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Dead Space
  opened by paleface at 05:31:47 11/20/08  
  last modified by paleface at 05:42:48 11/20/08  
  paleface [sys=PS3; cat=Shooter_3D; loc=NA]
Suspense shooter set aboard a vast, damaged mining ship where your repair crew finds that something has gone horribly awry. The environments are the real star of the show here: the dark, clanging metal innards of the ship, sometimes lit by stark light from the nearby star, are beautiful renditions of a space setting, and the wrecked interior, with flickering lights, smoke, and creeping alien goo, is really cool.
Another really cool element is the game's HUD: there isn't one, except that comes up from in-game elements, and this displays as projected, floating 3D blue light constructs. They can even play back video in a floating window, and you can pan the game camera around it. Very neat. Similarly, just about everything you need to interact with has a color-coded glowing element, for easy spotting in darkened rooms and corridors. They do get in each other's way once in a while--some more intelligent sorting about which element is currently selected would have been nice--but the overall effect is immersive, and aesthetically pleasing.
The camera and movement, for that matter, feels very comfortable. The game uses the slightly over-the-right-shoulder 3rd-person perspective that I first saw in Resident Evil 4 (see entry 783). When you break into a run through the jagged corridors, the camera lurches just right, and when you spin to aim, it's always right there with you, even in zero-G areas where up and down are highly relative.
Zero-G and/or airless environments are another relatively unique feature of Dead Space, and the game puts them to sometimes breathtaking use, but really all too sporadically; there's so much more that could have been done with zero-G environments, since the control and movement here works so well: you just spring from one surface to another, and bingo, you're now oriented whichever way the surface you leapt to is oriented. It takes a little getting used to, but it's really fun. Combined with the sudden silence of an airless area--you only hear sounds impacting on your suit--these elements really make you feel far out. The first time I ran into both together--and I wish I hadn't screwed up and missed taping this on my second play-through--is amazing: you leap out onto a floating piece of wreckage, with the sun rising over the planetoid far below the mining ship. Brushing aside corpses and frozen body parts, you orient yourself, looking for the far airlock, when you spot a monster leaping silently across the airless gulf, right at you! Eeep!
But your air supply, even in an upgraded suit, is limited to just a couple minutes, and the airless/weightless areas are very small--physically impossibly so, in terms of how vaccuum or gravity would actually work--and often go to waste in quick activities. These include rather silly block puzzles, mostly controlled by your magical "kinesis" ray, which conveniently lets you shove objects around you; it's handy for picking up objects floating in a weightless area, but otherwise it comes off as really gimmicky, and the block puzzles are mostly annoying. Similarly, you get a magical "stasis" power that lets you slow things down: and wouldn't you know it, many puzzles require that you slow down an impossibly fast-moving thing, like a door slamming back and forth somehow. Whee. You can--and rarely, have to--use stasis to slow enemies down into a Max Payne-ish slow-mo, so you can blow their limbs off while watching them rotate slowly in midair, but this and kinesis both feel like interruptions of what is otherwise, usually, a tense action fest.
Supplies--particularly ammo--are very limited, and I was on the verge of running out through most of the game; only ran out once, and that was the one time I actually had to try using kinesis to throw things at monsters in order to kill them: bleh! But it shows that the balance, at least on regular difficulty, with a single weapon, on the first play-through, is pretty good. This broke for me in the last few levels, because I'd finally finished upgrading my suit, weapon, and equipment, and had scads of money to spend on ammo, finally, so things suddenly got a lot easier, which was nice, but also a bit of a let-down.
A number of the game's mechanics break down like this; I think they overthought things a bit. There are a half-dozen or so weapons, but upgrade points are limited, and carrying multiple weapons also spreads out the ammo types that spawn, so your choice is really to carry one very effective gun, or multiple weak guns without much ammo. Hmm... Also, the starting gun seems to have been worked on the most, and feels the best by far: it has a balanced firing speed and ammo capacity, and cuts limbs off the monsters oh-so-nicely; by comparison, most of the other weapons feel very limited in what they can do. So, really, it seems like the best way to go is to stick with the starting weapon through the entirety of the game; the other weapons are thus mostly a waste.
The levels and environments, while sometimes amazingly cool (three in particular spring to mind aside from the first small weightless/airless spot I already mentioned: 1) the high-ceilinged bridge, with struts and passing asteroids casting sharp shadows across the vast metal and plexiglass space, 2) a large weightless chamber where an asteroid, unconvincingly enough, is being mined: as part of a puzzle, you can jump up to the round asteroid's surface above you, and walk along the surface out into the vacuum--the puzzle is annoying as heck, but the spherical gravity twist between interior and space is so cool 3) the planetoid's surface, with the wind howling across the dusty twilit surface, a massive excavated chunk of which floats, tethered, far above (physics? hm)), are sometimes not so cool: a few of the levels, one of which you have to play through twice, are far too monotonous and mazy in tiny little rooms and hallways, a sharp downgrade in creativity from some of the other stages. The final levels rely too much on throwing lots of monsters at you at once: they lose the sneaky, suspenseful feeling of the earliest levels, and, for that matter, most of the later levels aren't as sharply lit or as nicely hung with dark shadows and creeping vapors as the first level; some of them definitely aren't as polished.
Dead Space sometimes throws "minigame" segments at you, such as repeated bits where you're grabbed by a giant arm and have to blow it apart, in a completely different aiming scheme, before it pulls you into its hole and you die, a few bits where you use the ship's guns, and a dumb "Zero-G Basketball" segment. These often kill you automatically if you don't meet their arbitrary requirement; in fact, they were mostly the only time in the game that I died, and this served to make them particularly frustrating. Ooh, and there's several parts where you have to run away from the same invulnerable monster, while being attacked by other monsters you have to kill, who look almost identical to the invulnerable monster. Grrr. I'd have much preferred that development had been spent on more monsters and awesome environments rather than these minigames, the block puzzles, stasis and kinesis, and the relatively worthless alternate weapons. Alas.
The story is pretty thorough for an action/suspense game, involving a number of twists and turns. The religious cult aspect gets old pretty fast, and some of the more dire levels require you to sit there while some scripted NPC preaches monotonously at you through a plexiglass interior window, conveniently just out of reach. The other main angles are trying to work with your surviving crew members, and trying to rescue your girlfriend, a member of the mining ship's crew. All of these stretch a bit thin by the end: the religious nutjobs are irritating, your crew has an improbably strung-out series of surprise goals for you to meet that require you criss-crossing the mining ship (some of the lamer levels are obvious key hunts: "hey, you need to get three access cards, they're scattered around the area"), and your girlfriend's behavior is a wee bit obvious. Character interaction, for that matter, is very limited and artificial: your own character never talks in response to people talking to him, and in the rare instances where you're actually face-to-face with someone, rather than hearing them over the radio, they don't look directly at you, and simply play what is very obviously a scripted dialogue.
Again, less of those elements might have been better. I'd love to see the makers of this game do another one, but sharpen their focus, paring away the gimmick elements, and making an entire game of the gripping action and amazing environments seen in spots throughout Dead Space. I enjoyed my first play-through of Dead Space quite a bit, but even with the game+ feature, where you get to restart with all your gear, plus access to a more powerful suit, I don't find myself really tempted to play through again, because without the suspense and surprise of the first play-through, those dull spots and irritating gameplay bits make it just un-fun enough. But dang it, the spots that work really do make you feel like you're playing Aliens or something.
I should mention that Dead Space is one of the most technically sound full PS3 games I've played. It doesn't require installing anything to hard drive, and load times are fast, and masked very well by door opening and elevator travel times, except on one of the later levels that was just far more poorly designed that the rest of the game. Although the graphics are only 720 and could use more anti-aliasing, they look very detailed, and the framerate is nearly always quite good. The monster AI is very simple, but I only encountered two very minor instances of it actually failing and getting stuck. I encountered no crashes, hitches, or glitched saves. If you die and haven't saved recently, the game restarts you somewhere that's usually just seconds or so away from where you bought it. Very well done.

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