Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dead Space - Mugger Recommends



 When it comes to video games, I have very particular tastes. If a game is rotten, then I tend to know it by intuition before I even have a play. Yet every so often a title sneaks up and surprises me, such as was the case with Deadspace. A self acclaimed sci-fi (action) survival-horror game, Deadspace is a competent 3rd person shooter with puzzle aspects. You are Isaac Clarke, a starship Engineer and field scientist. Isaac is sent to the USG ISHIMURA, a planet cracker, or mining starship, to repair what you believe is a communications error. At this point I should mention that Isaac is a silent-protagonist, so you are meant to project upon him. Having said that, during the lengthy intro of the game you get to watch a video transmission sent by Nicole (presumably Isaac's love interest) who is working as a chief medical officer on-board the Ishimura. When you arrive the ship is still in orbit of a alien planet rich with resources. Only a few minutes into docking procedures your shuttle hits a gravity field and smashes into one of the docking bays. The Ishimura is about the size of ten aircraft carriers, and the game wants you to know it. The graphical power of the PS3 definitely gets showcased here. The terrain is visceral dingy and lived in, as one might expect from an industrial starship. While I think it is safe to say that Deadspace was taking cues from Half-Life, the horror aspects of the game felt heavy inspiration from Resident Evil as well. Bloodstains and body-drag marks are smattered across the first room you enter and within a few minutes of system checks in a sealed room, one of your teammates gets sacked by a claw-monster. Then a chase sequence ensues, because you have no weapons!RAAAARGHH! I would not call Deadspace scary but there is definitely a sense of urgency. Later levels pit you against increasingly difficult necromorph types and in greater numbers.

 The game features some unique things like zero-gravity (Z/G) areas and puzzles and a combination of kenisis/stasis module puzzles. Some of them even have you go outside and walk the skin of the ship. If you accidentally jump up to the wrong spot then your grav boots will let go and you fly off into oblivion for a Darkstar-esque insta-death. Bouncing around quickly from surface to surface can prove to be very useful for survival in z/g battles with the (counter-intuitively) quicker three-legged necros. Mega-baby/tentacle monsters can climb walls and ceilings, spit acid, and pounce, so they can attack unexpectedly from any angle. Blob-walkers explode if you hit there massive one-pack, dealing area of effect damage and letting out a cluster of swarmers that will immediately try to kill you.
Excluding a couple of boss fights (thankfully there aren't too many) the basic encounters can get downright nasty. You need to seriously consider what weapons work best for what, and upgrade wisely. There is a nice selection of weapons to choose from, and each of them are pretty awesome in there own right (except the flamer). I think it closely resembles RE 1&2 in this respect, but even the super-weapon of this game (Contact Beam) is not an all-cure. Sometimes there are environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage, like busted gravity plates, open airlocks, moving engine parts, or explosive barrels. One thing you will always have is the kinesis module, which is a device that lets you pick up and fling items as weapons, and you always have this equipped so you can combo attacks with it and other weapons quickly. The stasis module functions as a point and shoot time-freeze device that can slow down most enemies and certain interactable puzzles. It has a limited number of uses, but careful aim can freeze a group of enemies, which you can then stomp to death.
Having smothered this game in praise I now need to get down to the grimy bits, and there are quite a few. First of all is the hideous inventory screen interface. Because the producers wanted to keep us immersed in the game they felt it necessary to have Isaac project his inventory with an "omni-tool"-like effect that is almost too small to see anything on. Also the game doesn't pause when you open your inventory, or when you are using a forge to upgrade weapons and armor. So if you happened to miss an enemy or you need to heal using a specific med-kit size, while in the thick of battle, then you better get ready to meet your maker. Of chief concern here is the clonky controls. Isaac handles like he's a drunk homeless man carrying a fully loaded shopping cart on his spine like a pack-mule. This could be the games attempt to define how first-gen exo-skeleton suits like Isaac's might actually handle, but it is not fun when you are being chased down a narrow winding corridor with twelve screaming-rabid necro-monsters nipping at your heels. The flamethrower feels like it got the short end of the stick in development, its upgrade node tree takes far too long to get its damage up to usefulness before the crimson-head zombies show up and make it pointless. It's great against swarmers and pods, but there is no trade-off for higher damage weapons like the line-gun or contact beam.

 The term Dead Space means : An actual or potential cavity remaining after the closure of an incision and not obliterated by operative technique. Essentially it's the space or gap left in the human body after something has been removed or worked on. This in many ways resembles the elements of Deadspace. The necromorphs were once human but had that stripped away by the "Markers" twisted power. Isaac had his lover, metaphorically, removed from him by her job on the ISHIMURA. I'm always reminded of that one sound-clip you encounter during the game, a creepy little girl singing twinkle-twinkle little star. I believe it's supposed to represent how any survivors have had their hope stripped away by the horror of what transpired here. This should be an indication of just how twisted the game is. It's heart-pounding, immersing, ingenious and exhilarating, at least the first few plays anyway. And you will want to play through it again because there are benefits to new-game+ mode such as the ability to use weapons and armor you earned from your last game, bump up one level of difficulty, and it gives you 10,000 credits and 10 power nodes to upgrade your stuff more (in case you didn't already max it out). There's also an awesome Spawn/Punisher -like powered armor you can buy from the store. Even after earning all the trophies I still play this game because it is sheer fun. There aren't many sci-fi titles out there that have put this much detail, craftsmanship, and care into their game. Unless, of course, we compare to Deadspace 2, but that's another review.

Immersion: 10/10
Story: 8/10
Characters: 6/10
Combat: 8/10
GUI: 5/10
Controls: 4/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Music: 9/10
Replay Value: 10/10
Rating: 80/100
Comparison: If you were to combine the entire Aliens series with Event horizon, throw in some power-armor and Gordon Freeman, then you would have Deadspace.