Dead Space, EA’s stab at an enjoyably engrossing console-quality mobile title, is now available from the app store. One of the most immersive and shockingly jitter-inducing experiences we’ve had thus far, Dead Space is what other shooters wish they were.
Dead Space Pros:
– Gorgeous graphics
– Outstanding audio, especially when using headphones
– Easy-to-use controls with minimal graphical footprint
– Highly immersive gameplay
– Variety of weapons, monsters, and upgradeable elements
Dead Space Cons:
– Occasional accidental weapon discharge when using other control features
You play as a lowly engineer known only as Vandal, the lone remaining survivor aboard a drifting space station. When you begin, you are instructed by a voice over the ship’s communication system to use a plasma saw to sever certain security devices, which you dutifully obey. Unfortunately, this causes you-know-what to hit the fan as Necromorphs make life in space hazardous to your health. This collection of undead mutants appears from time to time, popping out of the darkness or masquerading as dead humans, to try to get ahold of you and chew your face off. Objectives are displayed on screen, guiding you along your journey without specifically pointing out where to go. Get stuck or confused and you can access a mapping system that overlays a temporary blue line to orient you toward the target of your objective.
There are multiple levels and environments to navigate, though all retain that cold steely exterior that you’d expect from a futuristic orbiting vessel. You’ll spend plenty of time repairing items, restoring power, resetting systems, and so on and so forth in an effort to undo the damage you’ve done. A variety of Necromorphs, from lumbering beings to small tentacled beasts, will screw with your head and attack when you are most vulnerable. They’ll leave you questioning your own sanity while defending yourself with a selection of wild weapons, such as a plasma saw for close combat, a effective line gun, and a Ripper that fires circular saw blades whose range and stamina will tear apart a beast at several paces for several seconds. It’s sickly gory and so much fun.
Dead Space does a great job of keeping the tension high, leaving you second-guessing the nature of your surroundings. We found ourselves equally torn between running through open spaces with the possibility of running smack into a monster and walking slowly to give ourselves ample time to react while remaining unnervingly exposed. Balancing out the freaky atmosphere is a good bit of humor, such as the helpful voiceover warning you that you’ve stumbled upon a locked door requiring you to backtrack through treacherous terrain only to tell you that he’s kidding and subsequently unlocking the door a moment later. Vandal even reacts realistically to the situations at hand, questioning whether he really saw a there-one-second, gone-the-next monster with confusion, exasperation, and a touch of cursing.
Weapons and armor are upgradeable through the use of nodes and credits obtained during the course of play. There is a bench and store that you’ll come across every so often to allow you to improve your weapon’s abilities and enhance your protective clothing to withstand the brutal attacks from your foes. Nodes are also necessary to access certain areas of the game, though these areas do not seem crucial to progressing. Nodes can be purchased from the store and IAP is included to allow you to use real money to make life a bit easier within the game, though this, too, is wholly unnecessary to have a rich and enjoyable experience with the game.
The graphics are crisp and stunning, despite the fact that many of the locales are bathed in darkness. One of the most notable achievements is the lack of an obtrusive HUD. There is a single on-screen button in the upper right corner that brings up a couple of other buttons that allow you to switch weapons, access the aforementioned mapping feature, and pause the game. Your health bar is incorporated into your character, represented as a lighted bar running down your spine. Stasis and kinesis modules are also incorporated into your armor, activated by tapping on your back to affect the speed of your surroundings. Movement is controlled by sliding your finger up, down, left, or right on the left side of the screen without requiring an actual on-screen button. Swiping on the right side of the screen adjusts your view in all directions. Aiming your weapon requires a screen tap and firing requires another tap. Reloading your weapon is handled by tapping on the weapon while aiming. There are plenty of swipe-based gestures whose available use is indicated by on-screen pop-up notifications. You don’t have a great capacity for ammo and each enemy requires multiple shots to kill, so you’ll need to make every shot count with such a scarce and ineffective resource. We did have some issues with accidental discharges when we meant to reload or aiming a weapon when we tried to pick up ammo. The audio is outstanding and you really should heed the recommendation to use headphones. Combined with a darkened room, it’s very easy to lose yourself completely in the game, which is a very creepy and very satisfying experience.
Replay value is very good, despite the game’s relatively short length and lack of leaderboards or multiplayer capabilities. The experience is worth repeating, and a + mode allows for replaying from the beginning with the full complement of upgraded weapons and armor that you finished with during the previous playthrough. There is a smattering of achievements to earn along the way, too. Most games don’t create the emotional reaction that we had when playing Dead Space, which is an amazing achievement that helped solidify this as one of our all-time favorite iOS titles. For $6.99, Dead Space is a 5-Dimple frightfest that’s worth every penny.