A distress call. A gigantic space ship that excavates dead planets for minerals, and its crew of 1,000 souls, are silent. Even before Isaac Clarke steps onto the ship to investigate what's happened, the situation's grim.
Once he arrives things are already knee-deep in shit. The planet cracker ship has excavated something genuinely evil, that mutates human beings into disgusting, shambling necromorphs, and has the potential to infect passing spaceships. And from there, the rest of the human race.
"When you're creating sci-fi, you've got the big guys like Alien, and you don't want to look like them. The idea was to not be like them, and the inspiration was to try and make the scariest game possible," intones Glen Schofield, executive producer of Dead Space.
"What I really wanted to make was a sci-fi/horror game. We've had horror games, we've had sci-fi games, but nobody's put the two together.
The closest I can think of - as far as sci-fi/horror even goes - was the original Alien, and that scared the crap out of me."
Dead Space definitely has the feeling of Alien - the horrible claustrophobia, Isaac's low-level, hoarse breathing as he tramps around the corridors of the planet cracker with no enemies in sight, but listening to the sounds of their existence echoing along the metal corridors of the ship.
Dead And Lovely
The big feature of Dead Space is dismembering the disgusting-looking necromorphs, effectively - and in some cases literally - disarming them. The key is that each creature reacts very differently to losing a limb, and, worse still, doesn't give up even if it loses a major part of its anatomy.
For example, slicers have gigantic claws coming out of their abdomens that they swing at you with a degree of sensibility. As I stepped forward and shot off one of their heads, the monster became a whirling dervish of anger, swinging wildly, the AI still having a rough idea of where I was.
I came close to panic - I'd been trained that the headshot was the coup de grāce, but now it was a tactical faux pas that nearly gave me a fatal haircut.
"When we said dismemberment was a big key, we mean it adds another dimension to the game. All of a sudden, you cut off a thing's legs, and now you need a whole animation set for crawling.
What if you cut off one leg and one arm? Now you need one for that, too. When we integrated it, it was a huge technological and aesthetic challenge - if we were gonna bite this off, we were gonna do it right," nods an enthusiastic Schofield.
Redwood have done this bit right - the most horrifying experience in the game being to find yourself cornered by monstrosities from hell's most repugnant orifices, and then watching these creatures continue to advance towards you, even as you slice limbs and heads from their cadaverous forms.
"For some enemies we say 'Try and dismember him, see what happens,' but there are some that we say 'You better dismember him, or you're going to be in real trouble," adds Schofield.
"You'll even find some that you'll dismember and say 'Oh shit, I shouldn't have done that,' because you don't have the right weapon to deal with the new AI routine."
Dead Space is looking like it could be a horror classic, as even in the early build we've played, the game has a frightening, claustrophobic and almost realistic feel to it.
The setting is believable with excellent use of ambient sound effects, such as the muffling of noise when Isaac has to use earplugs near an otherwise deafeningly loud reactor.