Dead Space (PC) review
"When Survival is the Horror"
If Resident Evil is defined by the Spencer Mansion as an interconnected environment learned through exploration and working against familiarity with the zombies, then Dead Space is defined by the USG Ishimura, an environment defined by its realism as set-pieces meant to ambush the player at every corner.
The main differences of these series are that their puzzles and enemy placements are grounded more than the absurd, campy puzzles of RE as well as the fact that players move through environments to establish direction. Exploration itself isnít a priority as players are directed, literally, to set objectives; however, choosing to explore elsewhere will lead to rewards as well as extra risks. Although certain areas of the Ishimura are revisited, their purpose is mainly to establish a sense of realism of the vessel similar to the Nostrumo in the original Alien film. This is accomplished by realistic goals for an engineer throughout all layers of the ship as well as careful usage of Zero G environment to see both the inner and outer layers of the fiction.
Realism, however, leads to events being predictable, which is one aspect that gets a lot of criticism. Objectives remain simple ďGo here; flip thatĒ with interesting obstacles or new enemies thrown in to make up for the gameís repetitiveness. Even in its exploration, there are moments that become too obvious they are going to spawn more enemies. However, itís this dedication to immersion that draws in the player for the horror as well as preventing the player from becoming bored. As many reviewers point out, the UI and HUD, while sometimes finnicky due to camera perspectives, is very intuitive and adds a greater sense of the player occupying Issac Clarke as an avatar even though the silent protagonist adds nothing to the immersion. Itís the gameplay itself from Zero G sound effects inside the pressurized suit to the creaking of the Ishimura and the rustling of a Necromorph clawing its way to you that draws the player into its universe. (Although the massive volume spike of enemies somewhat ruins the moment.)
To describe the gameplay itself is a more refined Resident Evil 4 but with real movement controls and more creativity behind its weaponry that encourages more replayability. As DS is centered around removing limbs, weapons can largely be specialized methods with different enemies in mind. This leads into unique weapons like the ripper, essentially the Gravity Gun from Ravenholm, a hydrogen torch (flamethrower) and the Contact Beam used by miners on dense rock. While there are staples like the assault rifle, the shotgun and a pistol equivalent these weapons have unique changes like the rotation for the Cutter, mines and projectile arc for the Line Gun, and the 360 degree mode for the Pulse Rifle. Like the environment and objectives themselves, most of these weapons are repurposed tools used in everyday life, not weapons on their own, which lends to a greater sense of disbelief to the whole experience by using any tools you can find to make do with what you have.
As one might expect from a loosely Lovecraftian inspired adaptation, Dead Space involves itself in the cosmic horror genre with the slow degradation of madness that manages to be convincing within the storyline present. The lore heavily delves into the daily life, beliefs, economic and government issues of this universe that explains both the larger mythos of DS as well as the slow unraveling of the mystery behind the Ishimuraís radio silence. This universe is one that shows no interest nor remorse for humanityís concerns, and the hostile threats from beyond the stars is simply another cruel reality of the situation.
In between the maintenance objectives, players are drawn into with Issacís love-interest to occupy his personal attachment for the mission. Although the outcome of this story-arc is predictable and the overall story is tangently related to the real story of the game, the slow descent into madness with Isaac Clarke comes off surprisingly well after all these years into the sequel that delves even further into his mind. Unlike Lovecraft himself who gave no purpose (or character) to his characters, this simple romantic pursuit is a human, comforting goal that is handled like a dark comedy amidst the larger threat of the Necromorphs, a polymorphic alien species that encounters the Ishimura through what is referred to as the Markers.
As a whole, itís the immersive qualities and the commitment to drench the player into the story that makes the descent into madness as well as the mystery of the Ishimura work together. Aside from loading screens while riding the tram, no aspect of the combat, the diary entries nor the environments you explore take you out of the experience. (The one exception is the amount of times the game TELLS you to cut off Necromorph limbs instead of letting you discover it on your own.) Itís this approach to crafting a survival horror experience that is derivative but masterfully handled that shows Volition can make a believable place you dread to explore in disguise of a space rollercoaster.
Even years later, Dead Space remains an iconic, survival horror experience with superb quality. It is perhaps not the greatest modern title in its genre yet remains an effective experience to this date. Other than mechanics like the Stasis system and its unique weaponry, the gameplay itself is largely derivative by the fact that itís a more polished game than many other horror titles. (Also, no other game has as much satisfying stomping than Dead Space.) Itís mainly its storytelling and its environments that truly work with the horror elements best, and future titles would further add to the immersion by incorporating more of the Zero-G environments as the third game truly does make effective usage out of them with alternative routes for exploration.
In an ironic case Dead Space has been a two-sided story between the developerís visions as well as the fansí commitment to see Isaac at the end of his journey. Perhaps itís a cruel fate of irony that the seriesí devotion would fade away without one more attempt into a disinterested universe that saps away all the ignition left. However, reigniting these games is one more reason to return if simply not to kindle fond memories before saying goodbye.
Staff review by Brian Colfxire (October 10, 2021)
Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.
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