Dead Space (PlayStation 3) review
"Isaac Clarke waits motionless, the heavy sound of his breathing mixing with the low hum of the USG Ishimura, the freighter heís been commissioned to put back together after the ship suffered critical power and engine failure. The engineer feels a bead of sweat run slowly down his back, its progress hampered by the tightness of his space suit. He shifts his shoulders and looks closer at the strange apparatus in front of him. Itís a series of tubes, filled with some kind of clear solution and....."
Isaac Clarke waits motionless, the heavy sound of his breathing mixing with the low hum of the USG Ishimura, the freighter heís been commissioned to put back together after the ship suffered critical power and engine failure. The engineer feels a bead of sweat run slowly down his back, its progress hampered by the tightness of his space suit. He shifts his shoulders and looks closer at the strange apparatus in front of him. Itís a series of tubes, filled with some kind of clear solution and... something else. A dark mass which Isaac canít make out in the dim light. He leans in, his helmet almost touching the glass. Suddenly the mass moves. It rotates and stretches and Isaac feels his stomache lurch as he recognizes the shape. Itís a baby. Inside the tube it has been horribly twisted, its thin and stretched skin glowing a sickly green, its eyes dead and black yet moving to stare widely back at him.
Behind Isaac there is a sound of cracking glass and something wet hitting the floor. He spins and glares into the darkness. Was that the shadow of something skittering towards him, or a trick of his mind? He aims his gun, and waits...
Nearly a year has passed since I first played Dead Space and wrote a review on it. That review was filled with over-the-top praise punctuated with the occasional self-masturbatory attack on other Survival Horror games. I later removed the review, fearing that I may not have been looking at the game objectively. One thing in particular nagged at me: if this was truly the ultimate gaming experience that Iíd described in my review, why hadnít I gone back to play it once since first beating it? Why didnít I feel an undeniable urge to start it all over again, as Iíve done with other games in my A-list, such as Longest Journey, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Deus Ex?
So I went back and played through Dead Space again. And I figured it out. Necromorphs are boring to fight. Thatís what it all comes down to. Sure, the first time you spot one of the creepy buggers, you have no idea what youíre supposed to be doing. Youíll probably go for the headshot like you would in most shooters. And then youíll shit yourself as the decapitated corpse keeps coming for you... faster, in fact. But soon enough you learn that youíre supposed to be aiming at the limbs of these things, and from then on the game turns into a repetitive blood bath. The point of having the players hit the limbs was to make the game more tense. Itís the big new feature that Dead Space tries to introduce to the Survival Horror world. After all, itís pretty frightening to have to stand your ground and carefully aim at an approaching ghoul which has every intention of eviscerating you when it gets close enough... right?
Actually, it turns out itís more frightening to be forced to run while the damn thing chases you. When confronted with the possibility of having to explore a dark room while some hideous creature breathes down your neck, the lesser of two evils is always evisceration. The point is, enemies are much more frightening while alive than when theyíre dead, so your strategy upon entering any room will be to stand your ground and fire until every Necromorph in the area is a steaming pile of bloody limbs. Thus the game becomes a war of attrition which is highly reminiscent of Space Invaders. Can I blast enough of the baddies before they reach my position and I have to down some health packs? The answer is probably yes, considering that Isaacís very first weapon, the Plasma Cutter, was designed for cutting through titanium steel and thus has a highly negative effect on human tissue, no matter how re-annimated it is. Myself, I had mastered the art of evisceration within a couple hours and after that nothing could get within a hundred yards of me without suddenly finding itself eligible for disability benefits. Knowing how little threat the Necromorphs posed to my mad skillz, I prepared to beat the rest of the game at a comfortable stride.
And then something happened. I was walking confidently down a dark hallway, my plasma cutter drawn and ready to blast any foe foolish enough to approach me. When the lights went out, I wasnít frightened. I froze, and listened for the inevitable approach of the enemy. Above me, there was a loud clanging sound. I aimed upwards, watching for the vent crawler. Instead I saw a violently vibrating pipe, banging against the metal of the hallwayís roof. Where, then, was my quarry? A scream in the dark caused me to nearly piss myself. From behind Isaac the Necromorph came, jerking its hideous boney protrusions around it like scythes. Yelling profanities, I pushed Isaac forward, fleeing desperately from this vision of terror. I hit a wall, whipped around, and pulled the trigger again and again. All my training and experience was forgotten as I blindly fired into the shrieking mass in front of me, hoping beyond hope that it would drop before it sank its teeth into me. Yet, even over the sounds of my firing, I could hear a new sound behind me, a dull clanking and scraping that I was willing to bet was no broken pipe.
Hereís the thing. Despite its flaws, Dead Space is incredibly awesome, not for what it tries new and doesnít quite get right, but for what it perfects, which is a classic tradition of cinematic horror.
When you first see a head sprout spidery legs and crawl away from its body in The Thing... this is the revulsion youíll feel when you see a dead body of a passenger sprout boney scythes from its back and crawl towards you with an almost human sigh.
When captain Dallas, crawling through the vents in Alien, first realizes heís become the prey instead of the hunter... this is the claustrophobia and paranoia youíll feel when navigating the cramped hallways of the USG Ishimura.
When the demon lays in its bed in the Exorcist and we can hear its breathing, we know itís waiting for us to come closer... this is the suspense youíll experience every time you hear an engine start or a pipe leak water. Youíll be sure thereís something terrible just around the corner, waiting for you with a twisted grimace and spread arms.
This is Dead Space. Your heart will be racing from the moment you land on the Ishimura to the final scare before the credits roll. Itís got its share of problems, but it still gets it right in all the best places.
Featured community review by zippdementia (July 28, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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