But Dead Space’s real showpiece is its Zero G environments. When the gravity is removed the fun really starts, and you’ll be running along more walls and ceilings than Spider-man. Usually the space hopping is combined with a lack of oxygen. If you’ve not been bolstering your O2 supplied via the BENCH upgrade system, the time limit can make for a tense scramble for the next airlock. Hotfooting it across the ship’s hull with low oxygen reserves is bad enough, but things are made even worse (or is that better?) by the silence. Sound bleeds out along with the oxygen, which mutes the tell-tale warnings of approaching Necromorphs.
The menu system is another striking feature, and another original idea among a sea of, erm, ‘borrowed’ mechanics. Ammo, health and stasis bars are brilliantly integrated into Issac’s suit, and an additional holo-display menu, independent of the orbital camera’s movement, deals with the rest. Sleek and efficient, it further immerses you in the world. Cleverly, tapping a button will inject Isaac with a health booster (provided you’ve got one on hand) while the D-Pad lets you hot-swap weapons on the fly so you’re never left totally helpless mid-scrap.
Lots of care has been poured into the Ishimura’s design, and despite the action taking place almost entirely on one ship you’re never left pining for a change of scenery. The Ishimura’s segregated into various decks and labs, each with a distinct palette. Even when you return to a previous area you won’t feel safe. The first fight through the med labs was a fluorescent-tubed, blood-drenched nightmare, but the return visit forces you to rely on almost torchlight alone before hurrying you along with wave after wave of disaster. Exploring or even re-exploring the decks is a nail-biting experience, driven forward by the film-worthy script and inspired setting. It’s Rapture in space: every bit as disturbing, just as meticulously designed and easily as believable.
That’s not to say the Ishimura is perfect. Astonishingly for a horror game there’s an absolute abundance of save locations and stores littered around the ship, and because you’re never far from the next save point the darkened corners aren’t as terrifying as they could have been. This naivety is to be expected from the team whose previous credits include The Godfather, The Simpsons Game and Sims Pets, but it’s forgivable – Dead Space perfects so many crucial elements that this one oversight is largely insignificant. If you want a more tense experience just stick on Impossible mode, which is unlocked after the first completion, and refrain from using the ‘safe’ rooms (though you’ll discover these are far less safe than you’d expect) as much as possible. Just make sure your first run through is on Hard – regardless of how bad you think you are.