Wolfman Walt's Blog

Posted on Oct 24th 2008 at 03:57:31 AM by (Wolfman Walt)
Posted under Week Old Reviews, Dead Space, Reviews, Wolfman Walt, EA, Week Old, Survival Horror

In space no one can hear you scream, unless MJ and Janet are responsible, in which case no one wanted to hear "Scream". Of course that doesn't really help most of us that are stuck in our living rooms on a regular basis playing horror games. I'm pretty sure everyone in my family knows I scream like a little girl thanks to Silent Hill 2. Dead Space isn't really improving things.

Dead Space, designed by EA Redwood Shores, is a new intellectual property from EA, a company that used to be considered the most vile and unoriginal collection of individuals since John Romero's ego took over his soul. With their buying up every single development house known to mankind and pumping out Maddens like it was going out of style they easily qualify as atleast a stereotypical Captain Planet villian. Then they release a string of good new properties that I enjoyed such as Army of Two, no matter how criminally short it was, Crysis, and most importantly Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Then Activision came along and proved to be worse than Julian Sands as the Warlock and anything EA has mustered for upsetting me. Then EA released Dead Space a week ago.

Dead Space takes place in the far future where you take the role of Isaac Clarke, deaf mute extraordinaire. Oh, he's also an engineer apparently. I guess for science fiction games, engineer is the new default "bad ass" class. I should have gone to MIT to raise my street cred, I guess. So as Isaac, you and your trusty crew of 2 actual people and 2 redshirts go to the USG Ishimura to fix some problems they were reporting. Things quickly spiral out of control when you find out those problems aren't so much mechanical in nature as much as a "Nature's Human Wood Chippers Loose on the Ship" problem. In short, your ship is destroyed and you and your two still living cohorts who you'll mostly be seeing via mysterious helmet podcast must figure out what the hell is going on and how to get off the ship without more holes in your body than necessary. The storyline presents itself well enough through a variety of found video logs, audio logs, and text logs about and from the crew who had to suffer before you got there and proves to be intriguing enough to keep you interested. Unfortunately, that leads to the biggest gripe about this game I have. The game tries to present itself realistically with having even the inventory as a holographic image presented through Isaac's helmet. Think Star Wars when R2-D2 is displaying the message from Leia to Obi Wan and you have the exact idea as to how every bit of story info is displayed, along with your inventory and your map. The problem with this however is you are pretty much required to have an HD TV to read ANYTHING because the text is so tiny that I swear the same evil person who decided to make Dead Rising's text microscopic got a job for EA. I bet he's an Activision plant. The game really needs the option to be able to be displayed on Non-HD TVs like Metal Gear Solid 4 had. The only reason I know where to go some of the time is because of a handy function that you can use which displays a laser on the ground, pointing you where you have to go next.

The game in general definitely has a very Resident Evil vibe to it and probably owes more than its fair share of laurels to Resident Evil 4. In fact, if you liked Resident Evil 4 to any amount, why are you still reading this? This game is what you want and shares mostly identical gameplay. The control handles the same and has a very similar setup for buttons with a few minor changes and added gizmos. The viewpoint is almost identical, although if you asked me it sometimes felt like you were too zoomed in on your character when you aimed your weapon. It doesn't hinder the game that much, but because of the way you're pulled in on Isaac, you have very little idea what is directly left of him as well as anything that is any distance behind him. On the flip side, an improvement over RE4 is that the enemies only drop ammo for guns you currently have in your inventory. So if there's a gun you never use or don't like, unless you find rounds for it that are statically placed in the environment, you never are forced to use them because you'll find ammo for the weapons that fit your preference. Each weapon, ability, as well as your armor are all upgradeable as well, which further puts this over Resident Evil 4.

The other game this one owes its fair share of credit towards in terms of setting? Doom, especially Doom 3. Actually, now that I think about it, Dead Space is like the result of some catastrophic mating ritual between the two franchises, but with a better presentation. First improvement over Doom? They made guns with flashlights. Sure, they're not super powerful flashlights which add to the sort of suspense that exists within the game, but at the same time it doesn't defy all logic of "Durrrrr how do I hold flashlight and pistol in hands at same time?" So while it changes up some of the real flaws I found in Doom 3, it keeps what made Doom 3 as thrilling as it was. The claustrophobia found in being in the confined corridors and spaces of the Ishimura really add to the atmosphere as you never know what will be around the next corner or behind you. I say behind you because the enemies, called Necromorphs in a sort of nod towards Aliens; which is another franchise that Dead Space owes a lot of credit to, use air ducts which creates a sense of never knowing what will show up.

The Necromorphs also come with a warning label: "Disassembly required." Disassembly is a very important game mechanic within Dead Space and I would say is it's defining contribution. Enemies can't simply be killed, they have to be taken apart limb from limb because they don't like to stay down. This usually adds some strategy in the mix of fighting, since you have to strategically place your shots right, especially when dealing with multiple opponents who are running at you. Shooting away the legs makes them less mobile, shooting away arms/claws/tentacles makes them less dangerous and Japan a safer place. Shooting them in the head slows them down a bit and disorients them, but doesn't necessarily stop them. This sort of "pick your shots" is one of the best parts of combat and part of what makes Dead Space such a solid title as an action survival horror hybrid.

There's not really much more you can complain about. I suppose you can say that some of the puzzles are hard or defy some of the earlier explained game mechanics, but for the most part I found them pretty even. One example of the aforementioned "hard" puzzles is one where there's a centrifuge going around in a circular room with various indents in the wall. Your job is to escape it while your oxygen level ticks down. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the indents were there as they're not readily visible and thought I had to use an earlier presented mechanic within the game that allows you to slow down objects and enemies. You use it to slow down malfunction doors and solve other puzzles for instance and the mechanic was still pretty fresh so I figured I'd use it to slow the centrifuge down long enough for me to run to the corridor I needed to go before my oxygen ran out. So I blast the centrifuge with the power which had no reaction and die. So I figure that maybe I didn't hit it well enough and through random luck spotted the indent. That's the reason I call them "hard" puzzles. They're not actually hard, you just can't over think things.

Other nitpick isn't really a gameplay affecting mechanic, as much as something that amuses me. You're presented a variety of weapons, of which you can equip 4 of them, each assigned to a different digital pad direction. When you switch weapons, Isaac kinda lowers his right arm and the weapon he was holding disappears while whatever you selected just poofs into place. Where did the gun he was just holding go? Where the hell did that huge assault rifle come from? Never explained. This is really only a nitpick because everything else is presented to realistically. Your map, inventory, etc are all from holograms from your suit, your life bar is actually apart of the suit, your ammo count is displayed on your weapon similar to the LED count in Aliens. So why go through all this trouble for immersion and then ignore something you're gonna be doing quite a lot as you juggle your ammo count between weapons? It just seems like something that could have been easily fixed that doesn't really detract from actual gameplay but just kinda annoys me when the BFG appears magically from your crotch.

Overall though, nitpicking aside, Dead Space is definitely the best EA console game I've played this season and should be a welcomed addition to even casual survival horror fans. I recommend it and feel that it's one of the few games that the media hasn't over-hyped to the extreme. On the other hand, because this one is gonna be a success and it is EA we're dealing with, let the product milking begin. Electronic Arts may be back in my good graces, but man does their franchise milkage extend way beyond what should be acceptable. Now if you excuse me, I must go buy Isaac's helmet off of ebay so when I watch the Dead Space live action movie alongside the animated movie, I can feel at home in my room that is wallpapered with Dead Space comics.

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How about a score (out of 10)?

Otherwise, a very good review. Thanks. Cool
@phoenix1967: Scoring games is a very backwards practice in my opinion. It also leads to people demanding some games get a 10/10 when there can be no such thing as a 10/10 as that'd be a perfect game. Trust me, a game that's gonna get 10 out of 10's is coming up and I'm just waiting to rip into it like no other.

Otherwise, you're welcome. Hope you found it insightful.
Sounds like you're arleady going into that review with a preconceived bias. Not a good thing for a critic, imo.

Just my $.02.

@phoenix1967: Preconception would imply I haven't already played it.
So are you saying that the game is Fallout 3 and that you've already played it? Or is it something else?
@phoenix1967: Let me explain abit more, I suppose so I can nip it in the bud.

Preconceived Bias would mean I would hate it no matter what it was, but that's only partly true. I hate it because it's a bad product that is overhyped and that receives its scores based on demands put out by the company that made it for reviewers. I'll explain each and every step as to why I came to the conclusion that I do, if you hadn't noticed, I don't just go "THIS IS A BAD GAME, IT LACKS TITTIES, 1 OUT OF 5." I deconstruct and criticize things on points that I feel are important. The game in question has alot of flaws, of which: bad AI, over crowded spaces, a function that is completely broken, and a whole gamut of things. This game is currently getting and will continue to get perfect scores. That isn't right. That's also amongst the reasons I don't give scores. I expect people to READ the review and get a sense of what I'm talking about.

The other reason? Because lets say I give Dead Space an 8. Which is a very respectable score, that's above average in any grading system outside of the video game review industry. Now lets say I give Monkey Island an 8 as well. Those games are completely different, enjoyed on a completely different level, and both would have strengths and weaknesses can I feel can't be accurately described in a scoring system that reduces a complicated review to rating a game 1 out of 10.  So why should I compare two things that shouldn't really be compared on the same scale? I shouldn't. Read the review and in your head imagine the score I'm giving it, I'm pretty blatant about how I feel about a game and in the last paragraph I normally will describe wether I consider it a buy, a rent, a pass, etc. If it wasn't clear, Dead Space was a buy.

Now then, lets stick to the subject of this review, shall we?

P.S. I'd never give Monkey Island an 8 =(
Nice review, I'll definitely be checking this shiz out.

@Wolfman Walt:
Super Metroid.

But... yeah I agree with the whole scoring system being stupid. Everyone scores a game differently. When I think of average I think of a 6 or 5.5. Other people think anything lower than an 8 is awful. And some people think an 8.8 is a sign of the apocalypse.
@Shimra: Or even a 9 if you're a Sony fanboy going apeshit over EuroGamer's LittleBigPlanet review.
@Tondog: That's because Eurogamer tends to have some sort of bizzaro standard. Halo 3 got a 10, MGS 4 got an 8. What? Sorry, just kinda bizzaro in my mind. 
Very good review, which definately doesn't need a score to explain itself.
@Tondog: Yeah I know what you mean. The 8.8 in my post was an allusion to Twilight Princess getting an 8.8 from Gamespot. The uproar was so ridiculous it got to the point where people were sending the reviewer death threats. Funny thing is... the game didn't even come out yet so the fans had no idea if the review was just or not.
AG.RU, the awesomest PC games site, gave Dead Space a 88/100 and an "Our Choice" stamp; which, by that site's standards, is crazy good. AG very rarely gives out scores higher than 90 (only three so far in 2008 out of 230 games reviewed), and does not seem affected by western press, which is nice. The game sounds like fun.

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