iPhone Life magazine

Review: Dead Space by Electronic Arts

I was planning on passing this game by, because I’m not a fan of first / third person shooters.  With the way everyone was raving about it, however, I figured I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I didn’t check it out.  Turns out it was a wise decision on my part.  I’m still not planning on jumping up and down for joy the next time a big FPS gets released, but this particular outing has been well worth my while.  Much like Half Life for the PC, Dead Space proves that an interesting story can turn an FPS into much more than a “run and blast” experience.  The horror element of the whole thing doesn’t hurt, either.
I won’t delve much into the story, because I’m sure by now there are enough other reviews scattered about the internet that you can spoil that for yourself somewhere else.  Much of the fun in a story driven game comes from discovering the story. What I will say is that, much like Half Life, you’re stuck in an installation that’s been overrun by some nasty critters and you need to make your way out.  There’s also stuff about church, promises, betrayal and deception – you know, art imitating life sort of thing.

What I do know is that you start off with nothing, and you need to quickly find a weapon or two with which to take down the monsters.  The weapons are more like some non-standard issue Sears Black & Decker power tools with an attitude.  Each has a long range attack and a secondary short range mode.  Thankfully the game (at least on easy) will let you know when short range is applicable.  Of course, the fact that half the time you have a monster in your face is pretty indicative of short range use as well.

That Is NOT Edward Scissorhands
 

You also have a stasis unit that lets you temporarily freeze monsters, making the easier targets.  Finally you have telekinesis, which allows you to manipulate various objects in your environment.  You can either throw the objects once you’ve picked them up, or place them in specific locations when appropriate.  Some of the objects are nice for dispatching monsters, while others will contain valuable items when shattered.  It’s basically like having the force without being a Jedi.

Despite having all of these nifty toys, this game is as much about stealth and patience as anything.  You can’t really go anywhere with “guns blazing” anyway, but take your time as you traipse through the hallways and “abandoned” rooms.  It might make the difference between fighting a gang of monsters and taking them on one at a time.  Besides, you’ll get your chance for group beat-downs aplenty when a room goes into lockdown.  These are definitely some of the most intense sequences of the game.

The left half of your screen controls your movement – slide your finger up, down, left and right to move forward and back or strafe left and right respectively.  Tap the right side of the screen to arm your currently selected weapon, and tap it again to fire the weapon.  Dragging around the right side of the screen will adjust your view while both moving and aiming.  Along the way there will be various things that you can interact with like lockers and terminals, and any time that you can manipulate something a symbol will appear on top of it.  Unless you are specifically instructed to swipe you simply tap to interact.  The controls are actually fairly straightforward for a 3D game of this nature, and most difficulties I have with them I think lie in my lack of experience with such games.

Do I Taste Good?
 

The atmosphere is incredibly spooky, thanks in no small part to the incredible graphics.  While I can’t appropriately compare to some of the other high end games that I haven’t played yet, these are probably the best visuals out of any game that I have loaded up on my device.  Dimly lit hallways and foggy mine shafts are enough to send shivers down your spine.  The occasional dead body getting sucked away or monster skittering into an air duct is creepy just because you don’t know when they are going to happen.  And of course the lockdown sequences are awesome because the red flashing lights give the room an ominous appearance.  There are only a few different variants of monster, but they all look really cool.  This is definitely one of those games you’d use to show off what your device can do.

The sound effects are the perfect compliment to the mood the visuals provoke.  When you’re running across a metal bridge and all you hear are the sounds of your boots clanking against the bridge, you wonder when the next monster is going to pop up.  At the same time, the blaring alarm can be just as disconcerting when you go into lockdown.  The weapons sound good when firing and reloading, the monsters have gruesome screeches, and the whole thing just works together really well.  Most of the time the music is more of a series of sound effects than true music, which adds to the nerve wracking demeanor of the outpost that you’re stuck in.  The voiceovers are well done too, and the occasional banter between yourself and the guy trying to guide you through the outpost provides a nice break from the silence, even if your friend’s news isn’t very uplifting for the most part.

If you have any desire to see what a console quality game feels like on your iDevice, Dead Space is the game you want to get.  Even if you’re not thrilled with the concept, you can’t help but be amazed by the experience.  If you love first / third person shooters this should be in your collection, and if you’re into horror themed entertainment this is a nice fit as well.  The only folks that might not enjoy this game are the ones that are resolved to playing nothing but casual games.  Even for them I’d recommend bugging a friend who has the game to at least see the graphics in motion.  You’ll be glad you did.

Overall Score: 9 / 10
App Store Link (iPhone)
App Store Link (iPad)

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Eric Pankoke has been a gamer for more than 20 years. He began with arcade games, moving to consoles and eventually handhelds and Pocket PCs. Now he spends most of his time on one of his iOS devices. Eric has written more than 700 gaming reviews, which have appeared on a number of gaming websites as well as several issues of both Smartphone & Pocket PC and iPhone Life magazines. He regularly contributes to iphonelife.com and TouchMyApps. Ultimately he hopes to eventually develop games himself for whatever the hot mobile device is when he finally gets moving.