Lots of care has been poured into the Ishimura's design, and despite the action taking place almost entirely on one ship you're never left pining for a change of scenery. The Ishimura's segregated into various decks and labs, each with a distinct palette. Even when you return to a previous area you won't feel safe. The first fight through the med labs was a fluorescent-tubed, blood-drenched nightmare, but the return visit forces you to rely on almost torchlight alone before hurrying you along with wave after wave of disaster.
Exploring or even re-exploring the decks is a nail-biting experience, driven forward by the film-worthy script and inspired setting. It's Rapture in space: every bit as disturbing, just as meticulously designed and easily as believable.
That's not to say the Ishimura is perfect. Astonishingly for a horror game there's an absolute abundance of save locations and stores littered around the ship, and because you're never far from the next save point the darkened corners aren't as terrifying as they could have been. This naivety is to be expected from the team whose previous credits include The Godfather, The Simpsons Game and Sims Pets, but it's forgivable - Dead Space perfects so many crucial elements that this one oversight is largely insignificant. If you want a more tense experience just stick on Impossible mode which is unlocked after the first completion, and refrain from using the 'safe' rooms (though you'll discover these are far less safe than you'd expect) as much as possible. Just make sure your first run through is on hard - regardless of how bad you think you are.
For such a copy-heavy game it's incredible to see so much originality shining through. We just wish there was more of it. Ten hours, although far shorter than Resi's weighty mission, is still a sizeable chunk of gaming. But the lack of any Mercenaries-style extras coupled with forgiving difficulty settings don't help to prolong the experience. The indestructible Nemesis/Regenerator boss is the scariest beast we've ever faced on the console simply because it can't be stopped, but its relentless pursuit of Isaac is ultimately too short-lived. And the Zero G environments - Dead Space's party piece - make up far less of the game than the 33% executive producer Glen Scofield once claimed. Why aren't there more Zero G puzzles? More situations where we need to run away from invincible horrors instead of standing our ground, using stasis and slicing through the crowd? Dead Space doesn't quite give its strengths as much screen time as they fully deserved, and often falls back onto the standard staple action of Resident Evil 4.
But what action to fall back on. The very fact that we wish Dead Space included more of its original features and less content pulled from the last generation's greatest game speaks volumes for the quality on show. By rigidly copying Resi's model and only ever daring to step outside the template a handful of times Dead Space isn't quite as accomplished as Capcom's classic, but its quest to reach for the stars should still be viewed as proof that EA's recent ambition to produce new IP's is the company's greatest decision in years.
Isaac almost stands shoulder to shoulder with Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield; slightly singed and worse for wear, we admit, but among such lofty company second place is nothing to be ashamed of. Altman be praised.
Dead Space could eventually be a series to topple the mighty Resident Evil. Capcom beware...
- As sickening as they come
- Inspired zero G gameplay
- Near-perfect Resi 4 clone