Being an engineer in the future must suck. The pay is bad, the uniform is uncomfortable, and to make things worse for Isaac Clarke, he’s stranded on a spaceship full of zombie passengers. His fiancee is on board somewhere though, and he’s going to have to find a way off the ship before it’s too late. Just another thankless day on the job, eh? Dead Space is an action-horror game in a similar vein to Resident Evil 4. Controlling Isaac from an over-the-shoulder perspective, players must navigate the narrow corridors of the U.S.G. Ishimura and discover what turned the crew into a horde of hideous creatures called Necromorphs. While the game certainly works as a concept, it’s easy to hinder the PC version of a popular console game with a lazy port job. Will PC gamers have a good experience with Dead Space?
The game thrusts players right into the action on the U.S.G. Ishimura after Isaac’s smaller ship crash lands inside its docking bay. The first thing players notice is the unique HUD – built into the actual game, as opposed to an on-screen set of numbers and meters. Isaac’s health bar is displayed on his spacesuit’s back, and menus appear as hovering holograms in front of his visor, his eyes following along with whatever is being selected. In a horror game, where immersion is key, this little touch goes a long way. The game doesn’t stop when you decide to rummage through your inventory or check the map, adding a subtle layer of tension to every action.
As for the game itself, it’s remarkably well oiled. While Dead Space does nothing new from a gameplay perspective, wandering around the Ishimura is a fresh and rewarding adventure. Most of the time, the game withholds enemy encounters and forces the player to drown in the soundscape, full of rusty creaks, ominous rumbles, and sudden crashes. The music, too, weaves a delicate atmosphere that could break at any moment – like the best horror movies, the scariest part of Dead Space is the good portion of it where nothing happens. The game moves forward, puzzles are solved, and Isaac gets one step closer to solving the mystery. A sense of security, if you will, is developed.
That’s when the living corpse with claws for arms decides to pop out of the ceiling.
The beauty of Dead Space lies entirely in its presentation, and has little to do with amazing gameplay conventions. The combat is satisfying, yet simple, revolving around a limited assortment of guns. An emphasis is placed on dismembering your ghastly foes, stopping them in their tracks and ripping their dangerous limbs from their bodies. Still, is it this gameplay mechanic that’s interesting, or the way it plays out? The punchy gunfire and nauseating fleshy sounds are what really stick in the mind, as well as the horrifically detailed Necromorph gore strewn around the floor after a fight. It’s a great sounding, great looking, and overall, great playing experience that takes absolutely no chances.
It helps that the game has been fairly well optimized for the PC. While there are a few initial quirks – enabling V-sync forces the game to run at such a low framerate that it’s impossible to aim properly – the translation is impressive. The point-and-shoot controls work well with the mouse; so well, in fact, that the game is a little easier than its console counterparts, since pinpoint aim allows for easy limb shots on approaching monsters. Graphically, the game is extremely attractive. Dynamic lighting casts over rough-looking metal surfaces perfectly, and what’s more, you won’t need a monster rig to experience it – Dead Space has surprisingly low system requirements, and on powerful computers, it runs buttery smooth. The game takes up an absolutely obscene 10.5GB of space, however, which is asking a little much considering it’s nowhere near as big as, say, Oblivion, and the textures are geared more towards stylish grunginess rather than high-resolution detail. Still, Dead Space is a technically sound port that won’t leave PC gamers scratching their heads imagining why people enjoyed it on consoles.
Dead Space is a good example of refinement over innovation. By taking a fairly standard horror-shooter hybrid and applying an absurd amount of atmospheric polish to it, EA has created an instant action classic. While the ride is fairly short – the game could be completed in a few evenings – and offers no real extras, it’s perfected to the point where it’s entirely satisfying. This PC port should entertain anyone interested in a game worth playing with the lights down and the sound up. It’s a visceral, enthralling title that will leave players nothing short of breathless.