A beautiful nightmare.
Dead Space begins with you, Isaac Clarke, an engineer being sent to investigate the USG Ishimura, a deep space mining ship. Upon landing with your crew it becomes clear that something is amiss, and the game's frightening opening sets up the rest of the mood. The story will take some twists and turns as you play. It is a very intriguing story if not particularly unique. Despite that fact, you will feel compelled to play to see what happens next.
From the very beginning of the game there is no HUD. Everything is directly linked to your suit: your health, inventory, stasis, objectives and more. With a simple press of a button any of those will come up, though they will never pause the game. In Dead Space, no matter what you are doing the game never stops. Even conversations with other characters away from your position appear on a video monitor directly in your suit. There are no elements to break up the atmosphere, the gameplay or really anything; you simply just play.
Should you by chance get lost or haven't played in a bit the game also incorporates the use of a guide. You press down on the right thumbstick and a blue line shows you the general direction you should be headed in. The idea is reminiscent of Fable II's guide though that one is always on, or Perfect Dark Zero's guide that shows up only when you become lost. Dead Space's guide is at your command at any time you need it and is incorporated, again, straight into your suit. It really comes in handy, especially when you need it most.
Your foes are the Necromorphs, disgusting, savage beasts that deserve only to be killed by your hands. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and you will need to mix up your strategies for each one. The Necromorphs are wily foes though, some will pretend to be dead in groups of corpses and attack you when it is least expected. Others will sneak up on you, and they'll get you good if you don't pay attention.
The Necromorphs may be hideous and sometimes crafty foes, but fighting them is the best part of the game. EA has called Dead Space's combat "strategic dismemberment" and silly as the name sounds it absolutely applies to the game and works wonderfully. The focus is taken away from shooting your foes in the head. Instead you have to cut off their limbs. It's gruesome work, but it's also very rewarding to stand in a room filled with the severed limbs of all of your foes floating with their destroyed corpses.
Sometimes you will have to fight enemies in zero gravity situations and on rare occasions, without oxygen. Fighting without having the ability to breathe may ratchet up the intensity but the encounters are brief. The zero gravity situations on the other hand are truly fantastic. You can jump from wall to wall and enemies can attack from any direction. It's a nice change of pace and the areas for zero gravity are nicely interspersed throughout the game.
You will also have two other powers directly linked to your suit and those are Stasis and Kinesis. The two powers are used more or less for puzzle solving though they do come in handy for combat as well. Stasis will slow down fast foes and give you a breather when you need it most while kinesis lets you throw objects at foes, whether it's a fire extinguisher or one of their own torn limbs.
Many of the weapons in Dead Space are truly satisfying to use against the Necromorphs, though not all of them work as well as they should. There are seven weapons total in the game and you may carry up to four weapons at a time. A lot of them are great for cutting off limbs but others, like the Flamethrower, simply do not work that well with Dead Space's combat. Regardless, everyone is bound to have their own favorite sets of weapons and with each one upgradeable in various areas you can tear through the Necromorphs with all of your favorites.
One weakness to the combat is the boss battles. Dead Space has three of them and while all three of the bosses are huge, screen-encapsulating monsters, they are absolutely disappointing to fight against. All three of them have the same weakness, giant yellow balls that explode when shot at, and it not only makes them far less intimidating than they should be. In fact, the battles against some of the stronger foes you encounter in the game are more exciting and action-packed than any of the boss battles. But disappointing bosses simply cannot ruin Dead Space's gruesome combat or spine-tingling atmosphere.
Dead Space is a horror game, though the actual horror seems to stop after the first third of the game. From there it seems like a given quantity. You know how the enemies will act and react to your presence. But the game still keeps you on edge at all times. Dead Space's atmosphere is absolutely chilling, gruesome and haunting. The game is just so suspenseful that you won't open a door without having your weapon raised first. The organic growth on the ship, the corpses of the Ishimura's crew, blood splattered on the walls, and the flickering of lights everywhere. Dead Space nails the visual department with technically proficient graphics and the right sense of artistry to make your fear very palpable. And while it seems like the horror aspect comes to a close too soon, it surprisingly picks back up for the final few chapters.
But the sound is the one true claim to fame here. Dead Space's sound design will wrack your nerves. From the sounds that thump out of your view, a lullaby playing over a room full of corpses, the shrieks of enemies before the ambush begins, moans of suffering people still left on the ship as they kill themselves off. What few survivors there are seem hard to trust but what choice do you have? Their voices whisper fear, but they are in the same hell as you and want out as fast as possible. The music is so underplayed; in fact, it's hard to remember any of it being played in the campaign. The whole game is filled with your heavy breathing, the ambient sounds of this ship once filled with life, and the footsteps of something away from your line of sight.
Dead Space is a marvelous game; in fact, Dead Space is the best survival-horror game since Capcom's Resident Evil 4. It is a deeply satisfying and gruesome experience that has its fair share of intrigue, gore and suspense. The chilling atmosphere not only rivals that of games like F.E.A.R. and BioShock but it utterly destroys them. The game may hold a few too many similarities to Resident Evil 4, have less than entertaining bosses and the scares may disappear for the mid-game, but those minor grievances don't hold Dead Space back at all. If you want a grisly, suspenseful, well-designed and oftentimes frightening game than Dead Space is easy to recommend.