So, on and off, I’ve been playing Dead Space.  On and off because it’s very intense and fairly difficult.  It’s not exactly a relaxing trifle.

Still some hull integrity left!

It’s basically, well, space zombies.  A three-man ship crash-lands on a huge “planet crusher” ship which has got into trouble, trouble meaning horrible creatures which want to kill you.  The other two basically hang out in safety while you, Isaac, wander round the monster-infested ship doing errands for them.  Naturally none of your objectives cluster together nicely; you’ll end up touring most of the ship and meeting most of its crew, in the form of horribly mutated monsters.  The nice thing about ex-humans as enemies, though, is that they drop credits and ammo.  It’d pretty much suck if we ran into space aliens who only dropped, you know, incompatible stuff.

The UI is designed to be immersive: all the displays are projected holographically in front of Isaac, so both you and he are looking at them.  I don’t know that this really is immersive, as it’s hard to believe that space engineers will a) have save points, b) access their inventory in the form of an array of things.  Plus the map can be hard to use.  But points for an interesting approach. 

The zombies (OK, ‘necromorphs’) are preferentially killed by severing their limbs.  One or two monsters are easy enough, but it can often get pretty hairy, and there are some nasty variants.  You can slow things down, including monsters, which is a pretty neat mechanic.  There are also gameplay variations… an asteroid shooting mission, some zero gravity areas, and so on.  (The latter aren’t as free-form as they sound, since Isaac has magnetic boots that keep him on a surface; but he can jump to most other surfaces, changing the orientation of the room.)

They really nail the horror atmosphere… the idea that bad things can happen at any moment.  There is a certain rhythm to the encounters, so you get breathers, but walking into a new area you have to be completely on your guard (and for spice, monsters show up in cleared areas as well). 

Sometimes they overdo it; the death scenes are too long, and why can’t you save whenever you want?  The movement keys are a little wonky, too; sometimes it feels like you’re dragging Isaac along like a marionette.  “Point mouse and move forward”, as in HL2 or Fallout 3, is infinitely better than WASD.

So far (I’m on chapter 5), I’ll give them this– it’s usually clear where to go and what to do.  I was stumped a whole lot more often on HL2.

The upgrade sytem is frustrating.  You upgrade your gear with power nodes, but you only get about one per chapter, and that’s not even enough to fully upgrade one weapon.

Edit: I think I’m done.  There’s a fight in chapter 5 with about five necromorphs, one of which regenerates (and kills you instantly if you let it get near).  I just can’t clear them fast enough before either running of stasis or losing track of Mr. Instakill.  And it’s not fun trying.

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