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The iPhone Frontier
Dead Space 2 is receiving a huge global marketing push, and it seems that a significant part of that promotion is giving the living room console series an iPhone presence. But this isn't just a bid to put a few Dead Space wallpapers on iPhones around the world. The first mobile outing of this epic sci-fi action horror pushes the iPhone to its technical limits, and provides a thrilling roller-coaster experience for the jaded App Store gamer.
Dead Space on iPhone isn't without its problems, and is certainly aimed toward the hardcore end of the market. Casual gamers need not apply, but if you've the perseverance to fight past its complex control system, there's a galaxy full of entertainment waiting for you.
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Listening For Screams In Space
It'd be unfair to spoil the sci-fi horror plot of Dead Space in this review, but it definitely needs pointing out as one of the game's strong points. Not only is it a gripping yarn, as you creep through a desolate wreck of a space ship in search of survivors both alive and dead, but it's delivered with Hollywood-quality professionalism.
The events of iPhone Dead Space, which take place a few years after the original game and tie in tightly with the sequel's story, aren't quickly rammed down your throat with an opening cut scene. You learn what's happening as you play, and the plot is linked expertly to the gameplay objectives so -- for once -- you actually give a damn about what you're doing in the game, and why.
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Rather than opt for the irksome on-screen virtual D-pad, Dead Space allows you to perform the movement commands by sliding a finger around anywhere on the left-hand side of the screen. The same gestures on the right-hand side move the camera around, and since your character (intriguingly known as Vandal) is offset on the side of the screen, visibility remains pretty good throughout.
Tapping the screen activates weapons, which are aimed using the camera controls and fired with another quick tap. Should the weapon have melee qualities, these are performed by fast swipes in the relevant direction. Add to this the heads-up-display, and additional movement mechanics using the anti-gravity device, and there's a lot to remember when moving and fighting as you explore the desolate ship.
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Visually Dead Space is one of the most impressive iPhone games ever seen at the App Store. You quickly forget you're even looking at a cell phone, as the 3D graphics are as smooth and detailed as any sixth generation console - if not more so.
The gritty realism of the (seemingly) abandoned space craft adds a depth of atmosphere that really builds the essential horror aspects of Dead Space. It's not an easy task to accomplish on the iPhone, but you're well advised to do as the game suggests and play while wearing headphones. The combination of echoing isolation and breathless claustrophobia draws you into the story and action supremely well.
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Dead Space on iPhone is an undeniable success both in terms of technical achievement and in console-quality gameplay. But it's also impossible to deny that it's levelled directly at the hardcore gamer, and the broad, casual audience that shows the iPhone so much attention might well find it too heavy going.
The complex controls demand perseverance and practice, and the intense storyline and relentless action come with a steep difficulty curve. It's a game that delivers on the promise of console-quality gaming that fits in your pocket, but if you're not a hardcore console gamer, you might not appreciate that achievement.
For everyone else -- especially fans of the Dead Space series -- this is the iPhone game you've been waiting for.