Living dead

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The cold darkness of space holds secrets and dangers unknown to man. Sometimes we discover wonders and sometimes we unlock our darkest nightmares.

Dead Space is the latest in a long line of horror games and films set in space -- think Doom 3, Event Horizon and even John Carpenter's The Thing. And the one thing that can be said for all these offerings is they're scary.

Dead Space plays on the conventions of horror storytelling -- you play Isaac Clarke, an everyman space engineer isolated from help and overwhelmed in the dark, creepy interiors of a damaged space ship.

You arrive with a recovery team, responding to the emergency call of the mining ship USG Ishimura. It seems the crew of the Ishimura unleashed something dark and deadly on their last mission, and you have to fight to survive what they discovered.

Aside from the obvious visual cues taken from survival horror games, Dead Space presents the engrossing and atmospheric world with a sometimes-claustrophobic over-the-shoulder perspective. The camera controls are purposely sluggish, and the corridors of the ship are dark and crowded.

Isaac is far from alone, and his opponents know the best time to strike from darkness. But the game never resorts to the "monster closet" approach to introduce the vile enemy.

Sound also plays an important role. I found myself jumping a number of times as some environmental cue, like a pipe falling, sent me spinning about, gun drawn. Maintaining immersion in the world makes this game all the more frightening.

Dead Space is a mature, graphic title. Your foes, without spoiling too much of the plot, are made up of the Ishimura's dead crew. Their graphic design is reminiscent of the enemy portrayed in The Thing, and their morphing, changing forms are suitably grotesque.

Their weakness -- which plays prominently in the game's choice of weapons -- is limb dismemberment, so expect to be slicing legs, arms and other protuberances off your foes in an effort to make the dead stay dead once and for all.

Game publisher EA has big plans for a Dead Space franchise. There's a lot of added promotion behind the title's launch, including comic books, animated comics, a web-only mini-game and an upcoming anime movie.

There are too many borrowed elements here to make Dead Space an absolutely standout title, but it's definitely a must-have for adult fans of horror games, especially if you aren't squeamish about blood and gore.

System: Microsoft Xbox 360, Windows PC, Sony PS3 Players: 1 Price: $60 Rated: M for Mature Who Should Buy it?: Survivalists and trauma surgeons GameOn! Grade: B+