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Dead Space

Dead Space is a third-person over-the-shoulder shooter set on the planet-cracking mining starship Ishimura, full of monsters made from the fused and repurposed dead flesh of its former crew. You play Isaac Clark, an engineer on the ship sent to...

by Stephen Lea Sheppard; Illustrations: Ben Rayner
01 November 2008, 12:00am



Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Dead Space is a third-person over-the-shoulder shooter set on the planet-cracking mining starship Ishimura, full of monsters made from the fused and repurposed dead flesh of its former crew. You play Isaac Clark, an engineer on the ship sent to investigate why contact was lost (turns out it’s the repurposed-flesh-monsters thing). Play centers around exploration, ammo conservation, the collection and upgrading of new weapons, plot advancement, and suspense. None of the above is anything really new to video games, but Dead Space does it all very well. It also does a couple of new and/or unusual things. There is no intrusive game interface: Isaac’s health is displayed as a lit-up bar along his suit’s spine, all the weapon designs incorporate ammo indicators, and although the game can be paused, his suit projects the map, inventory, and objectives screens in front of him as holograms in real time. About a quarter of play takes place in zero gravity, where Isaac’s magnetic boots let him leap from almost any surface to almost any other, always using his destination point as a floor. Combat centers around precision use of cutting weapons—instead of just shooting the enemies until they drop (which doesn’t work), the game rewards you for cutting off their limbs and heads until they’re no longer threats.

It’s got replay value. As is thankfully becoming the standard, you can play through the game again using your previous save’s upgraded weapons and equipment. There’s also a letter-to-symbol substitution code used for a lot of the game’s written-on-the-walls-in-blood graffiti for the obsessive (I didn’t bother), and according to the achievements list there’s some sort of hidden treasure somewhere (I didn’t find it). There is no multiplayer because you don’t get a single-player experience as tight as this by spending a lot of design resources on tacked-on cooperative or competitive play.

As the unholy fusion of System Shock 2 and Resident Evil 4, Dead Space is one of the best games I’ve played this year.

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Too Human’s problem is that, marketed as the first part of an epic trilogy, it’s a single unpolished third of one whole worthwhile video game. Or, rather, that’s the source of many of its problems. It has a lot.

Its story aspires to Norse Ragnarök myth reimagined as postapocalyptic science fiction, with the gods as cybernetically enhanced warriors protecting the remnants of humanity from the depredations of a rapacious machine plague amid nuclear Fimbulwinter. The play resembles Diablo, with levels, skill ranks, item drops where the items have power based on the adjectives before and after their names, and lots and lots of enemies. This may sound promising, but the game is a parade of good ideas executed in a lackluster manner.

The introduction to the first level features a cadre of space-marine-like warriors in wolf-themed gear, plus one huge guy in bear-themed gear. Seeing it, I thought, “Oh, cool, they remembered that the base for the word ‘berserker’ is ‘bear.’ That’s attention to detail!” Except then all the space marines just reenact the Sulaco machismo scenes from Aliens. The game presents me with a lot of ideas I love and then doesn’t do anything interesting with them. And the controls are a bit clumsy, with an unusual mechanic involving use of the right analog stick to make attacks rather than adjust the camera. It feels to me like they become clumsier the more enemies are on-screen. The special powers you can spend skill points on are all pretty boring, too.

I’ve got friends who seem to like it: “Oh, it’s a low-rent Diablo game, but it’s not really any worse at aping Diablo than most average shooters are at fulfilling the FPS formula.” I acknowledge it’s not terrible—I mean, at least it’s better than Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. It’s just infuriating to play, because there’s so much promise here, and it’s being marketed as a sort of audacious creative magnum opus on the part of Crystal Dynamics. It never delivers.

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts

In Mercenaries 2 you play one of three selectable mercenaries out to kill Venezuela’s new populist leader, who hired you to help him pull off his coup and then stiffed you on the bill. The military coup upset the local order and now Venezuela is full of rival factions who all follow conflicting agendas. The gameplay is sandboxy in the GTA vein—you can go anywhere you’ve unlocked, people give you missions, missions give you money and/or advance the plot. It’s unlike GTA in that almost everything in the environment is destructible and you can call in air strikes.

What can I say? I’m not a huge fan of this sort of game. I don’t have many substantial complaints, but it doesn’t set its own bar high. The characterization is shallow and Jennifer Hale’s voice acting here is not up to her standards in Mass Effect. It’s full of minor bugs and needs better memory in regard to which clips of tip dialogue it plays. A lot of the missions have too many sequential objectives, along the lines of “Blow up this building, then that building, then the other building.” Along the way there are buildings that spawn infinite troops, so those get blown up as well. Dying halfway through makes for a repetitive experience. Part of the gameplay involves managing your level of favor with various factions, and I’m a bit of a neurotic perfectionist when it comes to those things, so I hit reload more than is really fun. It often feels like work; I guess it’d feel less so if I were capable of treating it more like a playground.

If the idea of running around war-torn Venezuela abusing Havok physics and air strikes appeals to you, and you don’t mind only a middling level of polish, maybe you’ll like it better than I did.
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Volume 15 Issue 11
dead space
too human
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