In space, no one can hear you scream. Or maybe whimper. Or complain a bit. Something like that.
I'm always somewhat reluctant to buy an EA game.
They've hit upon a sucessful strategy for surviving the marketplace and given how hard it is in the market today, I suppose they should be commended, but it's also not hard to feel that they're something of a predator, a corporate beast that's in the habit of gobbling up other more interesting studios and sanding off all their gnarly bits in favour of corporate conformity.
Take DeadSpace. Typical EA game. Excellent production values, solid but conservative gameplay wrapped up in well worn sci-fi cliches. In this case, the Aliens movies mixed with Event Horizon mixed with The Thing and given a liberal sprinkling from the System Shock games. No concept too difficult or controversial to scare the punters. Not even a bit of sex. Extreme violence of course, but blood and dismemberment is all in a day's work in the gaming world. Go figure.
And EA saw fit to tout this as a 'new IP'. Sure it is EA. BTW: Ridley Scott, John Carpenter and Paul Anderson called and want their scripts back.
So although I don't like to reward EA with my coin, sometimes I give in.
So how does it play?
For the most part, very well. You take the form of Isaac Clarke, a metal suited engineer who's onboard a rescue shuttle on its way to a planetary mining ship that's gone quiet.
Can you guess what happens next? The usual? Yes, it seems the crew have gone nuts and are now fond of redecorating with blood and guts and they view you as their next pot of paint just waiting to be cracked.
There's an alien artifact onboard of course - and where would we be without the requisite alien artifact? - and it's changing the crew into hideous creatures. Sigh. You quickly become stranded and separated from your companions and from there on it's a trek through the ship's bowels as radioed instructions tell you which switch to track down and which.. well, which switch to track down. In fact, apart from the odd boss battle, this game is very much about tripping switches. But the designers have been canny - there's always something to do within arms reach, be it dismembering mutants, collecting ammo or solving simple physics puzzles. This immediate interactivity, along with the high production values and excellent graphics and sound design, go a long way towards staving off boredom, although repetition does grate a bit in later levels. Perhaps best not to play it all in one go - space it out over a few nights for an 'episodic' approach.
By the way, if you see a major character without a glass window in front of them, you can be fairly certain they're about to be killed gruesomely and there'll be naught you can do about it. Apart from a few siderooms and the order of some quests, this is a very linear game.
I said hold the anchovies!
One of the main selling points of the game is the hudless screen. A glowing column on Isaac's spine gives a visual readout on his health and readying a weapon will bring its ammo display into view. Video and other messages are projected onto the space in front and to the right of Isaac - as though they're holographs playing within the game world. This system is more naturalistic than having a hud superimposed over the third person view, but it does have some practical problems. On occasion Isaac may get backed into a corner and it becomes impossible to see his health status or the ammo count. Switching weapons can be problematic too. In some of the boss battles, I found myself running around, frantically switching weapons in an attempt to find one with a bit of ammo left. Bioshock had issues with quickly depleted ammo clips as well, but a quick tap on the spacebar would give a full overview of the situation and the player could choose their next weapon intelligently. Unless I've missed something, that doesn't appear to be an option here. The game does offer a partial solution in that ammo clip size can be progressivley upgraded.
One thing the game doesn't do well however, is introducing a central NPC's relationship to the player - Isaac's wife. Indeed, this relationshio is pivotal to the game's denouement and which the developer's clearly hoped would engage the player's empathy. However, it doesn't. Isaac is a mute character in the same tradition as Gordon Freeman. Indeed, he's even more of a cypher than Gordon as Isaac's face is hidden behind a mask for almost the enitre game. In Halflife2, Valve were very careful to build a connection between the player (as Freeman) and the various NPC's - particularly Alyx. By taking this gradual approach, many player's developed a fondness for Alyx. In contrast, Deadspace presumes this deep connection between Isaac (and thusly the player) and his wife from the start and it's a leap too far. In fact, I found it confusing on my first playthrough.
However, all up, a very nice horror bound sci-fi game with echoes of the classic System Shock. Not a great deal of replayability, but worthwhile entertainment.