Realistic zombies freak out gamer in Dead Space

Danny Andrews

Danny Andrews

Grade: A

Isaac didn’t ask for anything to go wrong. He didn’t ask to be stranded on the USG Ishimura with no power and failing life support. And he certainly didn’t ask for an alien presence to reanimate the recently dead corpses of the crew. Now, the engineer who volunteered for the mission to see his now-missing ex-wife must play soldier and find a way to escape the hell he now finds himself in.

Dead Space sets the bar for video game horror. From the darkened, claustrophobic hallways to the limited inventory, every genre cliché is present but integrated in a realistic way. In a future where humans strain to survive on limited resources, the Ishimura is designed with little wasted space and less wasted energy. The inventory system is, in truth, a holographic projector on the chest of Isaac’s suit. He even moves his head to focus on the selected item; he is after all the one accessing the system.

Between the suit and the stark but infrequent bulbs, Dead Space makes use of every bit of the Xbox 360’s computing power. Every light source in the game is dynamic. This means that shadows are rendered in real time. Sitting in a dim room, watching a monster crawl and lurch down a hallway bathed with high-definition, realistic shadows, not succumbing to headshots, is enough to make a little pee come out.

That’s right. These zombies cannot be taken down with headshots. Whatever the reason for their re-entrance into the land of the living, the corpses can only be destroyed by removing their limbs. Take away a leg, they fall down and keep coming, albeit now at a disturbingly slow crawl. Only by removing three or more limbs (the alien virus enjoys mucking around with human genetics) can they be taken down for good.

The game breaks down into 12 chapters, each one revolving around some item necessary to Isaac fixing and escaping the ship. While each mission is more or less a fetch quest, it never feels contrite. Isaac is an engineer; his job revolves around collecting materials and solving problems. Although, when forced to backtrack three decks to collect a kilogram of blasting gel even though his primary weapon is a plasma cutter capable of launching super-heated ionized gases, why can’t a highly trained engineer just cut the makeshift barricade down? Oh, that’s right; there would be no reason to go to a different part of the ship. And it would cut down the story from a 10-hour do-it-yourself repair job to a paltry 3-hour walk to the ship escape pods.

Much like science fiction classics, Dead Space creates a world horrifyingly real. Drenched in subplots involving religious fanaticism, conspiracies and shady characters with shadier motives, the game makes the player unravel the plot in tidbits. Don’t play it, experience it.