Dead Space is the sort of game whose reputation precedes it. Built up over the course of the year since it was first revealed to the public last year, the hype surrounding it is huge to say the least, especially since EA seems to have finally understood karma and has reevaluated their existence as both a publisher and a developer. Dead Space marks the next step in EA’s attempt to be more consumer-centric and to flesh out their catalog with more original properties. Their first, apprehensive step was Army of Two, which while admirable, fell rather flat. Undaunted, EA has pretty much spread Dead Space across multiple media platforms, and thus our collective consciousness. There’s the game, a series of comics, and a prequel movie to be released. One of the game’s trailers was directed by Saw wunderkind James Wan, and voiceover work in the Italian release was provided by Dario Argento. To again quote a hoary old line, you’d have to live in a cave to have not at least heard of Dead Space.
However, all of the hype in the world means nothing if you can’t deliver the goods. Dead Space has been hailed as some sort of horror-game messiah, basically the creepiest, scariest, nastiest two-fisted nightmare to grace our consoles in years. So the question has to be asked: does it deliver?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: Hell yes.
Dead Space is easily the best game I’ve played so far this year. Dead Space is easily one of the best games I’ve played in the last five years. Hell, I would go so far as to say Dead Space is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. Simply put, if you have an Xbox 360 or PS3 and sixty bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you need to go buy this game.
Where Dead Space truly excels is not in originality, but polish. The story is a mishmash of The Thing, Event Horizon, Ghosts of Mars, Evil Dead, or any other of the countless possession horror films out there. The gameplay feels a lot like a cross between Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War. Your character is your traditional silent protagonist, this time an engineer named Isaac Clarke (nerd fan service if I ever saw it) who comes across like a more rough-and-tumble Gordon Freeman than anything else. Basically, you’ve seen Dead Space before all over the place.
However, you’ve never seen it so fine-tuned to perfection. EA Red Shores basically gave me the challenge of a lifetime: try to find a complaint against their baby and believe me, I tried. They crafted less of a game and more of an experience in a fully realized world. Dead Space’s primary setting, the derelict ship Ishimura, feels a little industrial, a little 2001 sterility, and a little steampunk all rolled into one. Painted posters straight out of the 50’s and 60’s dot the walls, warning you to watch your step or to invest in the latest biomechanical enhancement. Even Isaac’s get-up is equal parts Victorian diving suit and near-future robotics. Even simple ideas that the player takes for granted, like an in-game HUD, are integrated so tightly into the game world that you’ll wonder why no one thought of it before: a series of floating holograms around Isaac that appear with the touch of a button. Issac’s spine glows with the amount of health he has, and his ammo displays in thin air above his gun. It’s logical, and it just works. The sound design is also nearly perfect, with the oscillation between chaotic cacophony and isolated silence proved just as much texture to the game world as its gorgeous artwork and design. You haven’t felt true fear until you’ve been attacked from behind in the smothering quiet of a vacuum, with no sound to guide you except for your own vitals and whatever contacts your suit. Controls are tight and responsive, and the fine adjustments you need to make to dismember your foes (a gruesome but necessary game mechanic) being totally possible as long as you remain calm.
Which brings me to the ultimate question: how scary is it? Well, my roommate had the joy of hearing me cry out in shock on several different occasions…a joy I got to share in when I let my girlfriend try it out in a darkened room. Maybe it’s the sound design. Maybe it’s the fact that the Necromorph foes you face still have some features to remind you they were once human. Maybe it’s the story being just fleshed out enough to keep you in the light, but still vague enough to leave you wanting more. Maybe it’s that feeling of helplessness you get as you aim your last plasma cutter bolt at the legs of a charging enemy and realize you need more to sever his arms and truly incapacitate him.
Whatever the reason, you just need to know this: Dead Space has earned every last drop of hype, and then some.