I had no idea Dead Space was heading to the iPhone nor did I ever think it would. I figured that an acute control method with stellar graphics and sound were integral to the experience and something unable to achieve on any Apple device. But here we are, a gameplay video sparking my interest and a few hours of horror later, I’ve finished Dead Space on the iPhone and the best way to describe it is “wow.”
The opening shot gloats the power of the engine behind Dead Space as the camera pans over a mighty galactic ship, resting on a window with protagonist Vandal starring out. From here on out, the subdued lighting and richly detailed environments continues to amaze with some truly remarkable graphics. And the sound is even better. Ever piece of conversation is fully voice acted, those little knocks and bangs that unhinge confidence are plentiful while the overall sound effects seem devilishly realistic. The makers recommend using earphones to get a better sense of emotion so I gave it a go and couldn’t agree more. The audio was one of the highlights of the console games and iOS one is worthy of similar praise.
I purposely didn’t use the word ‘port’ just then because Dead Space may share the exact name of the first console/PC outing but doesn’t share its story. This game is a brand new adventure linking the HD versions. Its hooks aren’t huge however and it’s not as if you need to play the game in order to understand Dead Space 2 but it does set the scene somewhat. You play as the aforementioned Vandal, a mysterious type, chosen by a people of the church to partake in a mission to release Necromorphs onto an unsuspecting crew. You don’t know this but go along for the ride anyway, blindly following orders until it’s clear what’s happened. Now you’re out for revenge but it’s not as easy as that. Things begin to seem a bit weird from what Vandal does, says and speaks to. You think you’ve figured it out but wait, another twist in what becomes a really good story.
The missions, spread over 12 chapters, revolve around a general theme; putting Vandal in small or tight rooms with Necromorphs piling in. Towards the end, the number and size of the enemies increases and the playing field does open up from time to time with a couple of cool boss fights too. EA have made sure the adventure is appropriate for a mobile device and don’t unnecessarily drag out chapters for the sake of it. It took me three and a half hours to complete (which then unlocks hard mode) so the missions average around 10-20 minutes each with the later levels split up by a tram sequence as Vandal travels between locations. This isn’t a time to relax however because Necromorphs apparently adore the tram. After the third or fourth ride, I did begin to wish there was another way to travel though lived with its repetitiveness because of the loot dropped or found on the trams.
Much like the HD games, the HUD is environmental rather than spread over the screen. The health bar is on Vandal’s back and items are shown by floating holograms. But the controls aren’t quite as sharp. Sliding your left thumb over Vandal moves and strafes whereas the right thumb aims, tapping to fire weapons and so forth. The problem comes when you’re running as your thumb gets pushed so far up the screen that it begins to obscure the view. It’s a shame because Dead Space looks so good, having a thumb in the way does break the illusion. So don’t run, walk, right? When a horde of Necromorphs are chasing me, I’m going to run! Thankfully it’s not that big of a deal especially if you play a lot of action games on the iPhone or iPad, just something to bear in mind.
Epic’s beautiful Infinity Blade received a lot of (worthy) hype even before its release yet relatively little was said about Dead Space until it appeared fairly modestly onto the App Store. But it’s just as big a deal for the iDevices offering one of those ‘real’ game experiences that are often overshadowed or even ignored altogether. Don’t ignore this game, it’s magnificent. So I had a few hiccups with the controls and tram sequences but that’s all they were, hiccups. The creepy audio, great graphics, believable tension, substantial story and surprise ending, all made up for it and more. I even felt a little disappointed when it was all over. If I wasn’t such a wuss, I’d probably be playing hard mode right now but I am, so buy Dead Space and let me know how that goes okay?!
An outstanding experience that goes above and beyond expectations.