Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
You can easily tell when games these days borrow one or two ideas from other games and implement it into their own, but I don't mean games like Limbo of the Lost, that's just way too obvious. I'm talking about Dead Space. However, even if it does borrow more than one idea from other games and genres, it's well executed and simply put, it works very well.
Dead Space, available for the PS3, X-Box 360 and PC is a third person survival horror game. Playing as Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer who along with a small team, receive a distress call from the USG Ishimura, a mining ship that has suffered catastrophic damage. Upon boarding this ship most of Isaac's team is wiped out by horrifying monsters that barely resemble humans. With only two team mates remaining, a separated Isaac must not only fight for survival against the terrifying creatures, but he must also solve the many issues of the ship that could lead to the ship's destruction and his demise.
The storyline to begin with seems a bit cliche', the whole.. on board space ship, things going terribly wrong, shock and horror etc but regardless you will be drawn to it and you will continue to play to uncover the more interesting plot points that open up as you move through the game. It takes a little while to get the ball fully rolling when it comes to the storyline.
When the player actually takes control of Isaac the first thing you will notice is how similar the game is to Capcom's 2005 smash hit Resident Evil 4. The over the shoulder style camera sits behind Isaac and lurches closer when he draws his weapon out to aim. The control scheme is similar to Resident Evil 4 but the player is allowed to strafe and even move while aiming, similar to that of Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
Unlike most games, Dead Space forces players to "unlearn" the always tempting head shot. The monsters of Dead Space are to be dismembered. Players must use their weapons to literally blow the monsters limb from limb, being the quickest cause of death to the monsters, dealing the most damage while conserving ammunition.
On a related note, there are a wide variety of weapons in Dead Space. In order to acquire them the player must find the schematic for them before uploading them to the nearest shop terminal. There the weapon of choice can become available should the player have the right amount of credits to purcahse it. To begin with Isaac starts off with a handgun-style engineering tool known as the plasma cutter, before moving onto more powerful weapons such as the pulse rifle, ripper saw gun, flame thrower and many more. It's also possible to find schematics to upgrade Isaac's suit to a completely new one.
Using 'power nodes' throughout the game, players can upgrade Isaac's suit (called a 'RIG') as well as Isaac's weapons, in an RPG-like grid system to increase things like maximum health and oxygen count, to weapon's damage rate, reload time, firing rate etc.
Credits can be found all throughout the game and in a way it seems rather unbalanced. Ammunition is consistent throughout the game but at times you will find yourself running low, but due to the sheer amount of credits you find, you can simply run to a shop terminal and buy more ammo and health items. Despite this, the game is by no means easy.
Isaac acquires some new toys shortly after the game starts, such as the stasis and kinesis modules. The stasis module allows Isaac to slow down fast moving objects for puzzle solving and even slow down enemies, while the kinesis module allows for Isaac to move objects and launch them at great velocity, being extremely similar to the gravity gun of Half-Life 2. These tools though add further depth to the game and make things not only more enjoyable but simply but, you're going to need some of these things to survive this ordeal.
Graphically the game is absolutely fantastic, from the realistic lighting to the animations and physics of the enemies, Isaac and more. Not only that but it's strangely refreshing to see that the game has no HUD (heads up display) information, rather all the information is displayed on Isaac's suit and weapons. Accessing your inventory or objectives log? A holographic screen appears in front of Isaac as the camera zooms in. Where is your health? The bar is on Isaac's back. Where is the ammo count? On the weapon Isaac wields.
The game's setting, while somewhat linear due to being onboard a ship is extremely dark and very gritty, clearly inspired from previous horror films and video games but setting up the mood perfectly. Barely any music plays but when it does it tends to be either slow and almost screechy, to being fast paced and action packed. The sound effects for all the monsters work well and are very creepy and the game's actual voice acting and dialog is well done.
Although a good game, Dead Space is not without its flaws. The amount of credits throughout the game gives the game a slightly unbalanced feel and the difficulty can curve up and down as you may be assaulted heavily by many enemies, especially enemies who attack from directions you cannot see. At times the enemy AI can be strange and can even be abused by the player (such as opening a door and attacking the enemy while the enemy does not move through the door due to its size limitations). While many also won't mind this, some may find it tiresome when most enemy attacks are always sudden, as if the developer is always trying to surprise the player, or make them jump. Admittingly however, sometimes it works.
Dead Space is a game that borrows many ideas from other games, such as Resident Evil 4, Gears of War,Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and even the film Event Horizon but unlike say, Dark Sector, all these borrowed ideas work very well. With probably fifteen or so hours of gameplay and the ability to replay the game with all your acquired weapons and items, Dead Space is well worth a returning play through. It's dark, it's gritty, it can be scary but at the same time it's just a lot of fun.