Dead Space - updated hands-on

Also, do you remember how in the Mars UAC base you’d be able to point and click with your mouse when you approached a computer screen? Dead Space does that too, although this time it’s with your own personal hologram system - instead of lumbering round with a PDA (which is so three years ago), inventory screens, RPG-lite upgrade utilities and information logs are conjured up in real time right in front of your masked face - letting you point and click away with no hint of a traditional interface and also watch out for tip-tapping monsters through its blue-tinged transparency as the ship continues its morose machinations around you. In fact, so intent are the EA bunch on removing the usual clutter that your health is shown in lights along your character’s spine and your energy reserves on a gauge on his suit. It’s intriguing stuff.

Our favourite yardstick by which Dead Space measures itself, however, is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. You may think that by this we mean the bit where Kirk finds an unexpected weak spot in his alien foe when he kicks it in the knees and actually connects with its genitals, but no! The best sequence in that film takes place in zero gravity, when an unknown assailant in gravity boots boards a Bird of Prey and blasts a Klingon’s arm off - filling the ship with bubbles of pink blood. Dead Space recreates this brilliantly, although perhaps without so much bad CG hemoglobin, in sequences that piss all over the faux-float zero-g nature of Crysis and turn affairs into far more confusing Descent-style action.

Tromping over a metal floor in an engine room, a scorpion-like beast might scuttle toward you for example; your response to which would be to scythe off its claws with a laser blast and watch it quiver as it loses its anchors and drifts harmlessly into the middle of the room. Then, to jump to the ceiling or any other part of the environment, you take aim with one of your gadgets, turn your boots off for a second, and find yourself standing atop it - with down now up, and up now down. The gravity boots never come off, but the beautifully floating debris, and the imminent peril afforded by a steadily ticking down oxygen supply, make it perfectly clear that Dead Space is truly capitalising on the stuff that makes space simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. There are even levels whispered of in which you traipse across the surface of the ship itself (*cough* Star Trek: First Contact).

In many ways Dead Space is a direct rebuff to a game like Prey which, despite the death-bottoms and the gravity cleverness, felt airtight and safe compared to the bleak void and rusted powerless hulks on offer here. Levels are draped with that constant aura of imminent danger that so often demarcates the line between a good game and an average one. The hope being that its storyline (rumoured to feature an imperiled love interest - hoorah) can match its faultless atmosphere of danger, despair and decay.

Some may say that its obvious cribbing shows a lack of imagination, but our response is to point out that we’ve unconsciously mentioned it in the same breath of some of the greatest games and sci-fi movies ever created. For a game that’s come out of nowhere yet impressed so much, that’s high praise indeed.

March 3, 2008