The survival/horror genre of gaming has certainly seen better days. Of course, for the sake of clarity, when I say “better” I mean “more nightmarishly horrific.” The golden days revolve around the first few Resident Evil‘s, Silent Hill‘s and Fatal Flames before the respective series petered off into light gun centric shooters and lackluster, dumbed down sequels that cater to the crowd a little too thick to enjoy 7even or Silence of the Lambs, you know, those people that keep buying tickets to the latest version of Saw.
The genre languished for several years before Resident Evil 4 gave it a much-deserved kick in the pants and the deliciously atmospheric and gory Dead Space looks to continue this tradition of excellence.
Dead Space, while fairly intuitive, does need a little setup. Basically, you play as Isaac, a welder sent in to repair what is thought to be a comm error on a terra-forming spaceship. Unfortunately for you, things are not as they appear, but Dead Space fails to offer anything resembling an apology. Within the first hour or so, your crew is separated, slathering monstrosities are relentlessly pursuing you throughout the ship, and your ride home is detonated. It’s a little disheartening to say the least.
After that, you’re sent to repair one part of the ship after another while trying to survive wave after wave of the hellish, misshapen denizens that are currently running things. Since your enemies get around the ship via the ventilation system, it’s hard not to eye every break in the wall with a little apprehension. The irregularity of the attacks helps to keep you on your toes, and you’re always expecting something. When you do finally let your guard down and relax for just a second upon arriving at a seemingly innocuous area, the inevitable attack feels like a betrayal, adding insult to injury.
And while the enemies are frightening and the atmosphere is nigh perfect, one of the coolest things about Dead Space is the weaponry and how you use it. You see, aside from the plasma rifle, nothing that you use to hack apart, dismember and otherwise kill your enemies was originally intended as a weapon. There’s the mineral cutter that you modify to fire a thee-pronged blast, and the circular saw that you turn into a blade-spitting implement of death.
And speaking of dismemberment, your enemies don’t go down from head shots or a bullet to the heart. Parasitic alien life-forms make their own rules. So how do you damage them? By cutting off their limbs. This adds a grotesquely unique element to the shooting elements of the game that even an old-timer like me can appreciate.
So why should you buy Dead Space other than the excellent story, wonderfully executed game mechanics and genuinely scary level and enemy design? Wait — you need more reasons than that?