Dead Space: Review of Dead Space - An Atmospheric Survival Horror Game for PC
by: Brian Healy
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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Survival horror games are nothing new, and indeed the genre is currently inundated with titles which pit the lone player against hordes of enemies in a bid to survive. However, few if any have been done with the aplomb of Dead Space; an atmospheric deep space adventure for PC.
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Dead Space Overview
In Dead Space, you take on the persona of Isaac Clarke, an engineer who has been dispatched to the spaceship USG Ishimura after the ship’s owner loses contact. However, while the mission sounds routine, it’s only one part of the story. Clarke has also received a cryptic message from a crewmate on the USG Ishimura – Medical Officer Nicole Brennan.
Arriving on board the ship with a maintenance crew, it is immediately apparent that something has happened to the crew of the Ishimura, and it isn’t long before you are separated from the remainder of your team. It’s down to you to stay alive long enough to unravel the mystery of the fate which befell the crew of the Ishimura.
Borrowing heavily from the likes of the film ‘Alien’, Dead Space is a game that will have you riveted to your monitor in a brutally violent and intense game that is at times utterly terrifying.
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Perhaps the first thing which sets Dead Space apart from other games in the genre is the lack of real weapons; instead you have to make do with improvising with the tools at hand and using them as weapons instead. So, forget shotguns, plasma rifles or rocket launchers – instead, your arsenal in Dead Space consists of the likes of plasma cutters and buzz-saws. This has the added effect of altering the strategy needed to survive the game, and simply resorting to the tried-and-trusted ‘head-shot’ tactic no longer works, as the monsters in Dead Space – known as Necromorphs – require a lot more than a simple bullet or two to the head to kill them.
Instead, each Necromorph has to be dismembered in a specific fashion in order to ensure they don’t get up again. There are several different types of Necromorph and each requires a different tactic to kill. It’s all very challenging and knowing the tactics for each one is essential to survival, as groups of Necromorphs can consist of different types, meaning your tactics will need to adapt to survive when taking on multiple enemies simultaneously.
Unlike many other games of this ilk, the Necromorphs are intelligent and the AI in Dead Space is worthy of mention. Team tactics play a major part of the Necromorphs’ approach to hunting you down and they make full use of the ship’s interior and scenery – you’ll often hear them scurrying through the ship’s ventilation system to outflank or ambush you; they’ll even hide among the corpses of other Necromorphs and jump to attack you when you get too close. It’s real seat-of-the-pants stuff.
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The RIG: Suited & Booted
Isaac is equipped with a fully integrated uniform, called the RIG. This not only acts as an EVA suit, but also as the player’s primary HUD – unlike many other games, such information as your health, armor or ammo isn’t displayed on screen but form part of the suit instead. Isaac’s health, for instance, is detailed by the neon blue spine of the RIG suit, while remaining ammo is detailed on the weapon itself, once raised into the ready position.
In addition, the RIG’s other HUD functions are displayed holographically ahead of you in real time so stopping to check your status can make you feel more vulnerable to sudden attack. All this helps in creating a sense of urgency and firmly entrench you further into the game.
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Inventory & Upgrades
As you travel throughout the ship you will come across blueprints for weapons which you can buy at the automated stores scattered across the ship. This also applies to ammo, suit upgrades and other items. While expensive, they are crucial to your survival and you can find credits for use in the stores scattered throughout the game; Necromorphs may also drop a few coins when you kill them. In-store safes allow you to house items you can’t carry, or don’t currently need and these can be retrieved later at any of the stores. Inventory management is important in Dead Space, however, as you can only carry so much equipment and gear, but you can sell off unwanted items.
You can also make use of various maintenance benches to upgrade your existing weapons by implanting power nodes, which allow minor upgrades in a skill tree-type system. Upgrades include increasing ammo clip size to increased duration of stasis.
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Your primary objective in Dead Space is simply to survive long enough to escape from the ship. However, to do so involves performing some dependant missions. Each mission follows a linear chain of events, and completing one task initiates the next. You’ll find yourself travelling through areas of zero gravity, vacuums and will occasionally need to backtrack and visit previously explored areas of the ship. However, the way the game story unfolds doesn’t lessen the impact any – you’ll still always be looking over your shoulder, wondering where the next attack will come from.
Your team can aid you by guiding you towards where you need to go in order to perform each task, but the nature of the tasks is perhaps Deep Space’s weak spot, as the missions are all relatively similar and mostly involve repairing malfunctioning or broken machinery and equipment.
To help you complete your objectives, you can call on two utilities to help you, which will prove to be particularly useful in the game: kinesis and stasis. Kinesis gives you the ability to move, lift and throw objects while stasis allows you to slow down moving objects. Both can be used independently or in tandem to solve puzzles or move around the ship. They can also be used in combat, perhaps to slow down a fast moving Necromorph, or to throw projectiles.
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Graphics & Audio
Make no mistake, while Dead Space is visually impressive, and on a par with the likes of Crysis in terms of graphics. However, it’s intensely gory and is certainly a game not designed for young eyes. That said, the in-game environments are gorgeously rendered, and there’s a perverse satisfaction to seeing such gruesome death-dealing rendered in such a breathtaking way.
The sounds in Dead Space are incredibly atmospheric; from the skittering of Necromorphs in ventilation ducts to crew logs, where final thoughts are recorded, the sounds really add to the atmosphere of the game and make the narrative of Dead Space even more compelling.
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Despite it’s graphics demands, Dead Space doesn’t require a massively powerful PC to be able to run at its full glory. The minimum spec to play Dead Space requires the following:
Operating System: Windows XP SP2/ Vista
Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz or equivalent
Memory: 1GB RAM (2GB for Vista)
Free Disk Space: 7GB
Video Card: 256MB RAM with support for Shader Model 3.0 (nVidia GeForce 6800/ATI Radeon X1600 Pro)
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible
PEGI Rating: 18+
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While it won’t win any prizes for originality, Dead Space sets a new standard for survival horror games. Although it borrows heavily from ‘Alien’ and ‘The Thing’, its intense gameplay, while not for the faint of heart or those with a weak stomach, is simply riveting and Dead Space is a game that players will come back to again and again.
It’s only weak spot is the relatively linear and repetitive missions, and the game has so much more to give than can be adequately portrayed in these pages. A multi-player co-op mode would really have been the icing on the cake for Dead Space, but even as a single player game, there is ample replayability.
This is a game for those who want to be frightened, and in that regard it even surpasses F.E.A.R for spine-tingling horror and sudden scares. Don’t play this game in the dark.