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Dead Space (PlayStation 3) artwork

Dead Space (PlayStation 3) review


"My character is a silent protagonist and he must scream."



Dead Space asset


As a kid, I was always freaked out by isolated-in-space movies like "Alien" and "It! The Terror from Beyond Space." What terrified me most about these flicks wasn't just the presence of vicious aliens, but also the dark settings in which they took place. Films like these boasted creative, fleshed out spacecrafts decked out with shadowy hallways and unseen crawlspaces, perfect for hiding stealthy extraterrestrial murderers. I always made sure to hit the bathroom before watching such movies, as I tended to turn my pants yellow while watching them. Though these films frightened the piss (literally) out of me, I still adored watching them.

I tore into every such flick I could get my hands on, from William Malone's "Creature" to "Xtro II," and even some of the non-space offshoots like "Leviathan." Unfortunately, the formula seldom changed from one film to the next. By the time I caught the inadvertently hilarious "The Haunted Sea," the sub-genre had overstayed its welcome. I turned away from isolation monster movies with a heavy heart, but with a tiny glimmer of hope remaining that I would find just one good isolation scare before I die.

Fast forward over a decade, to a fateful moment when I pushed the game Dead Space into my PS3. My television screen lit up, displaying the bridge of a spacecraft on a rescue mission. I initially expected the silent protagonist, dressed head to toe in wicked futuristic armor, to be your typical overpowered badass cast in a standard space shooter. I thus pushed through the introductory cutscenes and heavy-handed tutorials, raring to blast a few aliens and whoop like an alpha male.

Dead Space screenshotDead Space screenshot


...then there was darkness, broken only by a handful of soft lights. Shadows played on the walls, but I assured myself that they belonged to the NPCs who had accompanied me through the game's introduction. I realized I was wrong when I spotted a horribly misshapen silhouette, its body outfitted with numerous arms, spindly legs, and a twisted torso. It lumbered toward an NPC and tore into him, ending his life with frightening deftness. Panic set in amongst my companions as they attempted to fight off the mysterious menace.

For moment, I stood helpless while something within a nearby ventilation duct began rapping on its cover. Following a deafening boom, the cover exploded and a deformed monstrosity that was once human contorted its way out. Weaponless, I no longer felt like a hardened warrior, so I did what any person in my position would do: I wet my pants and ran like hell.

...and just like that, I rediscovered my love for isolated-in-space horror stories.

Granted, my fear at this point came as a result of not possessing a weapon. Such a situation tends to generate a sense of vulnerability, but that usually dissipates once you secure a gun. However, it doesn't in Dead Space. Carrying a weapon doesn't diminish the sense of dread you might feel entering a new room, wondering if and when the game's enemies (called Necromorphs) are going to burst in and rush towards you. It doesn't stave off the many uncertainties that race through your head as you open fire on the crawling creatures: Will I have enough ammo? Will my aim be true? Can I bump them off quickly enough? Will they surround me? Will I have enough healing items?

Will I triumph or buckle under the pressure?

You can dump all of the ammo you want into these suckers, but erratic shooting won't save you. The only way to fell a Necromorph is to aim for its limbs and sever them with well placed shots. This may sound like a simple task, and it certainly is when dealing with a single Necromorph. In most cases, though, you're not up against one or two of them. You'll often battle numerous aliens, all of them crawling at you in jittery patterns, their limbs flailing all the while. You might manage to dismember one and injure another, but they'll continue to approach, unabated and raring to kill. There are times when it seems like you can't fire fast enough to deal with the dense crowd. That's when the game gets really tense and nerve-racking, and you start missing shots and making grave mistakes while the Necromorphs are closing in on you.

Times like those are both terrifying and action-packed. Unlike some action-horror hybrids, Dead Space features plenty of creepy moments that aren't demeaned by the game's astute combat system. Even with all of the upgrades you can pump into your guns and armor, the game's foes are just tough enough, visibly horrifying enough, and troublesome enough to maintain the game's strong horror elements.

Never mind that you have a variety of imaginative weapons to choose from, including a basic "cutter," a pulse rifle (a la "Aliens"), a slicing laser, and a gun that releases levitating saw blades. The Necromorphs are on to your game, and they meet your eclectic arsenal with horrifying diversity. Some foes look like tentacled dogs that fire punishing projectiles, while others are armored tanks that attempt to clobber you with their very bodies. One kind of abomination attaches itself to walls and remains stationary whist uttering an unearthly moan, while another rushes you while dragging an explosive, fleshy sac behind it.

If every sector of Dead Space consisted of wide open rooms with nothing special about them, dealing with these nasties would be no trouble at all. Ha, if only... At times you'll enter a vacuum. You'll receive a time limit pertaining to your remaining oxygen supply, but absolutely no indication of what's around you. Within the vacuum, there's no sound. Without sound, the Necromorphs can attack without warning, leaping out from behind unchecked corners and avenues that escaped your notice. Not that the ability to hear will necessarily save you. There are some segments that involve closed quarters with Necromorphs pouring in from every direction, easily surrounding you. It's up to you at such points to quickly decide which weapon will best get the job done and which aliens to off first.

If I have one complaint about Dead Space, it's that the game includes a few quirks that demean the challenge factor and make the game a tad less scary. For starters, you'll find healing items galore. In my recent playthrough, I rarely bought medkits and was able to amass an impressive supply of them in my storage. That isn't quite as bad, though, as the ridiculous placement of save points. At times I'd find save points no more than two rooms away from each other. It somewhat hampers the sense of dread when you realize that you can save right after a horrific firefight against a legion of Necromorphs.

Dead Space screenshotDead Space screenshot


Despite those tiny hiccups, Dead Space is a marvelous fusion of action and survival horror. Few games have been able to effectively achieve a splicing of these two genres, especially while remaining scary throughout the experience. Dead Space easily accomplishes this--although maybe not as effectively as Resident Evil 4 does. All the same, Dead Space is a nasty, exciting experience well worth undertaking.

Rating: 9/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 23, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Apparently, if your ally is burning to death and screaming himself just about hoarse, "Keep it down" is an appropriate response.

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Germ posted October 25, 2013:

Great review of one of my favorite games this gen. Love that you're doing all these horror games in October. You're on a roll!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 25, 2013:

Thanks Germ! I think this was one of my favorite horror games this gen.

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