This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Dead Space, a survival horror shooter that reviews describe as "a remarkable game from a well-trodden genre that manages to stand out from its competitors in almost every way."
Developed by Electronic Arts' Redwood Shores studio (The Godfather, The Simpsons Game), Dead Space represents the development house's first attempt at the survival horror genre. Critics have judged the studio's efforts a success in pre-release reviews, which average a score of 87 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Writing for Xbox World 360 Magazine UK, Matthew Pellett rates Dead Space at 9.1 out of 10. "Dead Space is the ultimate jigsaw of gaming's greatest hits," he begins, "shamelessly stealing features from a decade of classic action games and mixing them together in one giblet-filled melting pot of horror."
Pellett finds that Dead Space emerges as a standout experience, however, despite its similarities to previous titles. "You've played it before: Resi 4's camera, Gears of War's movement, Doom 3's corridors, Bioshock's atmosphere and story revelations..." he describes. "And although, post-credits, Resi 4 still remains king of the genre, Dead Space has proven itself to be more than just an accomplished copycat. In fact, Capcom should take note. Because EA can teach them a thing or three about survival horror."
Overall, Pellett feels that Dead Space succeeds in spite of seeming overly derivative at times. "By rigidly copying Resi's model and only ever daring to step outside the template a handful of times Dead Space isn't quite as accomplished as Capcom's classic," he warns, "but its quest to reach for the stars should still be viewed as proof that EA's recent ambition to produce new IP's is the company's greatest decision in years."
GameSpot's Lark Anderson scores Dead Space at 9 out of 10. "With its disturbingly twisted visuals, its deeply engrossing story, and innovative strategic dismemberment combat system," he praises, "Dead Space is a best-in-its-class game that surpasses other entries in its venerable genre in nearly every way and will be the standard by which they are judged for years to come."
Anderson claims that Dead Space's dismemberment mechanic provides a compelling gameplay hook. "Forced to fight for his survival, Isaac makes do with the tools at hand to defend himself with," he writes, "which are for the most part repurposed mining instruments like plasma welding guns or buzz saws."
"These improvised weapons are put to graphic, gruesome work as bodily damage and even severe head trauma isn't enough to kill a Necromorph -- only by severing their limbs can you put them down for good," he continues. "This nuance, referred to as strategic dismemberment, vastly alters the way combat is approached in Dead Space from the typical 'aim for the head'-style gameplay seen in most action games and zombie apocalypse scenarios."
Dead Space's implementation of horror also exceeds genre expectations, according to Anderson. "Each deck is a self-contained environment in which you run around putting out fires while moving closer to escape, and while your team will remain in frequent contact, you are almost always alone -- and most of the few survivors you do encounter have been driven insane by their ordeals," he explains.
Anderson continues: "This sense of isolation in such a hostile environment, coupled with bloody visuals and a brilliant sound design, has you constantly questioning your own sanity and wondering when the next attack is coming."
"Dead Space is a remarkable game from a [well-trodden] genre that manages to stand out from its competitors in almost every way, from visual presentation to engaging story, innovative combat mechanics to fright factor," Anderson notes in conclusion. "Whether you're looking for a terrifying horror experience or a deeply story-driven adventure that will keep you engaged for 15-20 hours, Dead Space is a fantastic game that you should not pass on."
Matt Leone at 1UP.com gives Dead Spacea rating of B+, expressing disappointment with its horror elements. "It isn't really a horror game," he writes. "Or at least, not a very scary one."
"It's clear that Dead Space wants to be scary," Leone continues. "It has the right trappings, from the lost-on-a-spaceship concept to the limited health and ammo pickups, the audio and video logs you find (which feature allies screaming at you), and the blood-splattered environments and occasional disgusting enemies. But it seems like -- in a few too many cases -- the designers chose to hold you by the hand and make something look cool instead of making it look scary."
Leone explains: "You don't exactly feel vulnerable. Mix in more than enough checkpoints and the ability to draw a line in front of you telling you where to go (with the touch of a button) and it's easy to settle in and let the training wheels take care of you."
Otherwise, however, Leone describes Dead Space as a well-made game in most respects. "Dead Space tries to have things both ways by being scary and offering plenty of gunplay, but it's well crafted throughout," he admits. "A better description of Dead Space is 'a limited-ammo shooter.' You spend a lot of time moving through corridors and taking out a few enemies at a time, but the game gets difficult (and really good) when it locks you in a room and forces you to kill everything before moving on."
"Dead Space is at its best when it does things unique to the third-person shooter genre," Leone concludes, citing its storytelling, dismemberment system, and zero-gravity sequences as high points. "While I felt like I was repeating the same objectives a few too many times, the combat held up so well that I didn't even mind...too much."