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Dead Space - hands-on

The first Dead Space walkthrough we attended wowed us with grotesque monsters right out of The Thing and an oppressive atmosphere that screamed Alien, so the skeleton of a great game seemed intact. However, we couldn't go all-out crazy for the game until we sat down and blasted some otherworldly creatures for ourselves; now that we have, our pre-emptive excitement is one step closer to validation. We're happy to report, based on what we've seen and played (of the 360 version), Dead Space could become the third pillar of survival horror, right up there with Silent Hill and Resident Evil - especially if sci-fi is in your blood.

The comparison is sound, specifically to Resident Evil 4. The over-the-shoulder view, hold-L-to-aim-your-deathgun and push-A-when-prompted mechanics are torn right from Capcom's ballbuster, now slathered with a fresh bucket of deep-space grit. You likely know most of this though, as previous write-ups have already mentioned the planet cracking backstory, the engineer protagonist and the emphasis on dismembering foes instead of blindly pumping lead into their chests. So, let's cut to precisely what we played and why we're so damn excited.

Above: Meters on Isaac's back act as your HUD;  the spine is life, the semi-circle is your special ability's charge

Our first moment of hands-on play had us moving Isaac out of the derelict mining ship and into a section that's totally exposed to the vacuum of space. Our level guide told us to shoot one of the floating corpses drifting by to show how there's next to no sound while outside (think Battlestar or Firefly). What we noticed instead was how that bloated scientist split apart like rotten fruit, with legs, arms and torso all drifting their separate ways. Not in a gratuitous, "oh look we can do dismemberment" kind of way, more like the icky, creepy, "please don't let that happen to me" feeling - another small (but important) touch that helps define the already unsettling mood.

There's a limited supply of air in your suit, so you have to keep an eye on your ticking holo-HUD while outside the ship. This introduced one of the few aspects of the game we're at odds with - item management. We had to approach a new canister of air, hit A to select it, hit A again to take, then open inventory, select the air with A, then hit Use to refill the dwindling supply. Why not just walk over the air and have it auto-fill? A streamlined nav doesn't fit the genre, but menu navigation is scary in a bad way, so we hope there's some attention paid there before its Halloween launch.

The next room was intact, so pressure and airflow returned. Stepping in revealed an expansive, spherical room that looked quite a bit like Cerebro from the X-Men movies. This was the first case of zero-g for us; you point Isaac in a certain direction and push Y to leap off the floor and float to the other side. It's a floaty, liberating feeling after trudging around in a heavy suit. The room's goal was to use Isaac's telekinesis ability (mechanical, not mutant) to summon three floating power cells hovering about the room. After placing them in three slots that lined the walls, ceiling and floor, we walked to a newly powered control panel and were whisked away to the next part of the demo.

The last part, where we approached the panel, had a slight Mario Galaxy feel to it. When you first see the panel, it looks like a flat piece of glass resting on the floor, but the closer you get you realize you're standing on the wall, not the floor, and the panel is actually on a different axis. It was a neat surprise, and we do know there will be anti-grav combat later in the game, so hopefully the initial glee of free-falling doesn't disappear after we've done it five or six times.

Now, on to the gore.

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