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Dead Space Preview

Chris_Hudak By:
GENRE Shooter 
PUBLISHER Electronic Arts 
DEVELOPER Electronic Arts 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

Get your space legs.

You may have heard some whiners making little mewling, Comic-Book-Guy-style noises about how EA’s forthcoming Dead Space is clearly and heavily influenced by a number of the more well-known dark, bloody science fiction/horror properties already out there—among them, Aliens, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the now cultishly appealing Event Horizon. I don’t see how any of this can be even remotely construed as a problem. Every game gets its influences somewhere—and if your horrorshow sci-fi game is going to be influenced anyway, it by-Yog might as well be influenced by the best—the darkest, the bloodiest, and the nastiest.

click to enlargeAt a recent EA event in San Francisco, we finally got our mitts on Dead Space. Dark, unfriendly starship corridors, freaky monsters, blood, gore, and the threats—both explicit and implicit—of zero-gravity, hard vacuum, and what C.S. Lewis called “the cold and dark of utmost space”... sounds promising so far. There’s even a fair bit of unspoken, stylistic homage to the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft in there for good measure (hell—a silent, creepy little ghost-girl with her hair hanging in her eyes is the only thing that’s missing…at least, we think it’s missing…)

In Dead Space, players take the role of two-fisted engineer Isaac Clarke (now there’s a pretty frickin’ blatant, one-two reference to the jaw for you) sent to investigate the fate of the USG Ishimura—a deep-space ‘planet cracker’ ore-collection ship gone ominously radio-silent after some sort of an incident. The particularly nasty nature of the ‘incident’ in question soon becomes clear, as does the uncharacteristically gory nature of this unusual EA title. This one puts a whole new spin on the notion of ‘disarming’ your enemies.

Something extremely unpleasant and violent has happened to the crew of the Ishimura, and as Clarke, it’s your job to explore the darkened decks of the ship and get your hands (and the walls and the ceilings) dirty, fighting the so-named ‘Necromorphs’—nasty-looking alien creatures with a predisposition for indiscriminate hostility and too many legs/arms/tongues/tentacles/whatever-the-hell-limbs. Oh, and some more good news: Sometimes the lights, air, and artificial gravity cut out on you, too. Enjoy!

click to enlargeThe designers have, by their own admission, tagged Dead Space as a game anchored on dismemberment; not only as a means of making the player uncomfortable—although it seems pretty effective on that score, too—but as an important tactical consideration when fighting the alien hostiles. If the icky, nigh-uncategorizable thing lurching and scrabbling down the corridor for you is thick and ugly with extraneous limbs, tentacles, and other protrusions-that-should-not-be, your best bet for slowing it down obviously revolves around shooting, burning, or lancing as many of them off as you can. There are no clear guarantees in the more human-oriented approach of hitting it in the head or weapon-arms, if it has a head or arms, you hear me, if it even HAS a head or arms. Wherever they keep what passes for their thinking-bags, they seem to have the ability to adjust their attacks based on the extent to which you have, literally, dis-armed them.

The portions of the game we saw that were not composed of direct combat were what you might call environmental challenges, vis-à-vis the Ishimura’s spotty, failing life-support systems and/or areas of flat-out, hull-compromising, cataclysmic damage—whole chunks of the superstructure that were at best zero-G, decompressed, and dark (or all three at the same time). And at worst, they were ripped apart and sheared open to the howling, decaying-orbit vacuum of space - actually, the worst would probably be the void being ripped open and having it be filled with nasty monsters, but we haven’t actually experienced that. Yet.

Obviously, when the puzzle and environment elements feature ship compartments lacking gravity, players need to either line themselves up and kick across from one wall to another, or use Clarke’s multi-function three-beamed gadget to tractor-beam themselves to other walls and objects (or vice versa). There are also canisters of oxygen which must occasionally be used to supplement the (seemingly always-low) air supply in Clarke’s (presumably always-leaking) space suit rig, and power cells which can be manipulated and put into place to bring offline systems back up. Hope you’re not way up in the ‘air’—or say, just under a bunch of heavy, floating equipment—when the artificial gravity suddenly kicks back in.

click to enlargeIn addition to Clarke’s three-pronged mining/tractor/engineering tool (which can be oriented horizontally or vertically to best slice off the offending appendages of oncoming hostiles), he will also have access to a so-called stasis field generator, which slows movement and time for anything caught in the field (it seems a ‘stasis’ field should either flat-ass stop something or not… but then, beggars on the Ishimura probably shouldn’t be nit-pickers at this point). So are you surrounded by Bad Things? Slap a little bit of enforced Relativity on their asses…when they have, d’ya hear me!, when they HAVE asses…

And of course, if you’re up on these kinds of science-fiction horror films at all, you can probably imagine the sorts of things that happen—or have already happened—when formerly normal, healthy Ishimura crew-members get mauled by these things. Wanted to leave just a little to the imagination. (Hint: To paraphrase Martha, It’s Not a Good Thing.)

Dead Space, particularly bleak and bloody for an EA game, is scheduled to release on Halloween - when else? - when both sci-fi and horror-oriented gamers can look forward to enjoying a game experience arm in arm… in arm, in leg, in tentacle, in arm

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