Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feeling quite alive in Dead Space

Today I completed the Sci-Fi horror game Dead Space, and with it, conquered my irrational fear of scary video games. I kinda wuss out sometimes. Stuff makes me jump. Sounds make me look around like I am being hunted. It's spooky, OK? Either way, I challenged on, beat it, and more importantly loved it more and more the further I got. There were an incredible number of things that went really well in this one, and in a year where it had to stack up against GTA IV and Fall Out 3, not to mention Gears 2, Dead Space will be passed over by too many. Read this poorly written review, and please give the game a shot.

We can begin with the story. I love the world design and the notion that humanity has developed ships and fleets that roam the galaxy tearing apart planets to harvest them. The whole "derelict space craft with aliens on board" is over played a bit, but as Dead Space's story develops and you learn more about what you encounter, you become enthralled in the religion, technology and people the game thrusts upon you. So while it started fast and kept a moderate pace of story content, the final few chapters (12 total) really ramped up the excitement of discovering your protagonist's fate.

The art and aesthetics are where this really becomes a gem. Blood, destruction, blood, guts, blood, flickering lights.. and you get it, blood. It is everywhere and its not over done, but done just well enough to make you imagine each scene's occurrences before you arrived. The sound design is phenomenal, and possibly the single best effect of the whole game. The things you hear that are just sound track merge so well with the sounds of creatures and machinery you interact with, that you struggle to tell if you are currently being hunted or are safe. The game manages to never make you feel truly secure, always keeping you on your toes, never rewarding you with a sense of security after a battle. Ya know how in old cartoons if a door or boulder or anything in the scene were going to be a part of the animation, it had a different color or look than the backdrop? You could tell what was part of the foreground and not the background. Well in Dead Space, you can't. It merges into one freaky world audibly and visually so well.

Some of my favorite aspects of the game were its HUD design and weaponry. All menus, controls, maps, video dialog, all come up from a holographic projection in your suit. With your character set slightly off to the left in third person, your suit projects navigation, inventory and weaponry to the right of the screen. Once you master an amazingly simple control scheme, the game moves fluidly and you feel as if you really stand in the ship, running for your own hide. The weaponry is a strong suit for the game because they did not just arm you with machine guns, rocket launchers and lasers. Managing to turn mining equipment into powerful weapons, and give you the ability to upgrade them as the game moves on, really added to the helpless non-soldier feeling of your character.

Dead Space does have its fall offs. You never really feel much emotion from or for the main character. No voice, face or personality makes him hard to connect to, particularly in respect to his love interest on the ship. I found out late that you have the ability to go back and read his journal, but it does not help as much as is needed. The other major gripes are the times the game tries to be something it isn't. Playing basketball and asteroids is not the strong suit of Dead Space, but they included it to break up the story I suppose. For me, it just ruined the flow.

In the end, the game got almost everything right. Fresh weaponry and inventory ideas, unrelenting pursuit and fear, the morbid quiet of outer space. Dead Space comes up huge, and is worth every childish scream that made me feel like a lil girl.

Score: 5 out of 5 headless floating corpses dripping blood all over my TV screen.