Review: Dead Space for iPhone
“For best experience use headphones.”
This experience includes having the breath scared out of you, watching bodies thrown across corridors with their splattering sound in comfortable balance between your ears and having every bullet fired echo across your mind.
Coupled with the recent release of Dead Space 2, EA has put out a mobile game bridging the gap between the first game and the new sequel exclusively on the iPhone and iPad. But this isn’t some dumbed down low-res port of the first game with extras and it’s certainly not a lazy publicity effort. With ridiculously smooth graphics rivaling that of the recently hailed Infinity Blade and incredibly intuitive third-person touch screen control the game brings the full Dead Space experience to your Apple device.
The story takes place three years after the events of the first game where a recent Unitology convert under the codename Vandal is sent to check on a problem within the Mines of Titan. He speaks to a supervisor over the radio who maintains communication with him during the game, but upon Vandal’s exploration of the mines he is soon faced with a necromorph outbreak. He’s routed to the location of various weapons over the radio, like a saw used to dismember enemies who get too close, the popular plasma cutter, and other more powerful weapons as Vandal tries to fight his way out. But even armed, Vandal’s not safe; he’s in constant danger from the relentless appearance of necromorphs as well as from his own mind. Vandal is having visions -- horrid flashes of death and monsters, which can last from a split second to ten. He’ll mutter to himself something concerned or reassuring but there’s no fooling the player: he’s going nuts and the stress of the situation will only make things worse.
Like the original Dead Space, both sound and visuals work together to optimize the experience. The series’ clean HUD works exceptionally well here, getting rid of any possible screen clutter on the iPhone and serving to enhance the luxurious screen real estate of the iPad. This allows the player to fully take in the morbidly detailed environment, with blood-smeared walls often spelling warning messages, slouching mutilated bodies throughout a corridor, or a necromorph leaping from vent to vent as the sound effects spike.
You’ll notice that like the first Dead Space game there’s no music. You’re in space and the ambience reflects that; you’ll hear the sound of your armored boot clanking against the metal grates for much of the game, building tension. Sometimes you’ll hear screams or clawing or indiscernible noises that mark coming danger, and then the sound of your weapon dismembering a disfigured beast.
The controls are something to boast about. This is as close as you can get to a game pad without actually having one. A very forgiving virtual D-Pad sits invisible behind Vandal, who is situated on the bottom left corner of the screen. Slide your finger in the direction you’d like him to move -- up for forward -- and slide farther to make him run. Your right thumb acts as a virtual second thumbstick allowing you to pan the camera simultaneously as you move simply by dragging around in the space next to Vandal. Attacking is simple and intuitive: tap the screen once to draw your weapon and tap it again to fire, panning the screen with your thumb to aim the crosshairs. A quick tilt of the iPhone or iPad will switch to the equipped weapon’s secondary function and tapping the stasis meter on the back of Vandal’s suit will drastically slow down both enemies and interactive environment pieces. Close quarters combat is done by swiping: swipe upwards or diagonally with the on-screen indicator to slash your saw and swipe downwards to stomp. His health meter, like Dead Space and Dead Space 2, is situated on the glowing spine of his suit and along with his stasis meter regenerates over time. The player will also make use of Vandal’s kinesis ability, tapping on an object in the environment with the kinesis symbol, aiming, and tapping the screen to throw.
The game menu is hidden except for a “rig” symbol in the upper righthand corner. Tapping it makes your weapon inventory appear in that same corner, the menu appears on the left with the battery meter for your phone, and a navigation symbol sits in the bottom left. Tap this and a line is temporarily drawn in front of you, directing you to your next objective.
I’d like to remark that the game would fit well on the PSP with its sharp graphics, but the goal here seems to be the touch screen. By developing for the iOS EA has brought a new experience not only to the series but to the iPhone/iPad itself, not only being the first console-identical survival horror game on the devices but also breaks the boundaries of what we know mobile “app games” to be. Dead Space was designed for the iOS, and greatly takes advantage of the hardware in doing so (despite only having a few enemies on the screen at a time), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 3DS or NGP (a.k.a. PSP2) version in the future, as those systems would provide the combination of touch controls and high quality graphics current handhelds currently cannot.
Dead Space on the iOS takes place over 12 short chapters, spanning a 3-4 hours, but comes with a list of in-game trophies that also unlock wallpapers for your device. Unfortunately, there was no GameCenter compatibility at launch, but that may come in a future update. You are given a chance to register the game with EA, and doing so unlocks two power nodes and another unnamed reward in the Dead Space 2 console game. As a marketing tool the game is a success: you’ll want to play Dead Space 2 after completing this one. As far as bringing the feeling and expectations of a console game to a smart phone and tablet, EA has done it a little too well and has consequently spoiled us in our expectations of what app games can do.