Titles created with the intention of inducing a bit of a stink in your boxers certainly aren’t anything new. Every branch of this phenomena known as entertainment has been jam packed with pieces knocked up with almost the sole intention to scare you witless.
And Dead Space, initially at least, seems to be just another tacked on the end of this particularly long line. It’s set in space. It involves lost contact. It sends you out on your own after the first few minutes of play. It features lots of gruesome monsters. And it’s really quite dark. So far, so standard.
Your character, Isaac Clarke (presumably named after the seminal science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke) is part of a crew approaching the hulking ship, the Planet Cracker USG Ishimura. But for Clarke this is anything but routine. He receives a cryptic message from one Nicola Brennan, an officer aboard the Ishimura as they approach the strangely silent ship. And for Clarke he needs to find out just what’s going on.
Immediately things go pear shaped, and Clarke is forced far away from his team, deeper into the depths of the Ishimura. What proceeds is the kind of search and collect title we’ve all seen a thousand times before, complete with unusual monsters.
Bit differences start to make themselves known only a half hour in. As Clarke is anything but one au fait with weaponry, you won’t find yourselves in possession of the standard kinds of guns you expect from all these action/adventure style of titles. Instead you’ll wield mining instruments you pick up along the way.
The way you take out the monsters - grotesquely deformed humanoid-esque creatures presumably mutated from the Ishimura's original crew - is a little different too. Information left from crew members, from voice recordings through to crude sentences written on walls in blood, gives hints that the usual "aim for the head" style of gaming won’t work for you here.
Dismemberment is the way to go, with each variation of monster having their own plus and minus points. For most, blasting off the legs is the way to go, leaving you able to slowly make sure that they’re firmly dead. But be sure to make certain that they’re long gone, as each will happily mutate and sneak up behind you and snatch away chunks of your tiny health bar.
Another unusual Dead Space phenomenon is the lack of traditional display on screen with regards to your ammo and health. It’s all about the visual clues, from the meter built in to Clark’s suit spine, through to readouts on your weapons themselves. And if you’re ever a bit lost and don’t want to head out to the map - the game wont pause in this situation, so you’ll get no respite - you just need to click the right analogue stick and Clarke will beam a luminous line along the ground pointing you in the right direction for a few seconds.
The lack of HUD only helps maintain Dead Space’s incredible sense of atmosphere. It’s certainly not the scariest game out there (though it certainly does get more terrifying as you progress through the 12 chapters on offer) but it packs a real sense of being. Every second you play you’ll be sat right on the edge of your seat, peering into the blackness and living the world that Clarke finds himself in.
The cracking visuals certainly don’t hinder matters either. Though screenshots look beautiful enough, to see the game in motion is to allow a real treat for the eyes. Everything from the glowing lights of Clarke’s suit, through to the fantastic animation of your enemies is done to the typical high EA standard. Special mention needs to go to the aural experience too, particularly when in a vacuum with its muffled effects.
It might not be anything new for the genre, but the stunning application sends it right to the top of the genre.
In almost every way this is pretty much the best a horror title has to offer, with only the slightly lower standard of scares compared to Silent Hill as a true minus point. Certainly one to buy.