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Friday, October 17, 2008

Game Play: Dead Space, First Look

I'm a couple hours into Dead Space now and if I had one line to say about the game, it is this:

Someone did their homework.

I mean, really, when you start to pull the game apart you see components strewn from various parts of FPS and survival horror neatly and nicely geared to fit together. Clearly, there's Doom - not just the first but the third as well. One might wonders if this wasn't far more the game that Carmack intended with Doom III with its excellent use of lighting and sound in gameplay. There's enough Half-Life that Isaac might as well be a cousin of Gordon Freeman, with his stoic and shy nature (but more on that later).

Level design is a beautiful combination of System Shock and Resident Evil - although it is interesting that we are still strapped with some of the same "find blue key" mechanics from nearly every shooter ever made. The air sequences from Doom III have been refitted - and combined with zero gravity zones are quite a lot of fun.

Naturally we also see Max Payne and Half-Life 2 crop up with "stasis" and "kinetics" instead of "bullet time" and "grav gun" - and thankfully they feel more useful than cliche (although any usage of these mechanics runs the risk at this point). We get a dash, but only a dash, of Deus Ex style inventory and weapon upgrades.

The growing call for "HUDless" design in especially survival horror is near perfect here, combined with an improved Resident Evil 4 aiming convention and some impressive floating HUD components which appear when needed. I'm quite glad, though, that Isaac is not allowed to heal by leaning up against a wall. I'm half surprised we don't see more of the herb mechanic for healing, actually.

What's impressive for me, though, is that these don't feel like lifts from another playbook. They've been integrated very tightly and the game feels like it has been extremely well tuned for the mechanics at play.

My biggest complaint, actually, is that Dead Space follows the same narrative style as Half-Life 2. I actually find Issac's lack of speech somewhat jarring considering the situation. He doesn't scream, doesn't offer consolation or advice - Isaac feels cold to me. His search for Nicole, which I'm sure will have some kind of plot twists to come, seems silly and futile at this point. The last guy I ran into died while ramming his head into a wall - what hope should Isaac have that Nicole is still alive?

In general, though, two thumbs up. The game isn't just looks, but brains too. It manages to be one of the spookiest titles I've run across - which is a hard goal for any game. Highly recommend.

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