Let me just start this out by saying... "What was that noise?" This phrase was uttered countless times during my playthrough of Dead Space.
I like scary things. I love scary movies, but I find I'm never actually that scared while watching them. However, scary video games - specifically survival horror games - can reduce me to a whimpering, shivering mass. I become very engrossed in the game, and I really project myself on to the character. Of course, playing on a big-screen television with a nice surround-sound setup with all the lights off doesn't make things easier.
For this reason, I usually have a friend or two around while playing survival horror games. My playthrough of Dead Space was no different. The first time I popped the disc in, I had two friends sitting on the couch waiting to be frightened out of their seats. Dead Space delivered.
The first word out of my mouth when the ship exited hyperspace in the opening cutscene was, "wow." I'm a sucker for beautiful space scenes, and this one looked amazing. From here, you're thrown into the game with a crash-landing on USG Ishamura: your home for the next twelve chapters.
Dead Space is atmosphere. From the amazing sounds, to the well-placed lighting, to the hastily-scribbled messages written in blood on the wall; Dead Space gets in your head. You'll find yourself cautiously turning corners because the sound of the ship settling could have actually been a creature moving around in the vents.
To further add to the atmosphere of the game, there are no overlays on screen that act as your HUD. Instead, the HUD is a holographic image that pops up in front of your character, and remaining ammo is shown in bright numbers on whatever weapon you're holding. This makes things creepier, because when your HUD is closed, it's just you, your weapon, and probably a few tentacled creatures waiting to slice you in half.
In fact, let's talk about the HUD a little more. I thought it was very well implemented. A single button-press brings it up, and you can flip through the pages with left and right bumpers. It has the standards: map, inventory, and objectives. The thing that got me was that the game doesn't pause when you're accessing these menus. I found myself hurriedly trying to access my inventory so I could reload my stasis module while fighting three fast-moving creatures. It was hectic. There was lots of yelling.
I haven't played a game where a 3-dimensional map is easy to navigate. Unfortunately, Dead Space isn't any different. It's hard to translate a 3D image to a 2D screen such as the TV, so I tend to cut games some slack in that area. Dead Space does an alright job with the map, but I found I hardly used it. Fortunately, with the click of the right thumb-stick, a glowing blue line would run along the floor showing the path I needed to take. This was very helpful in some of those previously mentioned situations where I was running and screaming.
There was also a lot of shooting and screaming, and Dead Space does this oh so well. The shooting part, that is. I'm very good at the screaming part. That's a whole other matter though. Anyway, back to the shooting. You can't just go in blasting at everything that moves. Dead Space has a system called "selective dismemberment." Yes, it is as fun as it sounds. Your primary weapon is the Plasma Cutter. It has two firing modes: horizontal and vertical. With the press of a button, you can switch between them. This provides some interesting methods for killing your enemy. Most of them have nasty, spiky arms or tails or tentacles that can do a lot of damage. You're given the opportunity to remove said appendages in any order you choose. Take off the wrong one first, and the creature can become more dangerous, flailing about with those spiky arms because he no longer has a head.
There are some interesting weapons. Aside from the plasma cutter, you have your standard fully automatic, rip-things-to-pieces Pulse Rifle, a Flamethrower, and a few others. My favorite was the Ripper. It fires a circular saw that hovers a couple feet in front of the gun and shreds anything it touches. Another great weapon is the Line Gun. It's similar to the Plasma Cutter, except it only fires horizontally. However, it fires a much wider blast. It's secondary fires a timed mine.
In addition to the weapons, your suit (called a Rig) is outfitted with two other items: a stasis module and a kinesis module. The stasis module, when fired, can slow things down. This could be anything from a fast-moving door to an enemy. The kinesis module allows you to lift, move, and throw objects. These two modules come in very handy throughout the game.
All the weapons, stasis and kinesis modules, and the Rig can be upgraded by collecting power nodes throughout the levels. You place these nodes in a grid that has various paths leading to other upgrades. For instance, the Rig upgrade path starts with a blank spot that must be filled to reach an "air" upgrade, followed by another blank spot before an "HP" upgrade. In this case, it would take four power nodes to upgrade those two items. Some people might not like this, but I found it worked well with the game. Most importantly, it wasn't confusing.
Additionally, the level layouts are great. Everything you do makes sense. Instead of "get the red key to open this door," it's "to enter this secured portion of the ship, you require a keycard that only the head engineer carries." That makes sense, and those situations don't feel repetitive. Also, you'll find yourself revisiting areas of the ship, but you'll never ask "why am I here for the hundredth time?" because you won't be. When you are required to revisit a portion of the ship, typically it doesn't look the same.
I could go on and on about Dead Space, but I don't want to give away any more than I already have. If you're even a small fan of the survival horror genre (or even if you're not), this is a must play. Don't even argue with me. Go get it now! Play it at night, turn out all the lights, and prepare to be frightened. You're going to have a lot of "whoa!" moments and a lot of "I can't believe that just happened!" moments, and you're going to enjoy them all.