Dead Space ReviewCharles Battersby
Electronic Arts just announced that a Mass Effect game is on the way for iPhone. Some gamers might remember the lackluster Mass Effect Galaxy game that came out shortly before ME2, but this new title appears to be vastly superior in terms of graphics and gameplay. Made by IronMonkey Studios, it looks to capture the third person shooting aspects of Bioware's shooter RPG hybrid. Gamers curious to see how this is likely to end up need look no further than IronMonkeys's stellar iOS adaptation of another space-faring third person shooter, Dead Space.
Dead Space on iPhone isn't a tie-in game with little in common with its consol relative, but rather is a genuine Dead Space experience scaled down for the mobile platfrom. The obvious factors include the visual design, which looks just like the console and PC games. Weapons, armor, enemies, even the interface all replicate their counterparts. But the distinct gameplay elements are present too, such as having to sever the limbs of enemies to bring them down. The two special powers that distinguish Dead Space from other survival horror games are here too, the Stasis Field which slows down time, and the Kinesis Module for using telekinesis too. Smaller aspects of the series are easily found, like gathering Power Nodes that are later used to enhance equipment at work benches.
It also rings true from a story perspective. For readers who aren't familiar with Dead Space, it casts players as Isaac Clark, an engineer who constantly runs afoul of a cult called Unitology. The Unitologists keep tinkering with artifacts that always end up causing outbreaks of mutants called "Necromorphs" who are basically space zombies. In Dead Space for iOS, players control codename Vandal, an agent of the Unitologists, but still wear the same sort of space engineer suit that is worn by Isaac because Vandal is in disguise.
Vandal plays much like Isaac, but on iOS things have to be done in a manner that works within the limitations of the platform. It's still a third person shooter, and players can move by sliding their thumb on the left side of the touchscreen, and aim by moving their right thumb on the right side. These basic moves are pretty much like any similar game on the iPhone, but Dead Space has a few special features; when enemies are close, sliding up on the left side will make Vandal use a melee attack with a "Plasma Saw", and once a Necromorph is within grappling range the interface requires swiping or tapping rapidly to finish it off.
The motion sensor is used to activate the alternate fire mode of Vandal's weapons, but so far none of the updates have added gyroscopic controls for aiming, which always makes shooter games much more palatable.
The arsenal is small, but includes the best weapons of the series, including the signature Plasma Cutter, and a saw-blade shooter, plus some new weapons unique to this game like the Plasma Saw. One of the updates also added a powerful machine gun that costs a lot of in-game money, but is handy for playing through on the higher difficulty modes.
Speaking of in-game money, there is an option to buy in-game items with real-world money and one of the problems with the game is that ammo is very scarce – almost as if the designers want to encourage players to spring a couple of real dollars for a little more in-game ammo. However dedicated players can earn some extra in-game cash by playing mini-games that will transfer rewards over to the main campaign.
Also on that front is the presence of advertisements on the main menu that pester the Player to try other Electronic Arts titles or sign up for an Origin account. On the bright side, anyone who has an Origin account can get some in-game bonuses for free through this.
But this is a minor problem. Aside from ammo scarcity and the standard problems with the iPhone having no buttons, Dead Space is a terrific game. It has some of the best graphics on the platform and the single-player campaign is a good four hours of intense survival horror. There's ample replay value in going through it again on higher difficulties with the New Game+ mode that is typical of this franchise.
There are also a couple of bonus survival modes, one of which was added with an update. "Endless" in which players fight off infinite waves of Necromorphs until they inevitably expire. The other is a timed mode humorously called "Five Minutes To Kill" that challenges players to slaughter as many enemies as possible within a limited period of time. These will keep gamers entertained for a good while on top of replaying the main campaign, plus they provide bonuses to the story mode in terms of giving extra money that can be used in the campaign.
Dead Space is among the best of the action games on the iPhone, and its one true flaw is that it's hampered by the control limitations of that system. It's not to be overlooked by fans of the series, and it shows a very promising pedigree for the developer who's making the upcoming Mass Effect Infiltrator tie-in game.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.