Dead Space Review
Stop me if you've heard this one before. The borderline dysfunctional crew of a small spacecraft comes across a derelict ship far removed from anything else. The crew boards the derelict and finds that everyone is apparently missing or dead, and soon thereafter learns that whatever ransacked the derelict is still on board...
Sure, the setting for Dead Space can be considered cliché, but in some cases clichés become clichés for a reason. In this case it's because the setting - being trapped in a closed space with a deadly threat and with no hope of rescue - is genuinely scary. The designers of Dead Space have an excellent grasp of what makes this so scary and what is simply cliché. They understand the need to make the player feel that something unexpected could happen at any time, but at the same time when something does happen it should be unexpected. Rather than making every room dark, the developers made great use of varied lighting and the net effect is far creepier than if everything was draped in a perpetual pitch darkness. Some rooms are partially lit in such a way as to cast ominous shadows that play havoc with your imagination, and having to leave a brightly lit room to enter a dark hallway certainly ratchets up the feelings of apprehension. The developers also resisted using the cheap trick of dropping a monster on your head every time that you enter a new room. Some rooms are monster-free while others are filled with them. There will be times when you think that a room is clear, only to be blindsided by a sword-like claw while you're standing there checking your ammo supply. You can be walking down a hallway you've been through before and have a monster bust through a ventilation vent and lunge at you. Or sometimes you'll see the shadow of a creature eviscerating some poor crewman and then watch it move off somewhere else. Where did it go? Does it know you're there?
There's far more to the game than rooms with or without creatures. There is an extensive use of puzzle-solving in the game, and the game makes full use of the space setting with zero-gravity environments and areas in vacuum that you'll need to get through and accomplish your goals before your precious but limited oxygen supply runs out. The game also does a great job of storytelling through audio and video logs that you'll discover as you make your way through the ship. And your objectives will be given to you by your ship's captain through the use of a communications device that pops up a small floating screen in front of you. Not only does it look cool - it's translucent and you can see through the projection - but it also allows you to keep moving without the need to constantly cut out of the game world to view cinematic cutscenes.
The amount of detail packed into the environments is impressive and really helps immerse you into the game's world. The interface is even designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. Your health level is represented by a glowing bar that extends along the spine of your character's spacesuit, and other levels of energy or oxygen can be monitored by similar glowing areas on the back of the suit. The game's camera angle places your view behind and slightly to the right of your character, leaving you with a largely unobstructed view of the center area of the screen. Some players may find that the view angle will take a little getting used to, but they'll get used to it pretty quickly, and once they see that it allows them to view much more of the environment they'll probably grow to really like it.