My Top 5 Games of 2008: #2 Dead Space (360)

Developed: EA Redwood Shores
Published: Electronic Arts
Genre: Third Person Action Horror
Platform: 360(reviewed), PS3, PC

I was a huge fan of Resident Evil 4 and after playing it for immeasurable hours, I craved a similar experience. A couple of years after RE4's release, EA announced Dead Space, an action horror game with a very similar gameplay style to RE4. I was excited but skeptical at first because at the time EA was mostly known for it's many licensed game series, so I didn't know what to expect from an original title from them. Despite my concerns, Dead Space was released to near universal acclaim and I soon picked it up. I was instantly hooked, completing the game over and over. It became the first 360 game that I got every achievement in, a distinction only 3 other games have so far. I even made up my own challenges, like beating the game with only the ripper, my least favorite weapon in the game, completing the game without dying and other crazy shit that I don't usually bother with.

Dead Space is a third-person action horror game set in the year 2508. Our protagonist, engineer Isaac Clarke, is joined by Kendra Daniels, Zach Hammond, and a small security team as they make their way to a type of space ship known as a planet cracker, the USG Ishimura. The ship recently put out a distress signal and Isaac's team are the first to investigate. Isaac's girlfriend, Dr. Nicole Brennan, happens to be a part of the Ishimura's crew, so he hopes to find her and bring her to safety.
Ooh, nice view of the local star through those asteroids. What could possibly go wrong after such a pleasant visual.
The game starts with Isaac watching a video of Nicole that she sent just before the distress signal started but he stops it before the end. Kendra comments that he has watched the video many times just as they approach the Ishimura. As they attempt to land, they find that the Ishimura's gravity tethers, which are supposed to assist with landing, are offline so they make a rather rough landing in the ship's docking bay. As they begin to explore, they find that the ship seems to be deserted but are soon attacked by grotesque creatures known as necromorphs. The security team is killed and Isaac is separated from Kendra and Hammond as he flees to an elevator.

As he exits the elevator he finds a mining tool known as a plasma cutter which shoots line shaped blasts of energy. He takes it to use as a makeshift weapon and finds a message written in blood on the wall: "Cut off their limbs." Isaac finds a control room for the Ishimura's tram system and receives a call from Hammond and Kendra who tell him he needs to manually replace a damaged tram car up ahead and reactivate the system so they can reach the ship's bridge. Isaac continues on and soon receives another call from Hammond who reiterates the message that Isaac found: Shoot off the monster's limbs. Body and head shots don't seem to phase them. Pretty lucky that he just happened to find a long range cutting tool, huh? As he continues on he finds a device called the stasis module which allows him to slow down enemies, as well as elements of the game environment to solve puzzles.
They really tried their damnedest to hammer this message home. I almost feel like there might be some really inattentive players out there that still couldn't figure it out.
He reaches the tram room and quickly replaces the broken car, but Kendra finds that the control room is missing a key component. Isaac soon tracks it down and runs back to the control room to install it. Kendra and Hammond move on to the bridge and ask Isaac to run a diagnosis on their crashed shuttle to see if it will fly again. Isaac reaches the shuttle but as he checks its computer the whole thing starts to explode. He gets away just in time but Kendra and Hammond aren't too pleased. Kendra tries to access the Ishimura's main computer but needs the captain's ID. They track the captain and unfortunately they find he is dead and on the medical deck. They are attacked and end their transmission so Isaac is left with no choice but to make his way to the medical deck. This is gonna be another bad luck fest like Final Fantasy IV isn't it?

Isaac makes it to the medical deck where he is greeted by a dying woman who gives him another device called the kinesis module which allows him to pick up objects with bursts of gravitational energy from his suit. This module, along with the stasis module, are your 2 main tools for puzzle solving in Dead Space. Anyway, the woman dies and Isaac moves on to the medical bay. He finds that the path to the morgue is blocked by wreckage and will have to make a bomb to get through. Hammond calls and says that he and Kendra were separated in the attack and instructs Isaac on how to make a bomb. He soon finds the components he needs and continues to the morgue. As he enters, a strange creature, different from the others jumps on the captain's corpse. It sprays the captain with some disgusting liquid and the captain begins to transform into a necromorph before Isaac's eyes. The 2 creatures attack Isaac who dispatches them and takes the captain's ID which he transmits to Hammond.

Hammond tells Isaac that it will take a while to go through the ship's data to determine what happened and tells him to head to engineering to fix the ship's engines so they don't lose orbit. A space engineer's work is never done. He makes it to engineering and after a bunch of puzzles, fixes the engines. Kendra contacts him, still alive, to Hammond's relief. She says she reached the ship's computer core and has been reading crew logs. Apparently after finding something called "the marker" on the nearby planet that they were mining, Aegis VII, much of the crew went insane, many killing each other. Just as Isaac is about to make his way to the bridge Kendra calls with more bad news. With the ship moving again they are vulnerable to asteroid strikes. Isaac will have to reactivate the asteroid defense system manually if they don't the ship to become Swiss cheese. After a quick stop by the bridge where he talks with Hammond about how to reactivate the asteroid defense system, he sets off, but not before Hammond is forced to eject one of the nearby escape pods that had a live necromorph in it. Ooh, foreshadowing...
Aww, it just wants a hug. A sharp, agonizingly painful hug.
Isaac runs around to different parts of the ship, manually turning off unnecessary systems so the asteroid defense system can have enough power. After rerouting all the power he can find, Isaac is contacted by Hammond who tells him that the system is back online but one of the cannons that shoots down asteroids isn't auto targeting. In probably the most annoying part of the game, Isaac heads up to the cannon and manually destroys asteroids while Hammond repairs the auto target function. Hammond takes his sweet time but is finally able to fix it. As Isaac heads back, Kendra calls up with yet more bad news. Yep, it's one of those kinds of games. Fix one problem and another immediately shows up. She tells Isaac and Hammond that oxygen levels are falling because something is poisoning the ship's air supply, and tells Isaac that he'll need to make a solution back in medical to kill whatever it is poisoning the air so he sets off.

As Isaac heads back through medical, he hears a strange man over the ship's intercom saying that Isaac "can't stand in the way of God's plan" and asks if he's "blind like the rest". Weird. Anyway, Isaac makes his way to a chemical station that has part of what he needs to kill the creature poisoning the air. He takes it and is greeted(through a window so you can't hurt him. how convenient for him.) by Dr. Challus Mercer. Mercer tells Isaac to give up and accept humanity's end. He believes the necromorphs to be humanity's successor and unleashes a powerful necromorph on Isaac. Despite his best efforts, Isaac is unable to kill it, finding that it can regenerate itself from any injury that Isaac is capable of inflicting. Isaac is forced to flee and as he does Hammond calls up to say he reached hydroponics, where the ships air is being poisoned. Isaac swings by Mercer's office to get a DNA sample for his oxygen saving cocktail but Mercer turns the freakin air off in medical. Luckily Isaac's suit has a short oxygen supply and he quickly reaches the medical deck control room and turns the oxygen back on. It's just one thing after the other here.

As Isaac heads to mix his chemicals, he encounters Mercer again who says some more crazy shit and unleashes the regenerating necromorph again. Isaac manages to lure it into a cryogenics lab and freeze it, stopping its rampage...for now. After finally getting his mixture ready, Isaac takes the tram to hydroponics and finds Hammond lying on the ground, severely weakened by the low oxygen levels. Isaac isn't effected as badly because of his suit, but there isn't much time until the oxygen is completely contaminated. Hammond tells him that the main contamination is in food storage, but to get in he'll have to destroy a bunch of smaller necromorphs contaminating the air. Isaac painstakingly searches the deck for all the offending necromorphs and eliminates them one by one. After that's taken care of, he enters food storage and uses the chemical he made in medical. Something nearby roars and the lights come on. At the end of the huge cylindrical room is a mass of flesh that completely covers the back wall, the largest enemy so far. Isaac battles the beast as tentacles sprout from it and attempt to crush him. It eventually dies, finally ending the threat to the ship's oxygen supply.
Here's the food storage room boss. Do I even need to make a joke here?
 Kendra calls Isaac saying that Hammond has disappeared again, and that she's thought of a plan. She instructs Isaac to head to the mining deck and attach a distress beacon to an asteroid there so they can launch it out to space and hopefully find rescue. Isaac makes his way there and as he tracks down a distress beacon he finally runs into Nicole, alive and well. She hacks a door for Isaac as he fends off a horde of necromorphs. When she finally gets the door open, he grabs the beacon and unfortunately they must separate for now. Isaac heads to the main mining room where asteroids and large chunks of planets have their minerals extracted. He finds one such chunk, puts the beacon on it and releases it into space.

More bullshit arises when Kendra just now decides to check if the communication system works, which of course it doesn't. Guess who's job it is to fix this? Anyway, as Isaac makes his way to the comm array, Kendra calls him up saying she detected military ship en route who probably got their signal. He repairs the comm just as the ship, the USM Valor, nears and informs them that they recovered the Ishimura's escape pod. The one that Hammond launched with a live necromorph in it. Shit. Kendra tries to contact them but their signal isn't strong enough, which could be fixed by opening the blast doors in the comm array room but of course it's never that easy. There's a giant necromorph that happens to be sitting right on top of the blast door. This is just getting silly.

Once again Isaac has to get on a turret but it isn't nearly as bad as the asteroid shooting gallery. Isaac soon dispatches the giant necromorph and Kendra attempts to contact the Valor again, but it's too late. The ship crashes right into the Ishimura, knocking Isaac unconscious. He soon awakens to a call from Hammond who says someone has been blocking his signal. He tells Isaac that he found a shuttle they can escape in but it's missing a singularity core, whatever that is. He thinks there may be one on the Valor, which is currently sticking out of the Ishimura's side. Isaac heads to the breach and finds a way into the Valor.

As he makes his way through, he finds the whole crew has either been killed or turned into necromorphs. Man those things work fast. This raises a good question though. How can a single necromorph manage to infect a ship full of marines but an army of necromorphs cant take down Isaac? Ah, whatever. Isaac gets a call from a survivor back on the Ishimura named Terrence Kyne, who tells Isaac that he has to take the marker back to Aegis VII, or else "the planet will never stop", whatever that means. Isaac soon finds the singularity core he was looking for and meets up with Hammond who is immediately killed by a huge necromorph. Of course, the black guy always has to die first. What's with that?  Isaac kills the necromorph and heads back to the Ishimura just as the Valor explodes. Man, Isaac sure is good at destroying spaceships and escaping at the last second.

Kendra calls him up with more freakin' bad news. The shuttle they hope to escape on is missing several other critical components. Sure, let do some more fetch quests. Anyway, Mercer shows up again for a quick shock scene where he stabs a guy in the head with a screwdriver. Well that was necessary. Kyne calls Isaac up and rants about how he doesn't trust him and he'll have to fix the shuttle if he wants him to. Who cares. Isaac finally finds all the shit he needs and heads to the shuttle. He puts all the components in place and is attacked by the regenerating necromorph again. This time, though, Isaac has a way to kill it. Making clever use of stasis, he lures it behind the shuttle, slows it down and test fires the shuttle's engines, vaporizing the necromorph. Yeah! Regenerate from that!
Nice to know vending machines still work so giant corporations can still make a buck or two during this catastrophe.
Kyne gets in the shuttle and takes it down to the hangar, leaving Isaac to retrieve the marker so they can take it down to Aegis VII and be rid of it. As Isaac leaves for the cargo bay, he receives a transmission from Mercer who says more crazy shit and Isaac soon run into the man himself as he is being turned into a necromorph. Isaac easily disposes of the loony bastard and continues on to the cargo bay. In the cargo bay Isaac fights off hordes of necromorphs as he manually transports the marker to an elevator. He makes his way to the cargo bay where he does the same damn thing: fight necromorphs while moving the marker to the shuttle. He makes his way up to the shuttle where Kyne is waiting, but Kyne is suddenly shot when Isaac approaches. That man is bad luck, I tell you. The shuttle takes off and it turns out it was Kendra who shot him. Yeah, apparently she's been evil this whole time.

She calls Isaac and tells him a bunch of confusing shit about how the marker was actually a copy of one found on earth, that the government put it on Aegis VII in hopes that it would activate, and that the marker is what created all the necromorphs somehow. Nicole calls Isaac, telling him to come to the control room nearby. He meets her up there and they remotely override the shuttle's controls, bringing it back to the Ishimura. Kendra, who isn't too happy, uses an escape pod to go down to the mining colony on Aegis VII. Isaac and Nicole soon follow in the shuttle.

Nicole goes ahead while Isaac painstakingly moves the marker from the shuttle, back to the spot where it was found, all the while being assailed by hordes of necromorphs. As he sets the marker in place it shoots a huge burst of energy to the sky as Nicole appears momentarily to thank Isaac, then disappears in a flash of light. The colony, which is floating miles above the planet, then starts to fall. Isaac continues on to a decontamination room, when Kendra shows up on the other side of the glass and tells Isaac to watch the whole video that Nicole sent him. We are shown the video from the game's intro again but this time we see at the very end that Nicole commits suicide by injecting herself with poison. This bothered the crap outta me. At the beginning of the game, Kendra said that Isaac watched that video a bunch of times. Did he not watch it to the end every time, or was it so traumatic that he just blocked it out? Either way, it turns out that the Nicole he kept seeing was all in his head so we've been playing as a crazy person the whole time. Kendra leaves with the marker, forcing Isaac to take an alternate route to try and catch her.

Isaac rushes back to the shuttle where Kendra is about to board. Before she can a tentacle crushes her, killing her instantly and an absolutely immense necromorph called the hive mind arises from below. It brutalizes Isaac, throwing him around and nearly crushing him like Kendra, but he manages to kill it and runs into the shuttle to escape. As he takes off, he removes his helmet and we see what he looks like for the first time. His look of relief soon turns into fear though, as he slowly looks to his side. The camera pans and BOO! A necromorph with Nicole's face attacks and the screen goes black leaving Isaac's fate a mystery. Roll credits.
Playing Dead Space for the first time was like a breath of fresh air. I had grown kind of tired of RE4 at that point so a brand new game with the gameplay that I loved was a Godsend. The action in Dead Space is refined to near perfection. Most of the time when you die, it's your fault. It's just plain enjoyable to play too. Shooting at specific weak points other than the head every time like in RE4 is a welcome change and the interesting variety of weapons make it even more enjoyable. Each weapon has a primary and secondary fire so there's plenty of ways to dispatch the necromorph hordes.

A few of the weapons are kind of useless though. The flamethrower kills way too slow so there's no real reason to use it when you have better stuff available. The force gun and contact beam are in the same boat, both of them only having one type of enemy I would bother using them on. The force gun works great on those annoying swarmer bastards, as it can take out a huge group of them in one shot. Other than those, it seems to do way too little damage to be useful on regular enemies. The contact beam, I would only bother using on the wall necromorphs to take them out quickly. I actually wouldn't mind using the contact beam but it and a few other weapons have the problem of their ammo stack sizes being too small, taking up too much space in an already limited inventory.
Insanity Isaac: Knows flamethrower sucks. Uses it anyway just to watch stuff burn.
One very interesting element to Dead Space's presentation is that there is no traditional HUD. Isaac's health bar instead of being in the corner of the screen, is instead on the spine of his suit, along with his stasis energy meter. Ammo counts are displayed as a hologram by the weapon you are holding and your inventory, map screen, objective screen, and log menu are all displayed as holograms in front of Isaac, meaning that you can be attacked even when in a menu(you can still pause though). Not many games bother to immerse players in this way and sometimes it's nice to play a game that has less gamification than the norm.

Visually, the game is great. Not as good as, say, Gears of War or Metal Gear Solid 4 but it still looks pretty nice. One thing that stands out is enemy designs. Most of the enemies are mutated humans that barely resemble what they once were, giving the game a disturbing body horror angle. I guess that makes it a bit of a knock off of The Thing but that franchise had its chance in the gaming world and that game was mediocre at best.

The sound design is downright amazing. Every attack, either by or against Isaac, has impact behind it. The sounds made by the various necromorphs can be downright disturbing. The wall necromorphs are especially horrific, seeming to scream in agony as they attack you. The music, while not memorable or catchy by any stretch, is still quite good. It's pretty dynamic too, swelling when an enemy suddenly appears and dying down when you defeat them. It's a mostly atmospheric, orchestrated soundtrack with no melodic or interesting songs that come to mind, but maybe I was just too engrossed in the gameplay to notice.

A lot of survival horror fans have been reluctant to embrace the more recent wave of action horror titles, and speaking as a huge classic survival horror fan, I can say that it's more than possible to love both genres. For those who love action games, it's a no-brainer. Get it now. For more traditional horror fans, I say give it a try. You might like what you find.
For whatever reason in Dead Space 2 Isaac goes from looking like this to being a Commander Shepard clone.

My game of the year 2008!
An RPG that explores subjects that most games shy away from and has some of the most endearing characters I've ever encountered.

It wasn't easy to find a good song to leave you with for this one. As I said above Dead Space's music isn't about being catchy or melodic. It's all either atmospheric or crazy chase music. Probably the one stand out to me is the title screen music, simply titled Dead Space Theme. It has a really foreboding feeling like something bad is about to happen. Anyway, here it is, courtesy of YouTube user xRussianYulia17x:
Some images in this article courtesy of Visual Walkthroughs and Absolute Games.

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