I finished Dead Space last night, and learned today that my friend Tieboy a.k.a Chris (here is his shiny new blog) hasn’t played it.  Ha ha, Chris, I’ve played a game you haven’t!  Also, in the few moments you actually see Isaac Clarke’s face, he looks a lot like Chris.

Dont cross the beams

I really liked it; it’s about the best single-player shooter since Half-Life 2.  (That is, I’m excluding RPGs like the Bethesda and Bioware games.)  It’s really good at the horror element… the necromorphs are creepy, even more so because you can see that they are ex-humans.  And even more than HL2 they nail the scariness of living  a nightmare– you pause before entering any new area or more open area and make sure you’ve reloaded, because bad things are out there.  Things jump out at you; things scuttle around on the ceiling and hunt you; things re-appear in areas you’d cleared.  And it’s pretty cool that the game does not pause when you check inventory or the map.

It loses on the comparison to HL2 in terms of writing and plausibility.  Every chapter is of the form “Someone makes Isaac wander through monster-infected areas of the ship to fix or fetch things that are scattered as widely as possible.”  Take that asteroid up there.  That’s your rescue beacon.  OK, sure, but why?  Why not, you know, a little rocket?   Or, there’s one section where you have to blow up incoming asteroids.  Why park this ship in an orbit where random debris will destroy it in three minutes if you don’t have a cannon constantly operating?  Or, you have to go fetch some nav cards, because… jeez, I have no idea, what is a nav card?  These things are not terrible; I just think Valve is better at making the levels seem like a coherent story.

I ended up relying almost entirely on the plasma cutter and pulse rifle.   I didn’t need anything else on Easy, and I never could figure out a use for the contact beam, and I never found a line gun.  I still kind of don’t like the upgrade system… you basically can only fully upgrade one item, a system which discourages experimentation.    

Oh, and not being able to save when you like is dumb.  You don’t restart at your last savepoint when you die anyway, so what would be the problem with being able to save at any time you are not in combat?

For variety, there are zero-g and occasional no-air environments, plus a stasis module that slows devices or monsters down (this is fun, though there are times you are screwed if you’re low on charges for it), plus a kinesis module (which is pretty much a gravity gun).  I think the zero-g sections would have been more fun if Isaac didn’t have magnetic boots; as it is he’s still walking on a surface, which doesn’t exactly feel zero-g.

My major complaint is with the overall plot.  I finished the game thinking what the hell?  (SPOILERS AHEAD.)  For one thing, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to undermine your avatar… Isaac sees his girlfriend Nicole several times, only she’s dead (as we learn in a really disturbing movie).  But she was, well, helping him with electronics, in one case across a hallway Isaac can’t jump across… what is supposed to have been happening there? 

I see her too, shes right there!

And then there’s the Marker.  You’re told you have to bring it back to the planet in order to stop the plague, and because Isaac does everything he’s told, he does.  Then his shipmate Kendra starts taking it back, because she’s a scumbag and wants it for… um… something.  And then you defeat the Hive Mind another way, never replacing the Marker.  So was it important or not?  Was moving the marker back a good idea, or a horrible idea, or a complete red herring?  I have no idea.