and you have to help guide and load up a shuttle with the dangerous “Red Marker” that is the cause of all this chaos, a mission that also forces Isaac to face up to some unsettling truths on the hellish planet of Aegis VII for the finale.

Isaac may not say anything, but he gets lots of video messages and is a surprisingly complex character.

You don’t really interact with too many NPCs outside of holographic messages, video calls, or seeing them shielding behind glass or trapped in other rooms. There are some exceptions, however, such as Isaac’s frequent encounters with his wife, Nicole, who he thought was dead and whose voice and memories haunt him throughout the story. Although Isaac himself doesn’t actually talk (always a weird decision for a third-person shooter, I find), you can review his thoughts in his mission log and objectives, and he cuts a formidable and interesting figure. His suit and helmet are instantly iconic and, though they hide his face throughout the game, they make him seem almost as horrific as the creatures he encounters and his grunts of pain and panting wheezes when in a vacuum or running low on health really add to his otherwise blank personality. Transferring the HUD to Isaac’s suit and weapons is a great way to keep the screen from getting too cluttered, and the use of ambient sounds (particularly a haunting rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) really add to the game’s horrifying, ominous sense of dread and claustrophobia. Even brightly lit or familiar areas aren’t always a safe haven as the ship can be thrust into a lockdown or dead bodies can suddenly burst to life as Necromorphs, often even while you’re trying to save the game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Isaac is hounded throughout his treacherous and nightmarish mission by demonic Necromorphs, which come in all shapes and sizes and are the result of a horrific alien virus that reanimates corpses and transforms them into shrieking, taloned beasts hungry for human flesh. The most common variant is the Slasher, a blood-soaked, malformed corpse that sports blade-like appendages and shambles towards you either alone or in groups. As with the vast majority of the Necromorphs, these are best dispatched by targeting their limbs rather than their central mass; dismember their insectile arms to keep them from skewering you, and cut off their legs to slow their movement, but be sure to make sure they’re really dead as these bastards have a tendency to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’! Other common enemies includes the Lurker (a sort of disembodied head that sports three tentacles, hops all over the walls and ceilings, and fire projectiles at you), the Leaper (which, as its name suggests, leaps at you (appearing to float in zero gravity areas) and scuttles across surfaces whipping its scorpion-like tail at you), and the bulbous Pregnant (which lumbers about and bursts forth a swarm of tiny Necromorphs that can quickly whittle down your health bar). Rather than facing off against a boss at the end of each chapter, Isaac will generally encounter newer and deadlier variants of the Necromorphs in each area: The Exploders shuffle about and try to blow you up with their huge, explosive arm (which you can shoot to blow them up, and any nearby Necromorphs), bat-like Infectors will try to attach themselves to you and cause any nearby corpses to burst to life as dangerous Necromorphs, and the corpse-like Dividers are gangly, gory corpses that split into smaller, equally dangerous Necromorphs after being downed.

Some massive monstrosities await you in Dead Space, but most have nice, obvious weak spots to shoot.

Large Brutes often act as sub-bosses and must be slowed with Stasis so you can target their various weak spots across their armour-like hide, and you’ll encounter Guardians merged with the walls and have to fend off the Pods they spit out, watch for their instant-kill attack, and severe the tentacles tying them to the Corruption that covers the environment. That’s not to say that there aren’t encounters that could be called boss battles in the game; the intimidating Hunter regenerates lost limbs and tissue so fast that, at first, all you can do is hit it with Stasis or temporarily immobilise it while running to safety. To properly destroy these creatures, you’ll need to lure them into a cryogenic chamber or behind the thrusters of a space shuttle and hold them in place with Stasis and get them into their regeneration animation to put them down once and for all. You’ll also battle the gigantic Leviathan in the food storage area of the ship; this battle takes place in zero gravity and sees you dodging tentacles and firing at the tumorous lumps on its appendages to kill it off. A similar creature, the Slug, attaches itself to the outer hull of the Ishimura and begins ripping it apart, forcing you to man the controls of a gun turret and blast at its tentacles and the debris it throws your way. After being tricked into activating the Red Marker, Isaac must face down the Hive Mind on Aegis VII; this eldritch abomination is a mess of flesh, tentacles, and teeth but sports yellow/green tumorous growths in its gaping maw that you can shoot to damage it. As long as you avoid its massive tentacles and target these areas when its rib cage opens up, you can put this beast down pretty quickly and bring the Necromorph threat to an end.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Isaac has a decent variety of weapons at his disposal; the Plasma Cutter he begins the game with is pretty much capable of taking care of every enemy you come across, but you can also pick up a Pulse Rifle for rapid fire, a Line Launcher to shoot out explosives, a flamethrower, and the Ripper, which shoots out buzzsaw-like blades that you can direct to chop up incoming Necromorphs. Each weapon has an alternative fire mode and some are more useful against different enemies; you can charge up the Contact Beam to blow apart bigger enemies, for example, but it’s probably best to use the flamethrower when swarmed by little Necromorphs or to subdue large groups. It pays to explore your environment from top to bottom, and to ransack the corpses of the Necromorphs you kill, to find ammo, health and restorative items, credits, and other items. These are often found in smashable boxes, crates and lockers or strewn around the environment, but be wary as you only have a limited inventory. You can, however, expand your inventory, health bar, Stasis meter, and the power, capacity, and reload speed of your weapons at Workbenches. Here, you can spend Power Nodes you’ve either found or bought on the skill tree of each weapon, your modules, and your suit, though you’ll need a hell of a lot of them to upgrade all of Isaac’s weapons and equipment. You can also find blueprints to allow you to buy new weapons, better restorative items, and even better suits that increase your maximum health, meter, and air supply, so be sure to search all around and focus your efforts on upgrading what works best for you.

Additional Features:
There are forty-eight Achievements on offer in Dead Space, with one popping after you complete each chapter. You’ll get Achievements for dismembering a certain number of limbs, killing a certain number of enemies with each weapon, acquiring every weapon in the game, and completing the story, and for upgrading every weapon and piece of equipment available to you. There are also audio logs to be found to flesh out the story and earn you some G, secret areas to find, and mini games to play that will pop an Achievement. These include a shooting gallery and a zero gravity ball game, and you’ll also get Achievements for keeping the ship’s hull integrity above a certain percentage when shooting down incoming asteroids. After finishing the game on Easy mode, I unlocked a new suit for Isaac, additional logs, 50000 credits, ten Power Nodes, and “Impossible Mode” (which, I assume, is a one-life-only type of mode). While you don’t get to replay specific chapters, you can replay the game from the beginning with all of the weapons, upgrades, and gear you’ve collected, but the lack of a chapter select means that tracking down the last of those Achievements can be a bit of a slog.

The Summary:
Being a big fan of the Resident Evil franchise, and having largely exhausted the games available to me in that series, I was eager to get my teeth into Dead Space and found that it more than scratched my itch for an atmospheric, claustrophobic survival/horror experience. Infusing a desolate sci-fi aesthetic into the genre was an ingenious idea and had me constantly thinking back to films like Event Horizon and games like Doom (id Software, 1993) thanks to the merger of horror, sci-fi, and demonic imagery. While I could have done with the camera being pulled back just a tad and Isaac could be a little clunky to control at times (a quick-turn function really would have helped), and it was pretty much impossible to upgrade all of his gear in one playthrough, I found myself really enjoying the ominous aesthetic of the game, the tight dark corridors, and the thrill of each encounter and managing my resources. I was worried that the limb-targeting system would be difficult to get the hang of but I picked it up pretty easily and was soon dismembering Necromorphs left and right, but even on the easiest setting the game offers a decent challenge as enemies can take a fair bit of damage before finally going down and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or blunder into traps and instant-death hazards. Still, the game had a fantastic atmosphere, tight controls, and intriguing premise, and a suitably morbid and gory presentation and I found myself thoroughly entertaining as I ploughed through each chapter, splattering Necromorph (or Isaac’s) guts all over the walls and clear just one more chapter and I’m excited to tackle the second game in the near future.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever played the original Dead Space? How do you think it compares to other survival/horror titles and do you think it still holds up today? What did you think to the game’s enemies, aesthetic, and mechanics? Did you like the mixing of sci-fi with survival/horror or did you find the game a bit derivative? Which of the game’s weapons and was your favourite and what did you think to Isaac as a protagonist? Which game in the Dead Space franchise is your favourite and are you looking forward to the remake? What horror-theme videogames are you playing this October in anticipation of Halloween? Whatever your thoughts on Dead Space, drop them below or comment on my social media.

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