Resident Evil 4 has long been hailed the jewel in survival horror's thorny crown. No one has really come close to jostling Capcom's T-Virus infected romp through Eastern Europe from its top spot since it arrived back in 2005. That is until now, of course.
Dead Space sees EA taking small steps forward into grown-up, adult, original IPs that don't involve sequels or titles based on existing mega-properties. It's a good move. This is bold, bleak gaming from the haunting opening credits to the pulse pounding finish that takes you to the outer reaches of space and into the mouth of madness.
Stunningly detailed, expertly paced and lavishly slaved over by Glen Schofield and his crew at EA Redwood, Dead Space should be classed as one of the finest looking and intelligently crafted games in many a moon; a true testament to EA's plan to shed industry-old preconceptions and start building new bridges with original and deeply innovative material.
The story so far
In case you've been hunkered under a rock for the past year let me recap. You are Isaac Clarke (named after sci-fi legends Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke), a mining engineer sent in to repair a city-sized spaceship called the Ishimura, a planet-cracker stranded out in the far reaches of the starry black abyss - its entire crew vanished without trace.
Until now. Once you arrive on deck you soon find out that you're not alone. The Ishimura's crew have not disappeared; they've been transformed into twisted, monstrous versions of their former selves called Necromorphs. It seems that a strange artefact or Marker dug up on the mysterious planet below and brought onboard the ship has unleashed an evil force which has visited an unholy vengeance upon them.
The only way to cleanse the Ishimura of these skin-sucking shadow lurkers is through dismemberment - Dead Space's core shooting mechanic. EA Redwood haven't held back on one single sliver of crimson slime, this is a guts 'n' gore-filled rollercoaster ride in a spacesuit (Why hasn't anyone thought of this up until now?) that will have you ducking for cover and scrambling for the light switch.
Don't! Stomping through the Ishimura's dank, gore- stained corridors with the lights out is a superbly choreographed nerve-shredding gaming experience and a real testament to Redwood's understanding of how horror functions within the sphere of videogames while at the same time blending classic elements borrowed from film and literature. Dead Space dazzlingly hits all the right notes at all the right moments, jolting you from your seat even though you knew it was coming.
Unmistakably filmic in its approach to atmosphere with a huge debt owed to Ridley Scott's Alien (look out for Redwood's nod to the face hugger nestled in there) and Paul Anderson's Event Horizon, there's a tightly woven story at work here that extends far beyond the reaches of the videogame realm into both comics - with Anthony Johnson and Ben Templesmith at the helm - and an animated movie just released, penned by comic veterans Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
It's an epic story steeped in a religious subtext built around a belief known as Unitology (referenced heavily in the game, but explored deeper in the comic and animated flick).
In fact, it's the lengths to which people will go to in order to enforce those beliefs in Unitology that eventually triggers the ungodly catastrophe Isaac faces on the Ishimura. There are no cutscenes, so in order to completely grasp what has happened, you have to fully pay attention to the text and audio logs you collect - as both are essential to understand the bigger picture if you don't plan on reading the comic.