iPhone/iPad review of the day: Dead Space — polished, brilliant, and full of baby zombies with tentacles

On iPhone
Dead Space
Price: $6.99
Size: 291MB
Get it now at the iTunes Store:US/UK

On iPad
Dead Space HD
Price: $9.99
Size: 301 MB
Get it now at the iTunes Store:US/UK

Dead Space is not your run-of-the-mill console wannabe on iOS. With graphics that look better than an original Xbox game (a large feat for a handheld), and a story that's more terrifying than another Angry Birds reference, Dead Space is quite simply one of the most polished apps we've played. The developers didn't cut any corners on this one, and Dead Space plays as great as it looks.

Movement and aiming are done via invisible virtual analog sticks (say that five times fast). The left side of the screen controls movement and right side controls aiming. When your gun is drawn, a simple tap will fire it. There aren't a ton of iOS gimmicks packed in the control scheme, and when they're used, the game actually benefits from their implementation. For instance, quickly rotating the screen sideways and back accesses your gun's secondary firing function, which feels solid like cocking a gun in your hands.

Other gameplay elements help speed up the game, which features large maps with loads of corridors. If you get lost in these levels, standing still for a moment will cause a blue line to run across the floor and point you in the right direction. The line quickly fades, so you don't feel like the game's giving you too many hints. A voice speaks through your helmet, giving you instructions and urging you along. Without much choice, you reluctantly follow this mysterious voice's commands.

Which reminds us, even Dead Space's story is good. Three years after the events of the first Dead Space, a naive engineer (you) unwittingly releases a crowd of human-bug-zombies (necromorphs) at the behest of another evil church. Standard fare, until your character starts having visions. Visions which manifest themselves as dimming lights, then the next thing you know you're surrounded by dozens of corpses, or a room full of deadly zombies. Lights dim and brighten again and they've disappeared. No one seems to take your "visions" as seriously as you'd hope, and you'll have to play through the campaign to figure out what's happening. Dead Space will have you at the edge of your seat.

If you have a weak heart, don't play this one. Dead Space has more "jump out at you" moments then anything we've ever played. After a few missions, you'll cautiously creep from room to room hoping another Necromorph isn't waiting in the air vents. When one (inevitably) is, you'll jump around like a House of Pain music video. It's terrifying and amazing, a real triumph of portable gaming done right.

Feb 4, 2011