Let me tell you a quick story. While it may be one you’ve heard before, I won’t keep you long…
Not long ago, Isaac Clarke was just a clever engineer on a rescue mission to save his girlfriend. This is in the future, after the human race almost caused its own extinction by using every resource it could get its hands on. This is after the Concordance Extraction Corporation (or CEC) unveils the colossal USG Ishimura, the ship that became a symbol of mankind’s endurance and will to survive. Not only was it the biggest ship ever built, but the first “planet-cracker” as well, using gravity tethers to pop giant chunks of rock from the crust of lifeless planets. CEC, and the Ishimura were almost solely responsible for bringing humanity back from the edge of extinction and jump-starting space expansion.
Nearly a century later, our hero’s scientist girlfriend Ellie is stationed in the Ishimura‘s medical research wing when it is dispatched to CEC’s not-so-legal mining colony on Aegis IV. You see in the 26th century, the dominant religion is Unitology… A faith based on the belief that mankind was created by an alien race through the power of an all-power object known as “the marker.” This isn’t one of those flower-holding religions where you’re accosted in the airport, this is the “death is only the beginning” kind where followers adamantly believe they will be reunited with their alien architects after death and their leaders ascend to the highest levels of military, business, and government.
The Ishimura is sent to Aegis IV to retrieve “the red marker,’ an alien object which is believed to be a holy object and the source of life in the universe… However not long after the marker is discovered, the colonists start to suffer from hallucinations, outbreaks of irrational behavior, and violence. Once the Ishimura arrives at the planet and the marker is brought up from the surface, all hell breaks loose, and all communications are lost.
With religious zealots scheming to bring about the “evolution” of mankind, greedy corporations who are only after what they can exploit, and a REALLY gross alien virus that reanimates dead tissue and turns your dearly departed into twisted monsters called Necromorphs… It’s up to you to help Isaac Clarke and his suspiciously gun-like engineering tools to save the universe.
Welcome to Dead Space… Welcome to science fiction horror gaming at it’s best… Welcome to a silent universe, where new planets are always lifeless, and where only the scuffling of razor-sharp claws in the ventilation ducts is there to keep you glued to your controller at 1:45 in the morning. I’m talking NASTY critters here, the kind your girlfriend is going to hate this game for. The kind that have to have their arms and legs blown off to really slow them down at all. The kind that send you screaming into controller-throwing frenzies when the limbless corpse of your digital hero goes tumbling through a darkened corridor for the fifth time in a row.
This is also really fun.
I haven’t finished Dead Space 3 yet, EA‘s latest installment in the blockbuster, multi-platform franchise released last week on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, but that’s because I’m deliberately going slow. Normally I cruise through Dead Space games, including the original, the sequel, the spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, and even the two animated movies (available on Netflix). I eat it up like chocolate, pulse pounding and palms sweating… But I always end up completing these games too fast… And while my first inclination is to run through these horribly scary environments as fast as I can, I’ve made the right choice. Visceral Games has given us something worth taking our time.
There are enough reviews of Dead Space 3 out there right now, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say that the game has its faults… But you barely notice them. One of the biggest complaints for this iteration is the action-heavy theme this time around. Making Isaac more maneuverable, able to duck and roll and climb ladders, the significant jump in ammo count, but these aren’t just thrown in… I was never happy with the Resident Evil-style slow-walking Isaac from the first game, with his stiff movements and unconventional weaponry. These “changes” feel more like fixes to me, but that’s just my opinion. They haven’t turned Dead Space into Mass Effect… This game is straight up terrifying… And I like horror. I live for the thrill, the jump, the yelp. Dead Space takes it to a whole new level. See, one thing other reviewers are missing is the bigger picture here… And I think it’s because a lot of reviewers have a quota. They have to rush through and finish 3 or 4 times to test out what most consumers can take weeks, even months to savor… And that’s when I realize that Dead Space, while action-packed this time around, is meant to be savored.
It’s a feast for the senses. A gruesome, suspenseful, and epic sci-fi adventure that takes Isaac and his crew across the galaxy chasing the origins of the marker conspiracy. It looks bright and colorful on my LCD, and nearly flawless on the plasma screen. The crowded corridors and giant machinery of the environments are all accented by the scariest soundtrack I have ever heard in my life. Seriously, turn up the levels on your surround speakers a little and it practically drops you into the game. Noises like creaking ducts, slamming doors, awesome weapons, and all manner of beeps, blips, and alarms fill the scene… But it’s the whispers that truly freak me out. One of the main aspects of the plot is how the marker gets into people’s’ minds and seeps poison that drives them to insanity and murder. These whispers make you want to turn the game down, it’s that creepy.
I want to stress how visually stunning this game is. It’s easy to forget the graphics in a horror game where everything is dark and gory with disturbing monsters jumping out of nearby air ducts to surprise you as you walk down a seemingly safe passageway… But in Dead Space 3 there is a moment in the first few chapters, when Isaac must use his engineering smarts to fix up a 200-year-old space ship from a floating junkyard in orbit… This is genius level designing… Various half-wrecked hulks and abandoned space stations all connected by a handy little taxi system that lets you explore a staggering amount of free-roaming space… And the best part? It’s all in zero-gravity.
When Isaac emerges from the taxi to see the ancient spaceship graveyard for the first time, standing on a flimsy metal platform that overlooks the never-ending debris field that orbits a mysterious and stunningly rendered planet… It’s nothing less than poetry. It’s a special kind of magic that only video games can give you, and that’s when you forget you’re playing a game. It’s when you’re transported into the screen. When you’re actually standing on that flimsy metal platform, with the abyss of space before you. You can feel that first step off the platform… The vertigo is real… The suspense is maddening. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of pop art that deserves more praise and analysis than I can give. With an intricate plot, professional acting, outstanding graphics, intense gameplay… However it ends I know it’ll leave me wanting more. This is Dead Space.