‘Dead Space’ delivers stellar scares

As Halloween creeps around the corner, a dreaded vanguard of sci-fi/horror made its appearance on shelves last week. Produced by Electronic Arts (EA), the very mention of Dead Space permeated through every media, with every visual and auditory channel as the first-of-a-kind game that would entrust your very sanity to the terror and bleakness of space. Though the hardcore gamers may be inured to the sort of graphic violence splattered and crunched onto every video monitor, the masterful addition of an assault onto the player’s psychological defenses turns every blood-drenched, dimly light corridor into an exercise in terror.

The effort put into creating an entirely new franchise for the horror genre is obvious, as EA Redwood Studios released a six-book comic, an interactive website and a direct-to-DVD movie regarding the grim, abysmally dark backstory in order to expand this freshly-created universe set far into the future.

With so much cash and time poured into this creation, the workings have definitely paid off by painting a ghastly portrait which I looked forward to for many months.

EA touts Dead Space as their first foray into the third-person shooter, as in the footsteps of Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War. Systems Engineer Isaac Clarke and his crew arrive at the derelict USG Ishimura, a spaceship whose sole and awesome purpose is to split entire planets open in order to harvest the exposed resources…quite marvelous brain-food for a Tech student.

However, things go awry as conspiracies and mass dementia tear apart the crew, along with a mysterious and savage life form that reproduces through freshly-made corpses.

This is where the game moves away from the focus on “head shot” gameplay, in that most enemies will still crave for your demise even if decapitated.To stamp realism into the character, Clarke receives mining tools designed to cut through ore and rock, replacing the brute strength approach of action-orientated predecessors and instead resourcefully blow away each vicious, shrieking monster by “strategic dismemberment.”

The enemies known as Slashers bear little resemblance to their former selves, their flesh becoming horribly twisted into a skinless, screeching abortion of nature, while you cut must cut through tentacles and limbs in order to truly make these Necromorphs die.

Although the idea of punt kicking an undead, mutant baby seems comical (and trust me, it will happen), there is no room for wit or comic relief as you run around completing objectives to keep the ship intact while trying to call for reinforcements. Puzzles and mini-games are plentiful as you feverishly work through shadowy hordes of zombie-mutants who possess the ability to move objects kinetically and slow down time making it even more interesting, though it eventually turns into exhausting A-to-B missions.

Even as you delve deeper into the innards of the Ishimura, one can’t help but feel awe and dread at the sheer scale of the environment, both gothic and organic components melding into an infrastructure that makes every room dizzying and claustrophobic. There are even levels in which Isaac must venture into zero-gravity, vacuum, or both in order to complete an objective. As I’ve walked through an airless stage, it’s even more nerve-wracking to be immersed in silence as clawed flesh-bags ambush you.

However, ambient music and environmental sounds send chills through your body as an ever-present whispering leaves the player more understanding of how the crew of the Ishimura might have fallen to mass psychosis. The creators even minimized the use of menus and HUDs, instead relying on various counters and meters flashing from your suit and weapons.

Despair comes in giant, heart-bursting moments when a level is utterly flooded with a half-dozen killer body parts, but fortunately players can take a breather as the checkpoint system allows for non-frustrating retries and the use of shops to buy better weapons and equipment, as well as a work bench that allows Isaac Clarke to upgrade firepower and armor.

As I played into the night, skipping half my sleep-pattern to complete the game in its entirety, I could not help but feel that EA has created a monster which horror and sci-fi fans alike will enjoy.

Even though the missions feel too clean-cut and require a good deal of back-tracking; experiencing the last moments of the Ishimura entails fast-paced, extremely violent gameplay with all the engaging backdrop and innovation to bear fruit to a new franchise for the game industry.