Joystiq E3 hands-on: Dead Space


Survival plus horror. It's a pretty self-explanatory genre, albeit one that frequently produces thematically lopsided games that would rather have you yell "Eww!" than "Aiieee!" Running around with 43 different kinds of machine guns, a rocket launcher and an abundance of ammo is tremendous, limb-splattering fun (see: Resident Evil 4), but it's not scary.

When we say Dead Space is scary, don't take it to mean that EA Redwood Shores' ambitious, zero-g frightener shoves a stick in your hand and pushes you out an airlock. On the contrary, you're armed to the teeth and quite capable of defending yourself from everything with teeth thanks to an array of upgradeable weapons, including a shotgun, flamethrower and charge-up-in-the-nick-of-time beam rifle. Shooting isn't the problem -- it's knowing where to shoot. The face is usually a good place to start, though!
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In the absence of a readily discernible face, however (a common occurrence, really), you'll want to take aim at dangerous things like claws and tentacles. While "strategic dismemberment" is often just a fancy way of saying "shoot the weak point k?" the results of a good shot are immediately noticeable and beneficial. Taking out an enemy's primary method of attack is vital to your survival, with poorly placed shots serving only to ratchet up the pressure and waste what little time you have before head and body go their separate ways (Eww!). When a tenacious tentacle latches onto your leg and attempts to drag you into an inky abyss (Aiieee!), efficient aiming is your only means of escape.

"Shades of System Shock 2 are abundant in the USG Ishimura, as are splashes of BioShock's rich atmosphere and evocative environments."

Thankfully, you also have a handy stasis gun to slow down enemies ("NOT time!" insists an EA rep) long enough for you to put a bullet where it hurts. It has a fairly lengthy recharge time though, so even it requires a modicum of precision to use effectively. Less precise but considerably more depraved is your telekinesis ability, which effectively transforms nearby clutter and leftover limbs into damaging, airborne projectiles. Placing your enemies in arm's way, so to speak.

It's remarkable that Dead Space can manage to convey such a threatening presence even in the din of EA's cramped E3 room. As grotesque and menacing as the monsters are, the most sinister foe is the environment itself, an eery personification of technology gone awry. Shades of System Shock 2 are abundant in the USG Ishimura, as are splashes of BioShock's rich atmosphere and evocative environments. There's nothing to get in the way of this stunningly realized environment either, as Dead Space's elegant, holographic interface seems completely inextricable from the science fiction milieu. How many games let you peer at your inventory screen from behind?

But hang on -- isn't this just "BioShock in space?" Do the customizable weapons, the surreal audio logs and the lingering ghost of disaster inspire similar feelings? Absolutely. But while BioShock was a journey inwards, deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Rapture, Dead Space feels like a desperate attempt to claw your way out of a desolate nightmare. Pacing will be key, requiring a mixture of "quiet" moments -- sailing silently through a poisoned, gravity-less environment -- and thrashing climaxes, like our end-of-demo boss encounter in a 2001-esque centrifuge.

Dead Space will be one of EA's best games in years if it can hold true to that feeling and maintain its aura of claustrophobia, relentlessly pushing the player through one intense encounter after another until a cathartic, waking gasp. We're setting the alarm for October 28th.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.