Dead Space isn’t under any illusions thankfully and it knows exactly what it is and how clichéd the premise is, so it doesn’t waste time getting started. It doesn’t bombard you with needless information or backstory, it just chucks you straight into the action.
Thus, within the first few minutes you find yourself separated from your team and wandering through the broken down, too-dimly-lit innards of the ship. The adrenaline starts pumping through chase sequences and early combats, but you quickly get to grips with your basic inventory and guns.
Dead Space doesn’t stop there though and the developers immediately start going to lengths to work in new mechanics, abilities and ideas. The dev team want you to know that this isn’t just Resident Evil in space – there’s much more going on under the hood.
Just after you’ve got your head around the holographic interface that projects in front of the player (and won’t pause the game, be warned) the game starts throwing new abilities at you.
Issac soon gains the Statis and Kinesis abilities which allow him to slow-down and manipulate his environment respectively and are as useful in puzzle-solving as they are in combat. Statis in particular is handy for slowing down the faster enemies and giving yourself chance to draw a bead on those whip-cracking elbows.
Then, just as you’ve got these new powers under control the game starts playing around with the level design and giving you new environments. Dark and dreary corridors aren’t all Dead Space has to offer – there are zero-gravity areas, centrifuges and even spacewalks through the damaged sectors. You’ll have to watch your oxygen meter carefully in those latter areas too.
It may sound a lot to throw at players, but Dead Space is a detailed and perfectly paced game and there’s a lot to slow you down on the way and stop you being overwhelmed. As you explore you’ll find automated stores where you can buy supplies, workrooms where you can upgrade your weapons and suit and side-areas to search.
That said, we’ll admit that we spent most of our time deciphering the words that the absent crew have written all over the ship, which is an excellent touch. The remarks range from goodbyes and prayers to crazed ramblings and entire conversations about how the children have all been eaten. Chilling stuff made all the more effective by the fact that you never see a pen on the whole ship – what were they writing with?
However, the level design does fall down in a few places and the early stages of the game are definitely fraught with predictable objectives and NPC reliance. Hey, guess what – the engine is broken and we’re out of fuel and you’re the only one who can fix it even though you only need to pull three switches?
These are some of the weakest moments of the game on a whole and it’s a little disappointing to see that it gives you all these fun tools and environments to play through, then gives you same-old tasks and demands that you traverse each level twice. Returning to the tram at the start of each level may be good cardiovascular exercise in real life, but re-runs in games quickly get old.