Does Dead Space live up to the hype? Is drop-kicking a Necro-baby fun? HELL YES.
Ever since we previewed Dead Space back in December, the buzz factory on the internet has been set to overdrive. From the video we accidentally posted (that was subsequently reposted a bunch of times after we pulled it) to the slow leak of screenshots from EA, fans of the series have been chomping at the bit for more info on this game. I played Dead Space for the Xbox 360 last fall (yeah, I’m late to the party), and immediately pre-ordered the sequel just minutes after the credits started rolling. Yeah, it was that good. A major complaint that I constantly hear about AppStore content is the lack of “real games”… that is, games that bring a true console-quality experience to the iDevices. When console games are brought to mobile devices, they are almost always dumbed down, or too much of the gameplay and graphics fall victim to a shoddy porting process. As we learned last week in our interview with the developers, Dead Space for the iOS is not a port. I am here to put all of your fears to rest; they weren’t lying.
If you’ve played the original Dead Space game, you will feel instantly at home with the iOS game. Let me be clear, Dead Space on the iOS is a completely new story and experience, despite sharing the same name with it’s console counterpart. This game documents the events that lead up to Dead Space 2. You start out as an unknown engineer who is under the influence of the Church of Unitology; a large religious cult that (SPOILER for the console version of Dead Space!) played a major role in unleashing the Necromorphs in the original game. They believe that the grotesque form of the Necromorphs, grown from dead humans by means of an unknown alien organism, is the key to “eternal life” in humans. Right at the beginning of the game, after disabling several safeguards per the church’s orders, you realize that unleashing the Necromorphs was a really bad idea. The voice that guided you to disable the security systems under religious influence, Tyler, also realizes the mistake, and precedes to help you rectify your mistakes by fixing what you broke. The rest of the game is not spent fixing one thing after another though, which was one of the few critiques of the console game. There is actually a hilarious jab at this by Tyler in one part of this game that got a laugh out of me. Rather, you spend your time trying to get to the the “crossover”, which is the one link between the section of the station you are on and “The Sprawl”, the civilian area of the station.
The controls in Dead Space are tight, and work well 95% of the time. Literally the only negative aspect of the game involves some control inaccuracy when trying to reload or use your stasis ability on an enemy. This is
due to the fact that, like the original game, almost the entire HUD is seen on the back of your character. To use stasis to slow down an enemy, you have to aim at them and tap the stasis module on your back. To reload, you have to aim then tap your weapon. It’s a great way to get data and buttons off the screen, and it works perfectly to maximize the screen’s real estate, but sometimes you will misfire or accidently do a 180 degree spin (double tapping your character) in the wrong situation. The iPad version remedies this issue due to extra screen space. The only on-screen button appears at the top right, and is used to switch weapons, find your next objective, or pause the game. The couple of times that I had “issues” with controls are far outweighed by the rest of the game. To be honest, many of those instances probably happened because I was scared and frantically tapping, trying to do anything to survive!
Speaking of fear, Dead Space has the most engrossing atmosphere of any game I’ve played on an iOS device. I’ll say it right now, and put it in bold for those that just skim reviews:
You need to play the game with headphones on!
You see this message every time you start the game, and it was re-enforced by the lead designer of the game in our interview. I played the final few chapters of this game while I was waiting at the DMV for some car registration fun. I would have missed my ticket being called if it weren’t for the guy next to me tapping me on
the shoulder and informing me that my number was on the screen! (He also asked what I was playing, and how the hell it looks so good on a phone.) The sound and music perfectly set the mood, and change based on your situation. Headphones are essential to know where Necromorphs are coming from, as often times they will appear out of nowhere. The voice acting is also top-notch, which is extremely rare for an iOS game these days. While your character, code-named “Vandal”, has a voice mask on for the majority of the game, I was still instantly able to understand his plight, and appreciated how realistically he reacts to different situations. Adding to the audio immersion are the ground-breaking visuals. You guys have seen the screens, and seen the videos, so you know what I’m talking about. Dead Space is drop-dead gorgeous. There’s not really much else to say. On an iPhone 4, there wasn’t so much as a frame rate stutter through the entire experience. It’s pleasantly surprising to play a game that actually allows you to clearly read the various posters and signs spread throughout the levels, rather than low-textured globs of text. Obviously there’s more to it than clear text, but you should be able to clearly see that by any screenshots or video from the game. (Screenshots and video below.)
Dead Space took me about 4 hours to complete on normal, which is pretty impressive for a game that stayed interesting and fun the entire way through. Once you complete the game, you unlock the hardest difficulty. As
with the console version, this mode essentially means that ammo and money dries up quickly, and you have to be a bit more resourceful to survive. I played it for about 15 minutes… it sucks, in a good way . There is also a “+” mode that lets you restart the game with all of your gear and upgrades intact. This is great for someone who wants to complete the 40 achievements in the game, as some of them involve fully upgrading your weapons and armor, and others involve completing the game as speedily as possible. I should mention that the weapon and armor upgrades work here exactly as they worked in the original Dead Space game. You collect power nodes, or buy them from the store, and use them to increase firing rate, reload times, capacity, and other aspects of your weapons. You can also upgrade your suit to increase armor and health, which physically changes how you look.
Speaking of upgrades, EA added an interesting feature to Dead Space: paid upgrades for the game and your suit. These can be purchased from the main menu or in-game stores via the DLC section. Essentially, via real-world money, you can buy items that have effects such as finding more cash on dead enemies, or decreasing the amount of damage you take during any playthrough. You can also buy Power Node packs that allow you to upgrade your weapons in the game more quickly. While I would strongly recommend you play through the game once without purchasing any add-ons, they are a welcome addition to someone who wants to complete the game faster, or for the player who is having trouble getting past certain chapters. The prices range from $.99 to $4.99, but you don’t need to spend a cent to enjoy this game.
Dead Space is the best action game I’ve ever played on an iOS device. It’s the first time I’ve felt like a mobile version of a game has had as much developer love put into it as it’s console counterpart. We’ve seen decent ports, and good mobile counterparts to console games, but never a game that looks and feels this close to the original. But, that’s really the amazing thing: this isn’t the original game. IronMonkey Studios introduces several new story and gameplay elements that weren’t experienced in the original game… some of them shocking, while others are simply bizarre. This isn’t a cash grab or a cheap port, this is a brand new Dead Space experience. I would go so far to say that if you own an iOS device, and planned on playing Dead Space 2 at launch, hold off and play this first! Aside from the engrossing pre-sequel story and intense (and scary!) gameplay, by registering your iOS game with your EA account, you’ll unlock a special gift in Dead Space 2 when you load it up. As of writing this, I don’t know what the “gift” is, but at this point it’s just the cherry on top of a deliciously satisfying serving of Dead Space goodness.
Dead Space – $6.99
Dead Space (iPad) – $9.99
|iPad addendum: Nigel Wood
If you own both an iPhone and iPad, as I’m sure all of you iPad owners do, then if you have to make a choice of which Dead Space to pick up, I would recommend picking up the iPad version. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone version is outstanding, but for me, the iPad version takes the crown. The added real-estate afforded to the game makes not only the controls more enjoyable, but also the experience overall just feels that more engaging. The atmosphere, the scale of the Sprawl and the wee beasties themselves, have more impact on the big screen… at times you would be forgiven for thinking that your are playing on a console… it looks that good!
The game gripped me from the opening long shot, to the final credits. I especially loved the Metroid Prime-like final boss, and the twist at the end. Now to play it in + mode all over again. Check out the video of the iPad version in all its glory, below.