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Review: Dead Space

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: M - Mature Audiences
My Rating: Adults - 18+
Genre: Third Person Shooter / Horror
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2008
Review Published On: December 11th, 2015
Played on: Martha & Thaddeus

Available from:

Origin, Steam

Save System:

There is no autosave. Instead, you must find a save point in order to record your progress. Fortunately, these are easy to find, and there is an extra opportunity to save between chapters.

If you need to pause, bring up the game menu with ESC.

Viewing your inventory or map does not pause the game.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There are a lot of issues with this game's content, including an evil cult, murders and suicides, and since this is a game about dismembering space zombies, lots of graphic violence.


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A friendly greeting from your neighborhood Unitologist

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Tentacles bar the way

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Suiting up for adventure

Game Overview

While a bit clunky, the first game in the Dead Space series is still a fun one and sets the stage for what came later. Perhaps the game's biggest failing is that it attempts to bill itself as a horror game; with the weaponry Isaac can acquire and the nearly limitless supply of ammo available, it's generally seen as an action game that occasionally features a jump scare.

This is a third person shooter with a twist. Normally in game like this, you'd focus on headshots or just unloading your guns into an enemy until they fall over. In the Dead Space series however, that's not a good idea. Decapitation only makes the monsters angry. The alien virus that created the necromorphs (ie, the "space zombies" of the franchise) creates a sort of tentacle network within the core of the reanimated body. To actually do any worthwhile damage to these monsters, you need to dismember them. If you aim for a joint, Isaac's trusty plasma cutter can sever limbs at a safe distance while other improvised weapons can cut away at the monsters with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Some types of monsters -- notably the bosses -- have yellow sacks growing out of them. These tend to be a vulnerable spot, though Shooting these sacks is a good idea, unless you're standing near them, as one late game monster type features a similar looking sack that's highly explosive.

Topping things off, there is a lot of world building and lore that's hidden just behind the scenes. You don't need to learn about it if you don't want to, but it's great that there are these nuggets hiding around for people that are interesting in the story behind the game. Some of this information isn't available the first time you play through the game, so you get a little treasure hunt alongside the second go around.

If you enjoy zombies and science fiction, this is a game you'll want to play. However, while the game is fun and the story enjoyable, there's enough here to warrant caution before you let yourself get too wrapped up in it. While I consider the dismemberment mechanic to be little more than a case of attacking a monster's weak point (a very common combat mechanic), many critics disagree and consider this series to be too violent for any audience.

Story Overview

After enduring centuries of humanity's gross materialism and destructive natures, the Earth's resources have finally become exhausted. To deal with this self-made crisis, mankind has traveled into the stars where we began a controversial practice called "planet cracking", a process that involves breaking up distant worlds into smaller chunks, eventually reducing them into just their raw materials.

At the forefront of this project is the USG Ishimura, the largest of the planet cracking ships. To date, it has managed to consume and convert no less than 34 planets, making it something of a modern day legend.

But, as the Ishimura begins to mine its 35th planet, something goes wrong. Having received a distress signal from the famous ship, the CDC sends the USG Kellion to find and repair their flagship. At first, the crew of the Kellion assumes the problem is a faulty communication array, but they soon discover that the ship has accidentally unleashed something out of nightmares.

Now trapped aboard the disabled Ishimura, the crew of the Kellion must find a way to survive and, if possible, evacuate.

Points of Interest

Unique gameplay style
Games where you shoot at enemies are a dime a dozen, but this series changes the formula by requiring you to ignore headshots or bodyshots in favor of slicing the monsters up. When several monsters gang up on you, it can be pretty hard to line up a usable shot.
No sound in space
At several points in the game, Isaac will need to move around in a vacuum. During these periods, sounds are heavily muffled. In a real vacuum, there isn't anything for the sound waves to travel through, making space largely silent. Like real space walks, most of what can be heard in these sections are sounds made from within Isaac's suit -- things like his breathing or grunting. It's a very immersive trick that more games should use.
Lots of lore and exposition
Fans of science fiction like to have a fleshed out world with a lot of background. Meanwhile, fans of action games like to go from scene to scene without a lot of dialogue. Dead Space finds a nice balance by using logs you can find throughout the game to provide exposition and additional lore. These logs are completely optional, and many can only be found during the second playthrough.
Isaac's suit shows wear
On higher graphical settings, the protective suit that Isaac always wears shows the damage that it's taken. For example, getting slashed by an enemy results in a visible gash across that portion of the suit. It's an easy to overlook detail, but it's pretty cool.
Worth playing twice in a row
After beating the game, you have the option to start a New Game Plus. This allows you to retain your equipment for the next playthrough, gives you a pile of bonus loot and unlocks a number of logs that provide more depth and details about the game's world and the events that took place on the Ishimura.
Quick time events during combat
A lot of gamers hate quick time events (and for good reasons). Dead Space does use them from time to time, usually when an enemy grabs Isaac. On the plus side, they always use the same button, and they aren't too terribly unexpected. When you pass the quick time event, Isaac often performs some unique melee attack. The most infamous of these involves him punting one of the smaller monsters like a football.
Some noticeable mouse lag
While this is fixed in the sequel, the first game in the series is a little sluggish when it responds to mouse movement. This is probably the most common complaint about the PC version of the game, though you get used to it easily enough.
ADS Cannon levels
Over the course of the story, Isaac will need to manually control the Asteroid Defense System's cannons (ADS Cannon for short). These levels are universally detested, and really suck the fun out of the game. Expect to lose them a lot. Fortunately, there is a save point in the same room, so you can immediately save after beating the level and take a breather.
Fans are divided over how scary it is
Dead Space markets itself as a straight up zombie horror game set in space. To a lot of people, including myself, this really isn't true. The main reason for this is that the monsters aren't enough of a threat once the player has played for a little while. To remedy this, fans recommend playing on the hardest difficulties to give the monsters more of an advantage and thus make the game scarier.

Concerns and Issues

Graphic violence, blood and gore
Since stopping the monsters involves dismemberment, there are going to be more severed body parts lying around than usual for a shooter. In some cases, the body parts weren't from monsters; they originally belonged to the monster's victims. Bodies can be found sprawled about on most of the decks as well.

When it comes to blood, the majority of it is already lining the walls and floors of the ship when Isaac arrives in a location. The rest of it sprays out of the injuries you or the monsters inflict on one another.
Body horror
The zombies in Dead Space aren't your run of the mill shambling corpses. These monsters are dead bodies and tissues reconstructed into vaguely humanoid shapes. Whether they sport extra limbs, scorpion like tails or dart throwing tentacles, none of the monsters could be called pretty. The larger the monster, the more bodies used to construct it. There are monsters made from babies, though these are distorted to an extreme and aren't really recognizable as human.

The origins of the monster designs is disturbing as well: the developers are said to have studied the remains of car accident victims.
The player witnesses multiple murders and suicides
Over the course of the game, you'll encounter some of the Ishimura's remaining crew members. Some of them will be killed by the monsters roaming the ship, but a few of them opt to kill themselves. The latter are usually beyond help anyway, having been clearly driven insane by the events around them.

As the story unfolds, you'll also witness a few murders. Most of these are done by an insane cultist that believes the monsters are actually a good thing, but there are a few exceptions.

If it's any consolation, Isaac doesn't kill or harm a single human during the game. The sequel has him committed to an asylum, making it very clear that his experiences left him extremely troubled and disturbed. This is not a character that enjoyed his adventure.
Suggestive content
While the violence takes center stage by a huge margin, there is some suggestive material mixed into the game's world. "Illustrated Sports" magazines magazines are scattered around with other magazines and general litter, while posters offering dating services can be found with other fictional advertising seen around the station. It's pretty low key, but it is there.

There is also something called "Peng", which appears to be slang for something sexual. It's never actually identified, so Peng could probably be anything. The closest you get to a definition is some bathroom graffiti saying that a certain person "gives the best Peng".
Fictional, murderous cult
The world of Dead Space features a fictional religion called Unitology. They are portrayed as a powerful religion that uses money and political influence to benefit themselves. While that's creepy in its own right, the main problem with them is that they actually support the monsters, including willingly giving themselves up to be transformed into crazed space zombies. Specifically, you'll come across groups of unitologists that have committed ritual suicide in order to prepare themselves for the transformation.

There is also a LOT of graffiti scrawled on the walls and floors of the Ishimura that was written in their coded writing style. The code is easily broken once you find graffiti that maps the symbols to the alphabet, so you can go back and read it if you want. Most of the writing is just creepy quasi-religious rambling, though some of the phrases are taken straight from Christianity.
At this point it almost seems silly to mention it, but this game contains some crude language. Most of this happens when the monsters are attacking or when yet another problem stops a plan from going smoothly. There's a fair amount of swearing in the graffiti too, and at points people use God's name as profanity. Considering everything going on, I think I'd use a lot of strong language too, but the downside of this is that it can encourage the use of foul language in everyday life, and I'm willing to bet that even your worst bad hair day isn't on the same level of crisis as the zombie apocalypse.