Space is a scary place. The absence of air, the near-absolute cold, destructive pressures, and blistering cosmic radiation - it's frightening enough surviving in such an inhospitable environment without transmogrified human bodies skittering about like intergalactic zombies in search of a meal.
The smallest mechanical problems can have disastrous consequences. A ruptured oxygen tank was all it took to abort the Apollo 13 mission, no need for bloodthirsty Necromorphs.
Though not as grave a problem, Dead Space too has its own mechanical concerns with complex controls that bite into this survival-horror adventure. Phenomenal production values make for a captivating experience, even if its complicated controls constantly remind you that it isn't the console game it tries so hard to be.Urban sprawl
Dead Space suits you up as the mysterious Vandal, an adherent to the Church of Unitology with its bizarre and downright fatalistic perspective on existence. Convinced that sabotaging the massive space station known as the Sprawl will bring about enlightenment, Vandal actually unleashes terrifying monsters called Necromorphs.
Reanimated bodies with all manner of grotesque protrusions, these creatures quickly overrun the Sprawl, leaving you with no other choice for survival but to stop them. The 12-mission campaign has you severing limbs through the expansive space station from the food processing centre and aqueducts to the hazy mines in the Titan asteroid on which the Sprawl is attached.
It's creepy and captivating. The production values are out of this world and the gameplay is varied, providing a nice balance between suspense, challenging action, and depth via weapon and RIG (Vandal's fancy spacesuit) upgrades.Multi-touch-tasking
Yet despite these successes, Dead Space struggles with controls. Complexity is part of the issue - the number of gesture-based commands is significant - but critically it's the way in which specific control functions have been handled that results in problems.
For example, switching between primary and alternate fire modes on a weapon is done by jerking your device to the side. It sounds intuitive, but it's imprecise. Too often you accidentally switch firing modes because your handset shifts during a fight. This can be deadly - if your plasma cutter unexpectedly switches to vertical fire and fails to slice the limb off a Slasher, it could be game over.
Also, there are too many functions reliant on taps of the screen. Tap and you raise your weapon, tap again to shoot. You tap to reload, which often is interpreted as an order to fire your weapon rather than reload. You tap the stasis icon on Vandal's RIG to freeze enemies, though that too can result in a shot being fired.Built for the small screen
These misfires and unintended actions ebb the more time you spend with the game, though the slow pace of movement remains a constant. Battling a fast-moving Brute is tough because the controls aren't designed for speed. Vandal moves slowly and the camera doesn't pan quickly.
On iPad, these concerns are amplified. Furthermore, there's the need to constantly move your hands across the screen to open doors, select items, and interact with consoles. This isn't an issue on iPhone and iPod touch where your hands remain fixed at the edges of the device.
Other issues take some of the shine off - EA Mobile's continued snubbing of Game Center, and combat scenarios near the end of the game that fail to provide you with enough ammunition, for example - though Dead Space still manages to be enjoyable.
Its presentation, well-constructed levels, and tense combat situations are enough to see you through, even if the controls won't.