I didn't hear much about Dead Space prior to its release. This ended up being a good thing because I was so impressed by it. As a fan of the survival horror genre, it's always great to experience a new twist of the genre. Dead Space provides that twist because it really make use of its sci-fi setting. Too many times a game takes place in the future on a ship but does nothing special to show that it's truly in space. Dead Space is a game that constantly shows you that you are in space, and you will be put in situations that could only happen in outer space.
The story of Dead Space is somewhat overused in the sci-fi genre. The USG Ishimura, a huge starship, is in distress and your character, an engineer named Isaac Clarke, is part of a group sent to repair the ship. As expected, the ship's crew is dead and all the only things "living" are the Necromorphs. Similar to the Flood in the Halo series, the Necromorphs come in different shapes and sizes varying in deadliness and intelligence. Our hero, Isaac Clarke, is a silent protagonist which is something you don't see much of lately. Even with his silence, a story develops around him and his ex-girlfriend who was stationed on the USG Ishimura. While it starts off very traditional, find out what happened, the explanation is not completely scientific. There's a hint of psychological horror mixed in with the traditional jumpy scary stuff.
Isaac, himself, is a big part of the well tuned gameplay. With his space suit called "RIG" that looks like some kind of medieval suit of armor Isaac is one tough engineer. As expected, he can carry several weapons at once with each weapon specializing in different kinds of attacks, as well as include a secondary attack to give you more variety with your attacks. Following the latest trend, the shooting is done in an over the shoulder view. The difference from other games is that all the info that important to the player (life, ammo, other stats) is on the actual suit. This keeps the screen clear of any type of HUD. The suit also makes use of other abilities that are kind of strange for a sci-fi game. One ability, called Stasis, allows Isaac to slow down an object, typically to slow it down just enough to pass a dangerous object safely. There's also ability that lets you move around certain items and can even act as a weapon throwing body parts at the enemy. Throughout the game, you can use the ship's automated store to buy new weapons, ammo, items and upgrades to your RIG. There are also benches that allow you to upgrade your weapons and more upgrades to the RIG if you have power nodes that can be found or bought.
I mentioned it earlier about body parts, and you'll see a lot of body parts around. Enemies can be picked apart one appendage at a time. Ideal strategy to take down an enemy efficiently is to shoot of the legs and while the enemy is crawling towards you, a few more shots to the head and its dead. If you go head on with the enemy, it'll take more time and more ammo. Once an enemy is finally dead, believe me you will be fooled, then you can have some fun and do a foot stomp that will make some body parts fly. The ship itself makes for some unique areas where you can find yourself in zero-G and on the outside of the ship. In zero-G, you have to make your way around to specific spots by jumping around while weightless. It's these zero-G rooms that remind you that floating dead bodies adds to the creepiness of the game. In other areas, Isaac will have to move while on the outside of the ship or walk through parts of the ship that have gaping holes causing a vacuum. If you're in these areas, a timer will start on Isaac's armor counting down how much air is left. You can add more air via cans of air or do permanent upgrades to your air meter on your RIG via the bench.
To say Dead Space is a great looking game is an understatement. While the enemies and some of the environments are pretty standard, there are several areas where it really excels at. As expected in a survival horror game, shadows are a big deal. Dead Space does some incredible work with shadows whether they are very subtle additions to a room, or perfectly paced patches of light that make a room even more eerie. Next, and probably most important to a sci-fi game, is how they portray space. One room in particular made me pause when you find yourself in a bridge type area while asteroids are flying around. It was amazing to just look at each asteroid float on by and seeing it done in such an almost natural state that you're reminded how awe-inspiring space really is. Finally, there are points in the game where Isaac will have to work on parts of the USG Ishimura. In these spots in the ship, you'll be impressed by the parts of these ships in both their size and detail. One place in the ship will shoot these huge flames and it just looks excellent and intimidating. If there is one letdown to the graphics is the monsters. While they're gruesome sites, they lack a particular detail to them that separates them from other games. In a way, they seem to be a blend of the Flood in the Halo series and some of monsters in the Silent Hill series.
When it comes to the audio, the game excels in probably the most unlikely aspect of the game. The sound effects are just incredible. The sounds of the ship are haunting, as expected, and they will supply some scares. Isaac, himself, provides some sounds effects whenever he runs out of air or low on health adding to the experience. Surprisingly, the time when I was most impressed by the audio was when there was none. As I've mentioned earlier, there are times when you are in a vacuum within the ship or outside of the ship. At this time, just like it should, there is no sound. You can be shooting away but there's nothing. The idea to include this detail within the game really impressed me. The scores and voice actors are pretty standard, not going above the norm of a game in the same genre.
The game has a good playing time for a survival horror game, 15+ hours. After you beat it, you'll unlock some items and a new difficulty. Not only that, but you'll be able to do a "New Game+", which is playing the game again with your upgrades that you beat the game with. This allows you to not worry early on since it'll be a breeze, and focus on exploring more. A weird problem is that using this New Game+ option does not let you change the difficulty. So if you try the new found difficulty, you'll have to start from scratch, which makes sense but it would have been nice to have the change.
Saying that Dead Space was a great surprise to me doesn't do this game justice. Going in with no expectation, I was pleasantly surprised on how great this game is. What I can't get enough of is how the developers focused on giving you a true sci-fi survival horror experience. They didn't just put you and some zombies on a space ship. They reminded you time and time again that you are in space and show you how it should be if you were in space on a ship with some zombies on it.