Previews

Dead Space

Will Porter plays a game that accurately depicts the misery of being John Tracey on Thunderbird Five

My brain is rarely capable of absorbing new concepts, which is just as well since the field I work in is never more comfortable than when rehashing old ideas in ever shinier guises.

So you can imagine just how flooded with endorphins my recognition-neurons became when I had my first play of Dead Space - a blatant steal from more science-fiction staples and videogame masterclasses than can be physically comprehended.

EA have clearly been shamefully stealing furtive glances over the shoulders of their peers before furiously scribbling borrowed ideas into their code, but the end result is clever, engaging and wonderfully scary.

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So, are you ready for an entire hands-on report based entirely on increasingly wavering comparisons? You are? Then let's go!

DÉJÀ DEAD
Dead Space is a bit like Event Horizon, placing you on a ship, the USG Ishimura, that's currently floating dead in space, its crew apparently deceased and its engines offline.

As for how it plays, well the initial touchstone here is Resident Evil 4, with its over-the-shoulder camera, that same inexorably slow turning circle as you bring a foe into your sights and some brilliantly unexpected scripted sequences when something grabs hold of your leg/neck/face and refuses to let go.

It's the sort of game that has you clunking through darkened corridors searching for ammo in lockers before entering a decontamination chamber in which everything proceeds smoothly until the noises of pipes banging, steam hissing and strobed lighting begins to warn of something awry.

Then, all of a sudden, you're surrounded by red, jagged, fleshy creations - half of which you can't make out as they scuttle over the opposite wall, and the other half are lurking behind a grille two feet behind you. I know we've been here before, but my how we love it.

Dead Space is also a bit like Red Dwarf. Its ship isn't a million miles away from the Jupiter Mining Corporation's finest you see, a 'planetcracker' vessel that carves out city-sized lumps of rock from the surfaces of barren worlds and rips out the more profitable bits.

Also, as in Red Dwarf, the protagonist isn't an Ace Rimmer space hero - he's an engineer (although presumably one ranked higher than third class and rarely called out to unblock chicken soup nozzles).

Named Isaac Clarke, decked out in a clunky metal suit and armed only with engineering tools (that thankfully are generally of the 'slice and dice' mentality) he's very much alone - apart from, of course, the alien host and a mining crew thought dead but actually warped beyond all recognition.

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You see, much like in Pitch Black, the planet the Ishimura chose to munch upon wasn't as barren as it first appeared. Tired of the comparisons yet? Well sit tight, as we've barely begun.

A BIT LIKE...
Our fifth comparison, as we move onto the extra-terrestrial cast members while avoiding the overwhelmingly obvious influence of Aliens, is The Thing - in both visuals and behaviour.

You see, it's the fact that Dead Space's Necromorph are so unpredictable in their biology - so tentacle packed, so scuttly and so adept at crawling over ceilings - that it's impossible to work out where their weak spots are. Combat works through a system that EA call 'strategic dismemberment', but I call 'lopping bits off them with laser wedges until they stop clawing at your face'.

Being an engineer your tools are like laser-enhanced versions of the cheese wires and bacon cutters you'll find behind a Tesco deli counter - and as an array of teeth and bile scuttles towards you it's up to you to take aim with three Predator-style lights and chop off legs, heads, toes and nadgers until all that's left is a pile of limbs and a cloud of arterial spray.

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