now playing: Dead Space

Dead Space

Dead Space

Resident Evil 4 would have to be one of my favourite experiences on the Gamecube. A genuinely exciting blend of survival horror and action that had finally moved on from the fixed camera and outdated control scheme of its past. I was rather dismayed when I read that the follow-up (the imaginatively titled Resident Evil 5) had moved away from the survival horror aspects of its predecessor and leaned more towards the action, and wondered where I’d go for my survival horror fix now.

Some review reading and $30 at K-Mart later, I found myself dipping my toes in the bloodied water of Dead Space.

Dead Space puts you behind the character of Issac Clarke; a mute engineer in a gimp suit that looks like it was designed by Clive Barker. His doctor girlfriend (or girlfriend doctor, I’m not sure) is stationed aboard the Event Horizon USG Ishimura, which has run into a spot of bother. So Engineer Issac, Technologist [1] Kendra Daniels and Senior Security Officer Laurence Fishburne Zach Hammond, set out to answer the distress call and get her [2] sailing again. Along the way there’s a terrible accident, Issac’s ship crashes into the Event Horizon Ishimura, stranding them out in space and blah blah blah everyone is dead and there are monsters.

The set-up is simple, and fortunately very brief. All of the above is told in the opening minutes of the game, all using the in game engine, which is wonderful as Dead Space is a visually stunning game, dripping with atmosphere from the get-go. Issac wanders around the derelict ship, using his tools to defend himself against (see also: dismember) the re-animated dead crew, while desperately hunting for a light switch. It’s beautifully done, and all without the need for a HUD or pre-rendered cutscenes. Everything you need to know about Issac (his health and ammo) is told by his suit and weapon, and communications from Daniels and Hammond are played out on a holo-screen projected from Issac’s helmet, meaning they never interrupt the action.

My only real complaint regarding our protagonist, Issac. I’m currently five chapters into Dead Space and hoping as I progress we’ll find out more about Issac and Nicole’s relationship. Specifically, what she sees in him (it can’t be his conversational skills) and whether or not she’s aware that he’s frighteningly adept at turning everyday space-tools into implements of dismemberment. For an every-man, Issac seems rather nonplused about the whole experience. There’s an argument that suggests taking away a protagonist’s voice allows the player to step into that role with greater ease. While this works well in a lot of cases (Half Life 2 and the later Zelda games are two that come to mind), I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wishing Issac would have some sort of reaction to the horrible situation he’s found himself in. Even an occasional “Ooo crumbs!” or “Cripes! that was scary!” would help in convincing me that Issac is the every-man engineer type the game claims him to be, rather than the action hero slash special ops guy in hiding he comes across as.

And while we’re talking about suspension of belief, one of the aspects that really took me out of the Resident Evil 4 experience was the wandering weapons merchant. Towards the end of each chapter, after battling off hordes of infected villagers and other unsightly beasts, you’ll find yourself in a hut or cave or alcove or other safe place, with the merchant waiting patiently in the corner, ready and willing to sell you all sorts of wonderful weapons and ammunition. Now, while his appearance is always welcome – if he’s about, chances are you’ll be needing a top-up – I often found myself asking he’d ended up there. Here I was, the trained ex-cop security guy struggling to move from point to point, and this guy just wanders in and out without any sign of effort? Did he have a car? Or a helicopter? Couldn’t I pay him to take me where I wanted to go instead of taking the hard way?

Dead Space takes a slightly more logical, but still rather game like approach to things. In certain areas (see: when you’re about to need more ammunition or an upgrade), you’ll come across terminals where you’re able to spend electronic space-credits that have been left conveniently by the dead, on upgrades to your weapons and suit, or more rounds of ammunition and health. Now, while I understand the need for a system of commerce in the space-future, I can’t help but think that, if I was stranded on a space station surrounded by its re-animated dead crew, I might want to spend a little time trying to get around the DRM on the gun shop, rather than relying dead people’s left over space-iTunes vouchers.

Any steps these minor complaints make towards taking you out of the game are very quickly forgotten though as soon as you find yourself trapped in a room, surrounded by zombies infected villagers Sam Neil the horribly mutated, re-animated dead; counting the number of shots in your cutter against the number of limbs clambering towards you. It’s an exciting game and beautiful to look at and while it might not be the most original of tales, it’s still an entertaining ride.

Four dismembered, bloody corpses out of five.

[1] It’s not really made clear what a ‘Technologist’ does. At this stage I’m inclined to believe she spends a lot of time reading Gizmodo and giving advice on gadget purchases. I wonder if she has a Zune?

[2] The ship, not the doctor girlfriend (or, girlfriend doctor).


Author: Mark Ampersand

Budding writer, connoisseur of fine popular culture and Batman fan.

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