Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dead Space

Headshots won't help you here.
Review By DC47
So I was bored one fine day and felt like playing a sci-fi shooter, and this game blipped on my radar. At only $20 on Steam it was a steal, so I figured why not. A few of my friends had played it and said it was good so I took their word for it and gave it a try. Upon startup, I noticed that my mouse was lagging slightly, not in movement, but in time from when I moved it in my hand to when it moved on screen. This was mostly remedied by turning off v-sync (the game's native framerate is only 30FPS) which made my screen tear slightly, but the game was unplayable with the mouse lag. I can't deduct points for this because everyone's computer is different, but it's something to be aware of. Long story short, I found a program to use my PS3 controller to play the game with, so my mouse problems were gone.

The first thing you notice when playing this game, after the intro scene, is that when you fight the first enemy necromorph (more or less a zombie, similar to the flood from Halo) and you shoot it in the head, it's head simply falls off and it continues walking toward you. This game employs a mechanic called "strategic dismemberment" by the game. What that means is that the enemies take virtually no damage from body and head shots alone, and instead you need to shoot off their individual limbs to halt their pursuit of you. Generally you shoot off their legs first which makes them drag themselves toward you with their arms, then you can finish them off by shooting off heir arms or sometimes even their head. I think this mechanic is very original and it is a nice change of pace from traditional head and body shots, and makes from some intense battles. Some enemies even feign death, jumping back up to attack you when you think you've finished them.

The other (kind of) original mechanics that the game uses are the kinesis and stasis modules, and vacuum/zero-G environments. Kinesis does what it says, it lets you fire a ball of distorted gravity at an object in the game so that you can pick it up, walk around with it, or throw it at something. This is useful for grabbing items that are otherwise out of reach, or for throwing items in the environment at enemies to conserve ammo. The stasis module gives you a "freeze ray" that you can fire at enemies or environmental hazards. It does not freeze things completely, but rather slows them down a great deal. This can allow you to deal with a group of enemies more easily, or to get through something like a mechanical door that rapidly opens and closes. 

Taking place on a forsaken spaceship, the game has some places which are vacuums (no air to breathe) so the player must make it through these areas using the air supplied by their armor suit. If that air runs out, obviously the player dies. Sometimes combined with vacuum areas or sometimes on their own are zero-G areas. In these areas the player can jump mostly anywhere in the room where there is a solid surface, be it the ceiling or the wall. Most of the puzzles of the game take place in zero-G environments which can sometimes be a pain but it's usually very fun to jump around and do whatever you want.

This game also had RPG elements, which I love in shooting games. Ammo and currency (credits) are obtained either from looting a dead enemy's corpse, or in various containers throughout the game. You can use your credits at the store to buy anything from new guns and ammo to health packs and air tanks. Naturally the store begins with only a few items stocked, the player must find "schematics" and bring them back to the store to buy the item listed on the schematic. Schematics will let you unlock new guns and new suit upgrades, as well as let you buy ammo for a certain gun that was not previously available.

Another unique thing about this game is that it is not always a shooter. What I mean is that you toggle between walking mode and aiming mode. I walking mode you can turn the camera around your character more quickly, and you can punch and stomp objects to break them and take what is inside. In aim mode, your character draws his gun and you can shoot enemies. The game does not use traditional crosshairs, rather your crosshair is a laser projected from each gun that shows where your round will fire. It may sound a little strange, but it works with the game very well.

So that was all the stuff I thought was fun and original about the game and what made it fun to play. I could only find a few minor things wrong with this game, other than that it's more or less perfect. One thing that I found which is very much personal opinion is that the horror level in the game (it IS a survival/horror game after all) was surprisingly low. The game is scary for about the first 20 minutes. After that, you are familiar with the sounds and whatnot that the game uses to try to make you paranoid and you learn to ignore them. 

The game doesn't really go for the stereotypical BOO kind of scare that other games use, instead it tries to build suspense and paranoia with strange sounds and lights. It's effective for a game like this, but personally it didn't have me wetting my pants. Obviously this might not be the case for everyone, some people might think this is the most scary game ever. I'm just saying that it didn't quite do it for me.

One of my main two complaints with this game, is that like with most other games today for whatever reason, the game can be repetitive. 99% of the game save the very last mission takes place on a space ship. That means the environment always looks the same and it can get very boring. Every hallway looks like every other hallway and every door and ceiling and floor looks the same. It's just something that annoys me when games like Metroid Prime exist which I still think has the best environments out of any game to this day. The environment isn't the only thing that is repetitive, or this argument would be pretty weak. The main repetition comes when you realize that there are only about 8 guns in the entire game, and only 4 of them are actually good. 

So you play the game with the same 4 guns (or 3 if you want more ammo and don't care about the 4th). This game took me about 25 hours to complete, and you get all the guns at about the 10 hour mark so after that nothing really changes. On top of that, there aren't many different kinds of enemies in this game. You can tell the developers were aware of this because it pulls a Final Fantasy and colors some of the standard enemies with a black palette and gives them more HP and passes them off as new enemies. All of the enemies in this game I thought were very original, but once you get over the "wow I've never seen this in a game before" phase, you begin to realize that there aren't that many enemies. You can even start to predict by the end of the game when each type of enemy will appear because the game likes to package a certain enemy with a certain event (for example the two-armed necromorph generally appears in zero-G environments and the basic necromorph generally appears when the lights go out or during a quarantine). 

The bosses on the other hand, which I squealed with joy at seeing because I love bosses in shooters, are gigantic and awesome, but sadly you defeat them all in the same way. Without giving too much away, basically each boss has a few tentacles that you have to shoot until they explode and then you win. The bosses obviously has different attacks and you fight them in different environments and circumstances, but to have every boss in the game have tentacles was a little saddening.

My other main complaint with this game is the controls. Generally they are very good, but since you spend most of the game in aim mode to watch out for surprise attacks and whatnot, your aim mode finger gets really tired holding down the trigger (on PS3 and 360 controllers) and the right mouse button (on the mouse, obviously). I did tend to play this game for several hours at a time, but keeping your finger on a spring-loaded trigger for an extended period of time isn't fun. Not to mention during intense fights and boss fights you squeeze that thing with all your might because the adrenaline starts flowing. 

The zero-G controls are also very annoying because every time you jump to a new surface, your character stands up and points the gun straight down. This is especially annoying when you are being assaulted by enemies and don't really have time to be aiming straight down, especially when you're trying to target a limb and not a body. This aiming can also serve to disorient you in zero-G areas because as I said before, everything looks very similar. You might see something on the other side of the room and jump to it, then lose sight of it completely because you're facing a totally different way than you thought you were.

Despite those flaws that might not even bother other people, this game holds up very well. The repetitiveness is somewhat offset by having a solid plot, so it's not a total drag for the entire game. The voice acting is very good and you make a connection with the characters. As much as it pains me to say it in a review, the game also has very pretty graphics (assuming your PC can display them at max settings) and the enemies are very detailed and fun to look at, especially the bosses. Thought I haven't played through on hard mode, normal mode is a tad easy, even for someone like me who can't aim in a shooter game with a controller to save his life. In harder difficulties the game drops less ammo and the enemies have more HP making survival and ammo/money management a higher priority, contrary to offense being the main priority in the lower difficulties.

Overall I really enjoyed this game and it almost instantly earned my seal of approval. Despite my innate hatred to modern games, this one exceeded the mark and was very enjoyable. Not perfect due to slightly annoying controls and repetitiveness, but well worth my time.

SYSTEM: PC, Play Station 3, XBOX 360



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