Dead Space… this is probably one of the hardest games that I have ever completed. It isn't too difficult in terms of gameplay, but in the sense that I've never enjoyed horror films/games and playing Dead Space is like watching the climax of a particularly scary movie and doing so for 11 hours straight.
The game borrows heavily from several genres including sci-fi and horror. The main character of the game (Isaac Clarke) is even named after Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. It also borrow heavily from the film Event Horizon in that you are stuck on a spaceship and crazy mind bending things are happening. The survival horror gameplay is deeply rooted in the mold that Resident Evil created but the game still manages to create an atmosphere all it's own.
Dead Space uses sound to great effect to achieve it's goal of putting people on the edge of their seats. Loud bangs, skittering taps behind walls, high pitched shrills of saw-like machinery, agonized grunts and groans around the corner, maniacal laughter in the distance, blood curdling screams of anguish as a hulking mound of flesh bursts out of a ventilation grate overhead. It seems like the developer EA Redwood Shores (now Visceral Games) worked very hard on this aspect, and it shows.
Some other elements that add to the atmosphere are a bit subtler but also work to great effect. Throughout the entire game you struggle to get enough ammunition to use in your guns so there is always a sense of having to preserve what you have survive. In some areas you simply have to make a mad dash through a swarm of monsters because there would be no way you'd have enough ammo to take them all out. In other areas you have to get creative with your "Stasis" ability to freeze a few enemies in place and try to take them out in one shot.
Another feature is that when you access your inventory and quest log system the game world doesn't freeze, so it forces you to be conscious of your surroundings and make whatever you're doing quick. A final thought is that the game doesn't have a traditional UI. Isaac only has an indicator on his back to display his health and stasis energy, other then that you have to check your inventory menus. This adds to the minimalist feeling that pervades the game and furthers the feeling that it is just you on a derelict spaceship facing a horde of bloodthirsty beasts, with no one to help.
- Graphics: Overall the graphics and environments are nicely done. There is a lot of light and shadow work that adds to the mood and textures never seem to get blurry. In the very beginning of the game the textures on Isaac's suit are a bit bland but that is only a minor problem.
- Sound: Excellent sound work. I only have simulated surround sound but with a full setup this game would probably make your hair stand on end.
- Overall Experience: Dead Space is simply a great game that came out of nowhere and surprised everyone. It's good to know that those types of things can still happen in this day and age of multi-million dollar game development.
- Intensity: The gameplay is paced fairly well but like I said before, playing Dead Space is like watching the climax of a horror film every time you fire it up. For me personally that ended up being a con since it somewhat limited my enjoyment of the game, but other people may love that kind of thing.
- Character models: The model work on the human NPC characters that you interact with isn't the best, especially their facial models and animations. This isn't a problem for the main character since he wears a helmet 99.9% of the game, which was a sound decision on the developer's part to hide that flaw in the game engine.
- I think adding anything else beyond this point would just be nitpicking. I've heard more casual gamers say that the game is too difficult but I think it is very well balanced, just challenging. People often forget about adjusting the difficulty in games for some reason.
Dead Space is a very very good game, and anyone that wants a challenge should definitely pick it up. It's available on 360, PS3, and PC. You should be warned though, it is extremely gory and would probably traumatize any small children for life.
Score: 9 out of 10