The story in the game is simple, you are Isaac Clark and you’ve arrived at a space station like planet cracker. Sure enough everyone is dead and mutated into some necromorphic creatures. They don’t take long to throw you straight into the frightening action.
Issac Clark is your slow, stiff, silent protagonist in this survival horror action game. I say survival horror because it reminds me of the original Resident Evil games with his slow movement and how awkward the camera is to see. I have more fear from the great visuals and more from how slow and tank like the character is. It takes him a while to strafe, he can mostly turn and move forward. His animations are sometimes jarring, like when you open a door and aim he will jump back. You never really feel like Issac so much as a man looking over his shoulder. There’s no feeling of fear since nothing is really up close and in your face… since you are over Issac’s shoulder. I guess the over the shoulder thing is good and lets you see enemies who sneak up on you.
You have buttons for run, stomp, reload, telekinesis (to grab things and throw them), stasis (to slow down things), map, mission info and you aim with your right mouse button and shoot with the left. There are secondary fire buttons to most guns as well. These all make for some nice toys to play with even if we’ve seen them done better in other games (Half Life 2 and Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil). With Dead Space, you just kind of stumble upon special powers like telekinesis and stasis laying on the ground.
The controls are a pain if you are lefty or want to use arrow keys for movement, because they’re permanently fixed to the game’s map / mission system. The Internet has such ways around things, but it is a needless chore. Speaking of needless…. Any gun other than the one you start with. All other guns feel like a waste compared to the one you start with and that is sad. It is like being happy with finishing a game with your pistol.
The game excels in atmosphere, since you are in what is a haunted spaceship far off in the galaxy. Dark, gritty areas, different flares of light, dripping water are all in a cluster phobic area. Sounds from humming lights, monster screams and voices in the darkness, talking through your headset can all be heard and help add to the great atmosphere.
The audio logs and sound are great and add to the atmosphere. Convincing voice acting and the audio logs don’t take you out of the game like with Doom 3. In fact this entire game is as if someone played Doom 3: Ressurection of Evil and thought we could do it better.
Everything has a glow to it, doors glow, consoles glow. I mean outlines on your screen not actual lights in game. Red hue lights mean bad, locked or unusable, blue hue lights mean come here. It feels pretty lame when things have telekinesis logos glowing blue on them so you know you should move them, but without that glowing blue insignia, you’d never know.
These toys result in some very light puzzle and problem solving. The game really shines with zero gravity moments that force you to jump through large areas. Speaking of large areas, it is a shame that there are not large areas in this game considering that it is in space. God of War was a good game to show you that you are tiny in some gigantic place and this game goes to show you that you are huge taking up 20% of the screen.
The story is pretty thin, but you don’t need some grand story for a game like this. You are on board a haunted spaceship to repair communications. The survivors that you brought with you tell you what to do as you go through the numerous dark corridors. This is your typical game. The only flair here is that your long distance girlfriend is on board… somewhere.
The game makers liked to say that there is no pause in the game, every menu, map and mission is seen right there in the game. Well just like other games, when you hit escape, there game is paused. Perhaps giving you far less ammo with the starting weapon would have been nice. That would force you to move on to other weapons.
The game likes to brag about strategic dismemberment, but really that means shoot an enemy in the legs, then the head or stomp it. Then when the necromorph monsters are dead, comes the giant glaring flaw with the game. Walking by the bodies you can kick them. This is a giant negative that takes you out of the game when this is a game that does everything to keep you in it. When I see some corpse that goes tumbling just because I walked into it, that is not a good thing.
When a monster approaches even hidden behind you, the music rises, so essentially a lot of the time it is the music that ruins a startling fright. That is sad. There are not that many enemy types either and when a game’s enemies have `morph’ in their name, you’d think there would be more diversity.
And lastly, there are stores here and there throughout the spaceship, but it never seems like I need to go there. I’m fine, happy and overpowered with the default gear. So why do I need to buy more ammo, weapons or suit upgrades? To get new things added to the store you need to find schematics lying here and there. However, issac can only carry one and only one schematic at a time until you rush back to a store module. On a suit that lets Issac carry everything and has holographic projections of video screens, you’d think he’d be able to carry more than one schematic.
Finally one of the most painful things about the game is that it seems to crash back to desktop pretty often at seemingly random times. I’d think my 2012 computer can handle a 2008 PC game. It is frustrating having to sit through a long cut scene several times because the save points come before hand and then you randomly crash afterward. I’ve even crashed out trying to edit controls. I think that it has something to do with the little screens that pop up when you enter a menu… any menu and there are a lot.
In conclusion, this is the start of something good, but other games have done it better. The game fails at everything but atmosphere. Combat isn’t that fun when you really only need the gun you start with, puzzles are okay, Issac is a slow character even when running and all sense of fear is taken away when Issac’s back takes up 20% of the screen. I also feel like I enjoy the idea more of the game than I like the game.