Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Game Review: "Dead Space"

My old pal Phil recently let me borrow the game Dead Space & it seemed like a cool theme: a space-based 3rd person shooter.

We both grew up in the first video game generation, with my earliest childhood memories being simultaneous with the advent of the Atari 2600. I've been able to witness the state of the art progress from Asteroids to a highly-detailed, immersive virtual reality like Dead Space.

This particular game was new for me because I haven't played "survival horror" type games, & this one's a doozy. I don't really care for horror movies either- because usually they simply don't frighten me. Dead Space was by far a creepier & sometimes scarier experience than I've ever had watching a horror movie, though.

It actually blew me away how effectively the visuals & sound created a mood paranoid isolation that was almost overwhelming at times. The crazy thing's that it's not an abundance of common noise like gunfire or dialogue that's unnerving- it's the lack of constant noise that makes the creaks, scuttering of unseen creatures, & droning ambient sounds much more eerie. The most constant sound is the thuds of each step in your heavy suit, & your breathing- which becomes faster or more labored if you are running or hurt. When a zombie-like infected monster jumps out at you or appears from a hidden dark corner with a blood-curdling shriek, it was often startling enough to make me yell all kinds of profanities at the screen.

Even more intimidating are the parts where you enter zero-gravity or travel to the outside of the ship & there's no sound at all in the vacuum, beside your own breathing inside the suit. You can be walking & quickly turn to see a grotesque creature creeping up right behind you that you can't even hear coming.

This trailer below actually sums up the overall atmosphere of game perfectly, especially since the evil 'lullaby' can be sometimes heard in the distant background during the game:

Visually, the awe-inspiring graphics are at different times either stunning or horrific. At certain points it felt almost like I was there, taking in the serene view of outer space. Although there are alot of corridors & rooms because it's a ship, at certain points there are amazing vistas of cosmic scenery. When you are outside the ship or in front of large glass panels you can look out to see asteroid fields, planets, & stars. The great thing about many modern games is the ability to roam around the virtual world at will & check out the awesome artistic detail that goes into these game titles.

Basically, the story revolves around an infection that turns people into mutant space creatures of different kinds, called Necromorphs. This mass infection has something to do with a religious cult and a powerful alien artifact. The story is secondary to the unpredictable, yet inevitably sudden appearance of monsters continually trying to kill you. Although there are gigantic creatures you have to battle, the most disturbing are little infected babies with writhing tentacles growing out their backs.

To destroy the many creatures stalking you, you can use a number of different weapons, the main one being a plasma cutter that shears off limbs or heads. You also have the cool ability to use a type of telekinesis to move objects from a distance. Another attack option, if they're too close, is to just stomp on them until their body smashes apart. Even if you shoot of a limb or two, the Necromorphs will often continue to relentlessly crawl after you until you decimate them. Needless to say, it is a really gory game with blood & body parts splattering or floating around everywhere.

Spoiler Alert:

The game's dark, threatening mood puts you in constant survival mode & you're ready to blast anything that pops out at you. It turns out that the alien force is also psychically messing with your character's mind & perceptions, which adds a psychological twist to the story. I was reading about the development of the sequel "Dead Space 2" & there were actually complaints that this 1st game was TOO SCARY. This is coming from people who play games fighting off killer zombies and enemy hordes of all kinds.

I didn't expect this kind of terrifying intensity from a video game, so Dead Space is now definitely one I highly recommend... just not for the faint of heart.

• The Monkey Buddha's official rating: 8.5

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