GC 2008: Dead Space Updated Impressions

We check out a new level from EA's upcoming survival horror shooter.

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Dead Space is a game that doesn't exactly hold the player's hand. Not only are you placed in a frightening setting in which you're forced to use makeshift weaponry to fight a scourge of infected aliens aboard a mining ship stranded in space, but a variety of challenges are also thrown into the mix, ranging from occasional lapses in gravity to enemies that just don't know how to stay dead. No, Dead Space doesn't look like the most comforting game in the world, but it does look like an awfully good one. Here in Leipzig, journalists have been given the chance to see a new level from the game--a particularly challenging one that forces you to deal with vicious aliens and careful resource management.

This chapter is the seventh in the game, and the goal is for the protagonist Isaac Clarke to traverse through the mining deck and find an SOS beacon to send out into space. His journey begins when he calls up an elevator, but unfortunately it doesn't arrive empty. What's waiting for him inside isn't a group of enemies, but a fallen colleague who's been badly wounded. Unfortunately for this guy, there's no way for Isaac to know whether he's clean or if he's been infected by necromorph aliens. The only way for Isaac to take care of the situation is to finish him off by making the wounded man part with his head.

That Dead Space is a particularly gory game is something that will become quickly apparent. For this we can thank a combination of slick, futuristic weaponry and gruesome enemies that are all too willing to come charging at you with less than friendly intentions. A lot of the weapons available to Clarke are everyday tools from his job as an engineer. This probably won't sound too interesting until you see them in action. Our favorite is a modified buzz saw called the ripper. It has been tricked out to shoot radial saw blades that dismember enemies in a horrifically realistic way.

Dismemberment is a strategy that you'll need to master because it plays a vital role in your success. You can use statis packs to slow time, which gives you some breathing room to shoot at an enemy's head or limbs. (They tend to simply absorb any gunfire aimed at their torsos.) Certain aliens come running at you with spiky limbs flailing all around--including one that looks like a zombie pterodactyl--but despite how scary they are, they represent an excellent opportunity to pick up severed limbs with your TK gun to shoot right back at them. Just make sure that you take the head off, because the aliens you encounter have a nasty habit of sprouting limbs right back. The combat in Dead Space offers a lot of potential for creative use of your weaponry, and given that you'll never find a lot of ammo for your traditional guns, you'll definitely want to stretch your creative muscles as far as you can.

These guns can also be upgraded in the game. You do this by using power nodes, which act as a currency to let you progress through a branching path on a weapon's leveling tree. These affect things such as firepower, reload speed, and so on. The tricky thing is that these nodes are very hard to come by, and you can also use them to unlock certain closed doors that you might encounter. This creates a risk-reward situation in which you need to weight the known upgrade against the uncertain reward locked away behind the door. In the case of our demo, Clarke used one of his nodes to open a door that revealed some stasis packs and a host of logs to help shed some light on the game's plot.

This level, which featured a zero-G sequence complete with an environmental puzzle that requires clever use of your TK gun and floating debris, represents one of the game's 12 chapters. These chapters range from about an hour to an hour-and-a-half each. As a way of adding replay value, EA has given players the ability keep their weapon upgrades whenever they complete and start a new story.

Dead Space is looking like a fun and scary game, even with the nonstop challenges that it throws your way. Fittingly enough, it's scheduled to arrive just before Halloween on October 21.

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