Updated: Dead Space Review

Dead Space received an update today that adds to the game, among other smaller things, a suitably murderous survival mode. Here, you’re put in one of four closed-off environments from the campaign and asked to take down as many necromorphs as you can before succumbing to an inevitable gory end. The best part is, making kills gets you credits that you can use in the single-player game.

There are actually two separate survival modes, although they’re fairly similar. In both, your health doesn’t regenerate, and you’re not given much ammo to start with. The difference is that in one mode you have an infinite amount of time to fend off the beasties, while in the other you only have five minutes. Infinite mode scores you based on how long you survived as well as how many bad guys you killed, while the five minute mode only cares about your number of kills.

These survival modes are brutal, nail-biting experiences. Generally, your lifespan is determined by how well you can keep a healthy distance between yourself and the enemies. Since they seemingly pop up out of nowhere, however, this is much easier said than done. Still, survival mode is a great addition to one of the best, most atmospheric shooters on the App Store. It’s fun while it lasts, and it’s a decent way to rack up some extra credits to buy that armor upgrade you’ve had your eye on.

Let’s get this out of the way: Dead Space for iOS is awesome. It has all the limb-slicing action, Retina display pop, nail-biting audio, and run-for-your-life thrills you could want from a horror shooter. If you like Dead Space on the consoles (or horror movies, or tough shooters in general), you should buy this game. And if you buy it, you should play it how it was meant to be played: in the dark, with headphones on.

To sort out any confusion, Dead Space for iOS is not a port of the original Dead Space. This is a wholly new game, with a story that takes place immediately prior to Dead Space 2. You play as an engineer, code-named Vandal, who’s stuck alone on a space station filled with psychotic aliens called necromorphs. Your identity and your mission are unknown. To progress through the game, you take orders from various people through a comm link and complete the objectives they give you.

The twisting story is better than your average iPhone game, but Dead Space is really about shooting the limbs off of necromorphs. As luck would have it, you end up with a number of upgradeable weapons to help you do just that.

What’s that smell?

The game controls like most other third-person shooters on the iPhone. The left side of the screen acts as a D-pad in charge of your character’s movement, while the right side controls the camera. Tapping the right side produces your weapon. Tapping again shoots. Overall, the controls are very tight and easy to get used to.

However, each gun has a two firing methods, and toggling between them can be frustrating. To switch, you shake or tilt the device when your weapon is drawn. Sometimes in the heat of battle this doesn’t work when you want it to, and other times it happens unintentionally, both of which can be disastrous. Aside from guns, you also have a kinesis ability that lets you lift and throw objects, a stasis ability that freezes enemies, and a serrated knife for hand-to-hand combat. Basically, you’re a powerhouse.

But the enemies usually come in groups, and they’re all vicious. Many aliens from the original game are back, like slashers, lurkers, pregnants, and exploders. A few new ones have been added, including elephant-sized necromorphs that are armored on the front. It’s best to break out the big guns for those guys.

As exciting as the game is (and most of the action is downright gripping), Dead Space isn’t perfect. True to the first game, your movements are fairly slow, so turning around takes time, you stomp like you’re under water, and you strafe sideways at a crawl. For better or worse, tank controls are one thing they’ve pulled from the survival horror genre, so don’t expect to feel light on your feet as you fight for your life.

Clean up in aisle three.

Also, instead of including med packs in the game, they’ve made your health slowly regenerate. This simplifies things, but sometimes it would be nice to get a mid-fight boost. And if you liked the environmental puzzles from the original game, you might be disappointed that there aren’t many here. You do get the occasional zero-gravity room and oxygen-deprived hull walk, but don’t expect anything too complex.

But don’t let those things stop you from experiencing this game. Perhaps the best part about Dead Space for iOS is the atmosphere. The graphics are killer, with sharp textures and fantastic lighting effects that amp up the horror movie feel of the game. Music is kept to a minimum, so you can usually hear your lonely footsteps and the quiet rustling of enemies. But when they attack, the necromorphs shriek.

It’s great to see another capable company besides Gameloft bring out a terrific shooter for iOS. As high quality as Gameloft’s shooters are– N.O.V.A. 2 and Modern Combat 2 in particular– it’s clear they all came from the same company. Dead Space equals the quality of those games in every way, while also feeling like a new experience on the platform.

Dead Space for iOS is as true to the console version as we had hoped it would be and then some. It’s a tough, visceral shooter that packs scares and thrills in spades. Our initial run-through lasted about four hours, but with a ‘New Game +’ and hard mode unlocked, we’ve still got plenty of aliens left to dismember. If that sounds like a good time to you, don’t let the premium price tag scare you away from picking this one up.

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