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Dead Space (Xbox 360) artwork

Dead Space (Xbox 360) review

"Dead Space doesn’t want to be another forgettable survival horror wannabe. It desperately wants to be taken seriously and, as such, has poured tremendous efforts into establishing its credentials."

Dead Space isn’t just another forgettable survival horror wannabe. It desperately wants to be taken seriously and, as such, has poured tremendous efforts into establishing its credentials. Though EA’s macabre Sci-Fi blood-fest might have seen its initial birthing on the new-gen consoles, it seeks to spread its roots much further. There’s a history lurking behind the empty innards of the mining ship, Ishumura, and it’s not a very pleasant one. There’s a (surprisingly good) prequel on Nintendo’s Wii, a stack of comics and even a animated movie that takes place just before the game starts. They all form an over-branching cohesive story of interstellar intrigue, screaming insanity and drying gore.

It all means nothing to Isaac Clarke. As far as he knows, the Ishumura is simply damaged and in need of repairing, an assignment he volunteered for to reunite with his fiancé who serves on the ship’s medical staff. The huge, hulking craft looks abandoned from the outside; unlit, malfunctioning and taking damage from the space debris it should be fending off effortlessly. The craft that carries Isaac and a small crew has issues docking and, in the process, their only means of transportation is destroyed. For almost everyone, their first few steps outside their wreck into the empty metallic hallways are to be their last.

Imagine a zombie. Imagine your basic lumbering corpse risen from the dead. Take away its lumbering pace, then mutate it into a biological mass of grabbing tentacles, limbs littered with spurs of protruding bone or grotesque swellings of bubbling, explosive fluids. Keep the constant hunger, but factor in a new level of basic cunning. Now, make the only way to stop their constant, frenzied assaults to dismember them completely, lopping off their limbs even as they messily mutate in front of you. Make the image in your mind a constantly evolving swarm and dial your odds of survival right down. You’re imagining necromorphs. They’re not very friendly. They’re everywhere.

It’s very clear early on that the Ishumura’s crew have been slaughtered, mutated, and are now making a very spirited attempt to gut Isaac where he stands. They’ll drop in from above, splinter air vents into shards and appear from the wreckage of walls or just wait, lurking in the shadows. Visit rooms drained of gravity, and, among the pooling puddles of blood collecting mid-air and the almost peacefully floating corpses, you’ll find monsters who use their elongated talons to grip into the steel hull while you make do with magnetic boots. Shoot off their arms and their scorpion-like tails before they impale you. You’ll find tentacle-heavy beasts flinging acidic waste at your face. Shoot off their trailing limbs, and watch what’s left float away.

Isaac’s not a solider, he’s a technician. He’s the most armoured of his small pocket of survivors because he has a welding suit on, and he’s the most armed because he has his work tools, items made to slice through steel that have no problem causing huge bouts of dismemberment. Lopping off legs will injure and slow necromorphs that will arduously crawl towards you. Slow them down; blow off another arm. If it doesn’t kill them, it will give you slightly more time to try to. The plasma cutter he comes equipped with can rotate itself 90°, and other weapons he obtains are converted tools like welders or buzz saws. He’s also the only man who can fix the numerous malfunctions littering the Ishumura that are decreasing everyone’s odds of survival. For the most part, he’s utterly alone in the belly of a nightmare.

He’s a voiceless and, thanks to his mask, a faceless aviator, so the ship tells its own story through recovered audio logs, bursts of communication with fellow survivors and the scrawled, panicked writing scribbled on the walls. These writings can consist of helpful comments, eldritch sketching or the bizarre ranting of a cracked mind. Take too long trying to decipher it, though, and you might find your head cleaved off or a spiny forearm thrust through your midsection. There are no safe havens in Dead Space: stop to buy some ammo at a vending machine or try to upgrade your equipment at a work bench, and the world around continues to move. And, now you’re distracted and your back is turned, maim.

As such, it’s hard to pigeonhole exactly what Dead Space is. The combat is hard, fast and constant, giving it the sheen of a grimier Resident Evil, but the game wants to be taken with more seriousness. Invest the effort in uncovering a hidden bubble of safety employed by the few remaining miners onboard the floating graveyard of a ship, and you find yourself too late to save anyone. Their dismembered corpses litter the floor, still dribbling blood and trailing organs, but it’s not what draws your attention. Someone lived through the attack; a small, vulnerable girl, laughing, quietly at first, but adding ever increasing volume. She sits in a puddle of congealing gore, giggling away to herself, oblivious to your presence. As you draw nearer, her last rational action is to tuck her sidearm under her chin, and blow her head clean off her shoulders. Dead Space attempts to crawl into your head, messing with your mind through the natural groans and creaks a faltering spacecraft would utter, mixing them in with the screams of people you have no chance of saving. Periodically, you receive confusing messages that drive you towards paranoia until you’re not sure who’s alive, who’s on your side or who’s a broken hallucination of what you want to see rather than what you do.

Nothing’s ever real enough to touch in Dead Space. Its an adventure on unfamiliar grounds, mixing horrific death with zero-g and velvet black vacuums. EA’s not so much invested a lot of time and effort into one single game but, in fact, a franchise of Clarke/Lovecraftian inspired madness. Pity poor Isaac as he walks alone through corridors overrunning with decay and death. Pity him, because his next step might be his last.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 20, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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zippdementia posted June 20, 2010:

Somebody gets it. I'm glad. Good review, EmP. Gonna be a tough year in the TT.
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EmP posted June 20, 2010:

Goods news then, bud; I'm sitting this year out.

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zippdementia posted June 20, 2010:

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Suskie posted June 20, 2010:

Excellent review as usual, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on Extraction, as well. I was surprised that the game received such positive reviews and the fact that you of all people seem to like it intrigues me greatly.
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WilltheGreat posted June 20, 2010:

I think you may have meant "weld" instead of "wield" at several points in this review.

But that's okay. It wouldn't be an EmP review without Wolfqueen or I correcting your spelling.
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EmP posted June 21, 2010:

Suskie: There are vague plans for an Extraction review. I've got a few other titles that I want to get written up while I'm enjoying it, but that's one game firmly on the list.

Will: Thanks for the catch. Perhaps if you ever finished your six-month late review, I'll return the favour.
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zippdementia posted June 21, 2010:

"...but that's one game firmly on the list."

You're missing a "that's" in that sentence.
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EmP posted June 21, 2010:

Wha? Am not, either!
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wolfqueen001 posted July 13, 2010:

Don't worry, Will; WQ has many more things to point out than that.

You have the name of the ship spelled two different ways here (Ishimura and Ishumura). Which one is it? hahaha. I'd guess the latter since the rest of the review spells it that way, though.

Anyway, sweet review. The game seemed horrifyingly creepy to me when I first saw the previews and such for it however many years ago, and you do a great job emphasizing that all the more. Though, I will say that you almost make it sound like the game's attempt at seriousness is a bad thing, but the review as a whole makes it seem like it actually works out. Maybe that was the idea though.

I'd like to play this game one day, even though I know it'll likely scare the crap out of me. I can certainly imagine there are more creepy moments than those you describe, too. (The thing with the girl probably would've gotten me most though. For some reason, I'm reminded of the one in FEAR, even tough I've never played that game, either.)
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zippdementia posted July 13, 2010:

I wish I had a full time team of editors to follow me around and correct all my grammar. And I wish I had staff editing privileges, so I could take advantage of those edits.
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EmP posted July 15, 2010:

It took me years to get to the point where I had editing groupies, Zipp. Work hard and perhaps one day you'll get there too.

Dead Space is legit creepy because the game never feels off. You never know if that gutteral groaning is something waiting to chew off your face or just the failing ship complaining. The ambience is probably my favourite thing about it.

Thanks for the feedback and the catches!
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wolfqueen001 posted July 16, 2010:

Haha. Man, I'm really sorry about this, but I missed one earlier, and it was in one of the sentences I'd pointed out already. Kind of embarrassing. XD

There’s no safe havens

should be "There are" - you're plural.

Anyway, I'm really starting to wish I had a PS3.
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EmP posted July 16, 2010:

Never wish that. The PS3 is the machine choice for the damned and the stupid.
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wolfqueen001 posted July 16, 2010:

LOL I can argue with you about that all day, so I won't go into any detail here. We'll have something interesting to discuss when I can get on AIM again, though. =D

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