EA's first survival horror game, Dead Space, certainly isn't scared of lavishing on the gore. In fact, the game is so violent that we half-expect to see the disc dripping with blood once it ships this Halloween. Having just hit alpha, the developers have three months left to apply the final touches and then polish it all up for release. Thankfully, it's already shaping up as one of the most visually stunning games of the year, with an engine that promises to deliver the kind of scares that fans demand. Visiting London from its development home in Redwood Shores, the team showed us chapter two from the game and was kind enough to answer our questions as we played.
As the name suggests, Dead Space has a distinctly sci-fi theme--a setting that's in stark contrast to the sleepy towns of most survival horror games. The visual design is clearly influenced by such films as Event Horizon and Alien, as well as even recent video games, such as Mass Effect. However, unlike BioWare's space opera, you'll be alone for the vast majority of time in Dead Space. You play as Isaac, an engineer sent to repair a mining vessel used to farm foreign planets for essential resources. It doesn't take long for Isaac to realise that something's gone horribly wrong, though, and the ship has been overrun by an alien race called necromorphs.
Since he's an engineer, Isaac's fairly limited when it comes to weaponry, but his mining tool certainly comes in handy. The combat hinges on enemy dismemberment, and you'll have to target different areas of your enemies in order to take them down. Isaac's mining tool can be adjusted to shoot energy bolts both horizontally and vertically, which was effective enough to tear an arm or a leg off of most enemies we encountered. As with most survival horror games, ammunition is fairly limited, but you can physically smash enemies in the face if they get too close for comfort. There are other options too, though; we saw a particularly cool weapon in our demonstration where Isaac lowered himself on the ground and raised a weapon that fired bullets in a spiral motion. It was an undeniably cool weapon to clear a room with, though it may have had a strange John Woo feel to it.
While there was a great deal of combat in the level we played, there's set to be plenty of puzzle-solving as well. At the beginning of chapter two, we met a wounded woman who offered us a telekinesis attachment for our space suit. Attaching it to our wrist allowed us to pick up objects and move them around in midair, much as you did with Half-Life 2's gravity gun. Isaac also has the ability to slow down time, which can be a useful way of escaping enemies or solving certain puzzles. One example was a broken door mechanism, which was causing a huge steel door to rapidly open and close. The EA representative laughed at our first attempt at the puzzle because we used telekinesis to lift a dead person and place him in the way of the door. The answer, as it turned out, was to slow down time and run through before the mechanism crushed us to death.
Speaking of death, Dead Space has some absolutely gruesome animations with which to kill Isaac. The team showed us how necromorphs can overpower Isaac at close range, and you have to tap one of the face buttons to try to fend them off. Some of these animations are very impressive--Isaac will drop-kick smaller enemies through the air, but he has to wrestle the larger ones as they take chunks out of his flesh. Isaac's health system is displayed on the back of his suit, and if it gets too low, the enemies will be able to simply tear him limb from limb. Some necromorphs will repeatedly impale you with their claws before ripping your head off, while a larger enemy called Boss the Hunter will just tear you clean in half.
While we don't know too much about the history of the necromorphs, it's clear from a few encounters that they're capable of turning humans into one of their own. As we entered the medical deck, a necromorph dropped from a vent and proceeded to attack a human lying on an operating table. The human, then, transformed into a hideous creature and proceeded to break through the glass to attack us. Thankfully, by that point, we'd found weapons, such as pistols, and were able to slow him down by shooting at his legs before delivering a final shot to the head.
Dead Space is an amazing-looking game, both technically and artistically. Using a custom-built engine, the environments and lighting effects are perfect for a survival horror game. A few artistic flourishes also really add to the atmosphere. The inventory system is particularly noteworthy because it's projected alongside Isaac as a 3D display. It's a striking depiction of the technology of the future because you can pan the camera round and see the menu as if it physically existed. With such a unique visual design, it's no wonder that a comic series is being penned while an animated movie will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray around the same time as the game.
The game also seemed to be running well on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3--this being the first time we've seen it running on Sony's system. If there were a lot of enemies onscreen, things did start to slow down, but that's an area the team expects to concentrate on now that it's hit alpha. A very cool feature that we got to see was the zero-gravity system, which will allow Isaac to walk upside down in the ship. You can walk on metallic surfaces, thanks to your magnetic boots, but you can also disengage and jump across to other platforms. Some other puzzles will revolve around limited oxygen supplies in which you'll have to pass through parts of the ship where the airlock has been broken. The developers are keeping quiet about other environments at this stage, but we hope to see more than just the mining ship USG Ishimura in the finished game.
Dead Space is looking very impressive, and with three months of development left, we're confident that EA Redwood Shores can polish the game even further. Both the developer and the publisher may be new to survival horror, but that lack of experience looks to have given EA a completely fresh approach to the genre. We're excited to see how it all turns out, but we'll no doubt see more of Dead Space in the coming months. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more news as we get it.