Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dead Space

My experience with Dead Space has come much later than most others. However, it seems that an upcoming sequel to Visceral Game's hottest IP has given me the best of opportunities to play this game to keep the memories fresher in my head as a lead-in. And trust me, these memories will stay fresh for a good while after this experience.

The story follows the Engineer Isaac Clarke onboard the USG Ishimura as he and his crewmates, Hammond and Kendra, investigate the lack of contact between Earth and the shuttle. On the way over, however, his ship is struck by an unknown object and forces his crew to land inside the Ishimura. What happens next quickly goes from a simple investigation to tragedy as Isaac is attacked by an alien species known as the Necromorphs. His exploration of the shuttle leads him down a darkly twisting path as he attempts to unravel a greater mystery beyond what he can comprehend at the time. This, combined with the mysterious presence of his girlfriend Nicole, make for one of the most terrifying experiences ever put in a video game.

As an engineer, Isaac's weapons are mostly repurposed mining tools, such as the iconic Plasma Cutter. This is your default weapon, and it will quickly become your new best friend. Other weapons include the Line Gun, which fires a wide horizontal beam, the Ripper, which fires saw blades, a Flamethrower, and a few others. These weapons also feature a Secondary Firing Mode that can come in handy, such as switching the orientation of the Plasma Cutter's beam or firing mines from the Line Gun. However, Isaac's RIG Suit only has so much room for the necessities, including ammo, health and air packs, and stasis modules. On top of this, you can only carry up to four weapons, so it is essential to make sure that you are carrying the weapons you think will be the most effective on your journey.

The gunplay is not focused on blind shooting, but rather strategic dismemberment. While unlearning the headshot, which will only make the Necromorphs attack in a blind rage, you will need to figure out the more effective places to dismember an enemy for them to actually die. For instance, one enemy type can sprout three tentacles to fire projectiles. Shooting them off will quickly kill this type of enemy, as well as a similar type that is spawned from a Necromorph imprisoned on the walls. The most common enemies can be killed by shooting off their arms or legs, but the more dangerous ones have specific places where shooting them will do more harm than good, such as the not so happy outcome of shooting a pregnant Necromorph in the stomach. Isaac is aided by the ability to slow down enemies with Stasis, allowing you to shoot with more precision or even skillfully get rid of a specific enemy type. While shooting, you will also need to avoid Gravity Panels introduced later in the game, which will kill you if you don't tread with caution.

The gameplay also enhances the experience by featuring no HUD whatsoever. Isaac's health is represented on the spine of his suit and the amount of ammo you have remaining is displayed above each gun. You can also bring up a menu from your suit to display your inventory, map, or information you have collected via text or audio. However, you can still be attacked while accessing the menu, so you need to watch when you do it. I liked this feature, as any kind of bar or indicator on the borders of the screen would keep you less focused on the action at hand.

You can also find Power Nodes in the environment or buy them from the store to upgrade your weapons or suit at workbenches. Once you commit a node to a circuit onscreen, you cannot move or remove it. In addition, nodes can also unlock doors to storage rooms, so it is very important to figure out how you want to use your nodes. Schematics of weapons, pack sizes, and RIG levels can be found as well, so it is important to keep track of them until you find another store. In addition, you can bring up a navigation beam on the ground to find your next destination. This is good for figuring out exactly where you need to go so you don't get lost. I will admit that I depended on this beam a lot, but only in the darkest of places.

Speaking of dark places, the corridors of the Ishimura are cramped and darkly lit, making it all the more shocking when a Necromorph decides to pop out of nowhere and attack you. There are also some Zero-G segments where you can be attacked by a Necromorph from virtually anywhere, as well as some moments where you will have to advance through the vacuum of space, where there is almost no sound at all, making sudden encounters more frigthening. The game also features very foreboding architecture in the Ishimura's air ducts. Necromorphs spawn out of these periodically, which could sometimes make the times you are attacked predictable. However, when you are low on health or ammo, or both, you'll become more wary of the encounters in your frantic search for supplies, as well as more grateful for the bounty your enemies may drop. The atmosphere of the game is only enhanced by the perfectly executed score, although the musical cues can also give away an attack on you.

My time on the Ishimura was one of the more frightening experiences I had ever come across on a disk. While I only have minor issues with this game, I feel that Visceral managed to achieve their goal of creating the scariest game ever made. I would normally steer away from horror games, but I found myself enjoying this game as I continued to play it. I loved how the setting was well designed and supplemented by appropriate music, and the twist ending left me with questions that I'm waiting to find the answers for in the sequel. I can confidently recommend this to any fan of horror games or shooter veterans willing to push their willpower to the limit. Otherwise, this is a game worth checking out if you have any sort of interest in it.

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