The door slides open with a screech of metal on metal, revealing a scene from Hell itself. Maggots writhe in the wounds of corpses snagged on metal gratings. Desperate warnings are written on the wall in blood. A row of cracked monitors alternate between bursts of static and weird sigils.
Our eyes snap to a vent as a creature that's made of nothing but muscle and claws leaps out into the room - but you know what? We're not scared. So we fire one quick shot to stop the be-clawed muscle monster in its tracks, then another to take off its arm clean off, another for its head, and that's that. The health pack that falls out of the monster tells us it's permanently dead. So we jog over, snatch it up and then continue on our way.
This might come as a surprise given how much this has been presented as a horror game, but it's really not that at all. It's actually been built from the mould of Resident Evil 4. Same tight over-the-shoulder camera, same fantastically tactile shooting, same great guns, same fun inventory management and same emphasis on upgrading your gear, but this time you get to improve your character's suit too.
Suits you, sir
The suit and protagonist Isaac's job as a deep-space handyman are the most impressive additions to the Resi formula of ultra-tense corridor shooting. Magnetic boots allow you to spend as much time as you like in zero-gravity environments (aim with your gun and tap Y to fling yourself towards a distant wall or ceiling, turning it into the floor) and a limited air supply also means that you can even enter vacuums or go for prolonged spacewalks.
Almost as good is your suit's projector, which brings up any transmissions or videos you watch (and even your inventory and map) as a flat hologram in front of Isaac. It's very, very cool to see. Finally, tapping the right stick has your suit co-ordinate with ship-board maps to show you exactly where you need to go with a pretty blue laser. If the pace ever slows in Dead Space it's not because you're lost, but because you've chosen to stop for a breather and watch a video log or look at all the little details in a room.
Those details really deserve a mention. The 'Planet Cracker' class vessel you wander through in Dead Space is as rich and fascinating as any game setting you're likely to find, easily prettier than Rapture and -dare we say it - more interesting.
Between the lived-in facilities of the ship itself, the remains of the disasters that befell it and the assorted nasties living in it now, your exploration is always rewarding and occasionally surprising. The work that went into creating it all must have been immense, and the cutting-edge engine more than does it justice.
It's all in the details
The unexpected buzz and haze of a swarm of flies, a gigantic turbine starting to rumble and turn after you activate it, the muted sound of your own breathing as you watch clouds of moisture droplets float through a vacuum - these are the things that take your breath away, rather than some freaky monster lurching out at you for the hundredth time.
There will be some people out there who will find Dead Space frightening, but there are also people out there who find Disney villains frightening.
The truth is that once a game gives a player a precise control system, an arsenal of huge guns, hefty melee attacks and even the ability to freeze enemies in place, not to mention an incredibly kind checkpoint system, no right-minded player is going to fear either enemies or death.
They are, however, going to have more fun than they know what to do with. It might not be adding much to the Resi formula, but it's hugely enjoyable despite this. Roll on the inevitable and much-deserved sequel.
Confident, interesting and brilliant fun
- Great shooting with loads of twists
- Colourful, in-depth environment
- Neat weapon upgrade system
- Almost ceaselessly tense
- Wasn't this meant to be scary?