Friday, January 29, 2010

Army of Two: The 40th Day

I went into the first Army of Two with mildly high expectations. It sounded great; a third person shooter based entirely around cooperative play (like RE5). But unfortunately, it wasn't as good as it could have been. Despite this, I'm glad to see EA returning for a second go at this ambitious franchise. Enter Army of Two: The 40th Day.

Whereas the first game took Rios and Salem all around the world in various "chapters" of their lives as SSC mercenaries, The 40th Day is much more centralized. It takes place in Shanghai, China, and spans a single long and harrowing day. What are they doing in Shanghai, you say? Well, as anyone who completed the first game should know, after the fiasco with the SSC, they created their own PMC company consisting of themselves and their intelligence contact Alice Murray. They arrive in Shanghai to do a simple oddjob; a lot of money for a little work. But less than 15 minutes into the game, everything goes to hell.

Shanghai is heavily bombed and invaded by a mysterious alliance of PMCs known as the 40th Day Initiative. Most of the game follows Rios and Salem as they desperately try to find a way out of what is quickly becoming a mess of a city.

As you progress, you'll frequently find yourself in various situations (often involving hostages) that require you to make a decision on how to proceed. For example, you encounter a small group of enemy soldiers preparing to execute some civilians. Will you go to the trouble of saving the civilians, or will you just engage in open warfare with the soldiers, and not care less about what happens to them?

Morality is a heavy topic in The 40th Day, and the game reminds you of this on a very regular basis. Selfish or sadistic actions like shooting innocents or killing soldiers after they've surrendered net you bad mojo, whereas more merciful actions like tying down soldiers instead of killing them or rescueing civilians get you good morality. Your actions can have consequences later on down the road, so it may be good to think before you act.

Besides minor in game actions, Rios and Salem will often end up having to make a major decision that will can heavily sway their morality. The first of such decisions involves a PMC you work with in the first chapter. Alice informs the two that their client will pay extra money if you kill him. But will you? This is the same guy who probably dragged your butt to safety and revived you once or twice in the middle of battle, and he's a friendly chap. Will you off him just for some extra cash?

Each major decision is followed by a comic book-style cutscene that shows the consequences of your choice. Though atypical, I think this squanders some of the potential this feature might have had. Until the ensuing cutscene confirmed his death, I was almost sure that he would appear later in the game, either for revenge or gratitude (incidentally, I chose to kill him on my first playthrough, and thus was apprehensive of the former possibility). While these moments of decision are cool, the overall plot is very shallow. Like the first game, it's really only there to tie the stages together, and give you an excuse to shoot people. Which is fine, since games like these generally boil down to gameplay, not story.

Obviously, Army of Two's gameplay is very co-op-centric. Back-to-back moments are back , as is pretty much every other feature present in the first game. There's been a bit of tweaking done, though. Co-op sniping no longer has to be "initiated", and can be started any time both partners are looking through a weapon scope (and not necessarily the scope of a sniper rifle). Berserk and temporary invisibility are both gone, but you can still play dead after taking a few hits. Back-to-back moments and step jumps are largely unchanged, though. Riot shields are back, and you can still hunker down behind your partner to form a shield convoy.

The Aggro system also returns, and is still an integral part of gameplay. For those who haven't played the first one, the Aggro system is a cool feature that, with some partner coordination, provides for some excellent tactical maneuvers. Simply put, you make a lot of noise (firing weapons, throwing grenades, etc.), you attract more attention. With the spotlight on you, enemies won't be paying attention to your partner, who can now move about the battlefield almost completely unhindered. It's like sending a tank and a footman to battle. I don't know about you, but I'd be paying more attention to the tank. Of course, as the saying goes, don't get into the oven if you can't take the heat. Don't soak up Aggro if you're not prepared to also soak up a few bullets.

But what's a sequel without new features? New to the club is an upgraded GPS, which now takes on the form of a large holoscreen in front of you. The GPS shows a bright green path on the ground that shows where you're supposed to go, but you can scan enemies and tag them as priorities. The controls have also been remapped, and are now much more intuitive, in my opinion (though equipping attachments on the go is a bit of a stretch).

Though there aren't really any bosses, you'll encounter plenty of enemies who cannot be fought effectively from the front. So you'll have to have one person distract him while the other circles around and goes for the kill. You can also now take enemies hostage, and either tie them down, snap their neck or use them as a meat shield (though they will physically protest to this every now and then). You can even force entire squads to surrender by nabbing their commanding officer. While you hold a gun to his head, your partner can either tie down or execute his cohorts, though they may try something if things get too tense. Walking into a room full of enemies, you can even pretend to surrender. Then you can whip out your gun and kill them all in slow motion. Your partner can either join in this fun, or stay back and watch the proceedings with a sniper rifle in hand to cover you. Step jumps and back-to-back moments are the only two co-op elements that feel a bit static. Everything else is natural and well integrated, which makes the game all the more engaging, and fun to play. Co-op really is the name of the game here, and that's a great thing.

And now, your enemies join in too.  The AI has been beefed up this time around, and acts noticeably more intelligently.  Instead of dying immediately, oftentimes enemies will be incapacitated.  Like Rios and Salem, they will attempt to drag their way to safety, and even take a few potshots at you with a sidearm.  I also frequently saw enemy soldiers step out from cover to drag a fallen comrade to safety and revive him.  It was a welcome sight, to be sure.

Weapon customization has also seen a huge facelift this time around. In the first game, customizing weapons was a sober affair, done mostly just to keep pace. Now there are hundreds of parts available for customization, and most of them can be mixed and matched with anything. The developers called it "Lego with weapons", and it's almost true. First, you buy a weapon. Then you hit the customization screen, where you can change its barrel, stock, magazine, front mount, scope, paint job, and muzzle. I took an M416 and gave it a 100-bullet double drum magazine, an underslung grenade launcher, a mountain-themed tactical paint job, the barrel of an AK-47, and a large thick stock similar to a P90. With either a suppressor or bayonet fitted, it was a beast to behold. Then I took a Scar-L and gave it a small Triton barrel, a 3X attack scope, an efficient suppressor and extra grip, and a desert special ops paint job. And thus it became a stealth rifle, perfect for quiet kills. It's hugely satisfying to customize a weapon and come out with something specially tailored to your play style, and I have to say this is one of my favorite aspects of the game. You can go into weapon customization anytime you're not in battle, which is pretty cool. In multiplayer each partner has their own customization screen and pool of money to spend on parts. In single player, the AI automatically upgrades its weapons (in a linear path) as you progress.

The campaign (which of course can be played solo, splitscreen or online) is accompanied by a few other multiplayer modes. Those who pre-ordered the game were granted immediate access to the game mode Extraction, where two partnerships work together fight off an onslaught of enemies, not unlike Gears of War 2's Horde mode or Uncharted 2's Survival mode.

Also present are a couple versus modes: Warzone, Co-Op deathmatch, and Control. Control is standard King of the Hill stuff, Co-Op Deathmatch is team deathmatch with partnerships instead of full on teams, and Warzone is objective-based combat.

Army of Two isn't a bad looking game, incidentally. Like a typically generic shooter though, it's color palette is dominated by gray and brown hues, and some effects, like the explosions, are pretty unconvincing. And, while not rife with glitches, I have had some incidents of the game freezing or enemies failing to spawn (resulting in me being unable to progress). Most cutscenes are still not skippable (a grievance returning from the first game), despite how insignificant the plot is, and you have to sit through a 15-20 second load screen every time you die, despite the 1.4GB mandatory install.

Ultimately, Army of Two's gameplay is its saving grace. If nothing else, the developers put a lot of thought into how they can mesh intense shooting action with strategic co-op gameplay, and for the most part it works to great effect. But some elements of the game, major and minor, sometimes feel like they were almost cobbled together. An 8/10

Thursday, January 21, 2010

PixelJunk Shooter

Among the growing mass of unique content to be found on the Playstation Network, some creators stand out.  Q-Games is widely recognized for their lovable PixelJunk series, with each installment bringing something interesting to the table.  And now they're doing it once more with their fourth installment, PixelJunk Shooter.

Like all other games in the PJ series, Shooter is fairly simplistic in premise and execution.  You fly a small ship through various subterranean caverns in search of stranded miners and hidden treasure while overcoming various obstacles, which are presented both by the hostile alien creatures you'll encounter and the environment itself.  As in all other dual stick shooters, you move with one stick and turn with the other, pressing R1 or R2 to fire standard rockets and holding down to fire more powerful heat seeking missiles.

As you rescue miners and researchers, explore, and excavate jewels, you'll encounter various substances such as ice, water, magma, and tar, most of which affect your heat gauge (which doubles as your health meter).  When the heat gauge maxes out, you overheat and crash.  Simply being near magma steadily fills your heat gauge.  Other substances usually require direct contact.  Touching water instantly cools you down.

Furthermore, all of these substances have various natural properties.  When water hits magma, it creates cooled lava that you can dig through.  Ice submerged in water gradually expands, consuming everything in its path until the entire body of water is frozen.  Gas, which is highly flammable, ignites when touched by magma, destroying anything caught in the blast.  This is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended), though.  You'll also encounter temporary modifiers for your ship, such as the magma suit, which lets you fire pure magma instead of the usual rockets, or the Inverter suit, which makes water dangerous and magma safe.

The game uses these elements to integrate twists and puzzles into the gameplay.  For example, You might encounter a small volcano that's constantly spewing magma, blocking your path.  To temporarily seal it, you could throw water at the eruption, cooling the magma into crust, which then sits on top of the mouth of the volcano (until another eruption possibly melts it and breaks through), allowing you to pass by safely.

We've come to expect pretty great visual and audio presentation from Q-Games, and they didn't fail to deliver.  The graphics are crisp and extremely well animated, and the physics engine for the various materials is seriously impressive.  The audio features some eery BGMs befitting a game where you explore the barren, subterranean caverns of a foreign planet.  Load times are absent, and the game never hiccups despite this.  This is just an excellently polished game; basically what people have come to expect from PS3 exclusives.

For $15, this isn't an especially beefy game.  The game features three chapters, each of which in turn has several stages, which can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes to complete, depending on how thorough you are.  However, there's some really enjoyable two player co-op, as well as miners and treasures to go back and look around for (which net you trophies, and rewards in Playstation Home).

It's easy to see that Q-Game's latest addition to the PixelJunk series was a labor of love.  Nearly everything about this game is polished to a perfect sheen, from the simple but effective visual and audio to the top notch game engine.  Though only average in replay value, this is still a game worth your time and money.  8.5/10.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I've come to realize that the Playstation Network is home to some truly unique games, such as Flower, the PixelJunk games, and Critter Crunch.  This is a really good thing, and I hope indies games such as these continue to flourish.  Released at the end of last summer, Shatter is another valuable addition to the PSN game library.

Shatter proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks, by putting a surprisingly cool twist on a game that's been around for over two decades: Arkanoid.  Some people also know it as Breakout, others know it as BrickBreaker, but everybody's played it.  This is one of the oldest games in existence, and it's been copied, cloned and ported to hell and back on anything and everything with a screen and an electric current.

So why should people be excited about Shatter?  Well, if you never liked Arkanoid, there may not be enough here to convince you that Shatter is any more worth your time.  But if you like or are even just neutral on the matter, this game is different enough to merit a purchase, even if you've already played every other Breakout/Arkanoid game out there.

Shatter puts an interesting spin on the tried and true brick breaking formula by allowing the player to manipulate the ball's path by altering gravity.  You can either push it away from you, or suck it towards you.  This affects not only the ball, but every other object in the box.  Bricks can be detached from their static position, and points can either be pushed away or gathered en masse.  The game is built largely around this gameplay feature, with some blocks having different gravitational properties (like those that have their own, weaker push and pull abilities).  There are only a couple power-ups, so the player is mostly on their own.  As you gather points, you fill up a power bar that, when full, allows you to unleash a shard storm, where the bat fires dozens of small energy shards that break bricks.  It's a good last resort move when you're having trouble hitting certain bricks.  You can also use your power bar to shield yourself from enemy attacks and stray bricks.

Shatter is composed primarily of its story mode, which in turn is composed of about nine worlds, which each world featuring several stages and a boss.  Each boss is challenging and innovative, such as Bad Bat, who is a larger, more powerful version of your own bat and will hit back your own balls in addition to firing its own, and OverReactor, whose weak spot needs to be revealed by forcefully rotating its armor.

Though fun and engaging while it lasts, this isn't an especially long game.  Beyond the main story mode, there's a Boss Rush mode that lets you exclusively take on each boss in consecutive order, and a Bonus mode that throws three balls into play and challenges you to keep each one going for as long as you can (with just your batting skills--no gravity abilities or bricks).  And of course there are also leaderboards.  If you're an Arkanoid fan, to me that seems like a pretty acceptable amount of content, especially since each mode is highly replayable (particularly Bonus mode).  For $8, you could certainly do worse in the replay value department.

Shatter's music is composed pretty much entirely of eclectic techno, which isn't such a bad thing coming from an arcade game.  I didn't like or dislike the BGMs (I do really dig the Bonus mode track though), to me it just wasn't too outstanding.  The game looks great though, with each stage bringing forth a diverse palette of bright colors, and the HD resolution showing each detail with high fidelity.

Overall, Shatter is an excellent effort, and a celebration of an age-old game.  There's likely not enough here to convince people who never liked the game before to jump on the bandwagon now, but fans and veteran gamers alike ought to be delighted by the homage to the retro era this game presents.  And it's only eight bucks!  8/10.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hand's On: Guren SEITEN Eight Elements

I've been watching the Robot Soul toy line for most of 2009, and when I saw pre-orders popping up for Lancelot Albion (I believe it was in early summer), I knew, just KNEW that eventually the SEITEN would follow. After all, the Guren and Lancelot are rivals, and the both saw the release of their "stage 2" forms, so why shouldn't the Guren SEITEN accompany the Albion?

Guren SEITEN Eight Elements is Guren's stage 3 form, and appears late in Code Geass season 2. The circumstances under which this upgrade is achieved though are a bit unique, though. Kallen is captured by Brittannia not long after receiving her stage 2 upgrade, and remains in passive captivity for several episodes. Lloyd and Cecil, Brittannia's top researchers (and the ones who designed the Lancelot and all its subsequent upgrades) wouldn't let her confiscated mech just stand around, though. Their affinity for tinkering eventually led them to install all sorts of handy new upgrades, just for the fun of it. Cecil even implemented her Energy Wing design (a prototype that had long remained little more than a theory) on the mech. So when Kallen is finally broken out of her cell, her new Guren (which is now for the moment the only 9th generation mech in existence) is quite "pimped", to say the least.

Besides a lot of changes to the body and style, the Guren SEITEN features upgrades across the board. Its fork knife is longer and now features the MVS technology present in Lancelot's swords. The Radiation Wave Surger's output and capacity have been significantly enhanced, allowing the generation of Destructo Discs (not the actual name, that's just what they remind me of). The claw is gold and now doubles as a Slash Harken (complete with it's own harken boosters for remote flight). The Guren no longer features one chest-imbedded Slash Harken, but instead two much larger shoulder mounted Booster Harkens. Perhaps the only minus thus far is the removal of the gauntlet grenade launcher previously present in the Guren's knife wielding arm.

The flight pack has also been upgraded by leaps and bounds. It no longer utilizes fixed wings and boosters, but Cecil's Energy Feather system. So Guren essentially zips around on wings of energy. These wings feature four feathers over Lancelot Albion's three, and thus are larger and much more foreboding. Guren can even wrap them around (the model can't though) itself like a cloak. Still present in the flight pack is a missile compartment, though this time they're they're just regular missiles, instead of Gefjon Disturber pods (as that technology was made obsolete almost immediately after being introduced). Needless to say, Guren's original inventor is furious to see these upgrades, even though Kallen is quite impressed.

Overall, Guren Seiten looks much than its predecessor, which still looked very much like a robot, despite some ornamental touches. The design is far less angular, with more curves and "natural" design elements. This is perhaps most prevalent in the legs and chest.

Now, for the model itself. First of all, though not actually taller than other Robot Damashii figures such as 00 Gundam, Guren's large claw, cockpit and attached wing pack give it quite a bit of size. I'll start with the bare model. The head is very articulate, significantly moreso than the Flight-Type's. The two shoulder-mounted slash harkens are sandwiched between the main body frame and each arm. They can swivel in a full 360 degree arc, but sometimes the backpack or wings can get in the way of this. The regular ones can be swapped out for ones that are already launched, which can make for some cool poses. To take them out, you have to first remove the arm. Not a big deal since the arms are attached to the body via a ball joint. Incidentally, Guren's arm ball joints are bigger than those of its predecessor, so you can't take the Flight-Types claw arm and attach it to Guren Seiten.

Despite looking different, both of Guren's arms' articulation doesn't differ very much at all from its predecessor. The right arm (non-claw arm) is rigid from the shoulder to the forearm, but the forearm can be rotated to swivel in various direction. The hand is attached at somewhat of an angle though, and is pretty loose in my opinion. The Claw arm works pretty much exactly the same as it did with the Guren Flight-Type. Each claw finger is attached on a ball joint, the hand itself is easily removable and rotatable and moves on a hinge. The arm still has the triple hinge "elbow" that allows it to extend. Oh, and like with the Flight-Type you can swap out the claw wrist for one with the poles extended. Though this time they're apparently not for dispersing nuclear energy into a wide range, if the show is anything to go by; just another melee tool. Kallen only ever uses this once, during her final battle with Suzaku: she uses the wrist poles in a desperation move, mutilating Lancelot's leg. Finally, there's also an add-on you can attach to the claw to simulate the "destructo disc" energy attack Kallen uses a grand total of once. For some reason its green, though, instead of Guren's trademark red-tinged magenta.

In terms of articulation, the legs probably represent the biggest improvement over Guren Seiten's predecessor. Without the sash armor, the hips move more freely, allowing for more poses. The feet are also quite flexible, much more than they were with on the Guren Flight-Type.

The back is also pretty familiar. In fact, I'm pretty sure the cockpit is literally identical to that of the Guren Flight-Type. The big change here is the addition of a wing pack to replace the Float Pack. On each side of the wing pack you can mount two small little diamond shapes, which are the wings folded up. Considering how large and imposing Guren's wings are, I guess it is kind of magical that they can be so easily compacted. Speaking of Guren's wings, let's talk about those. They're mounted in place of the diamond shapes, with the actual energy feathers being represented by a clear plastic. The wings are surprisingly articulate, though unfortunately I was unable to emulate Guren wrapping them around itself like a cloak.

I suppose the only other thing left to talk about is the fork knife. Well, it's much longer than the other one (maybe 30-50% bigger). It's also much more dangerous looking, making the previous one resemble a butter knife in comparison. It also has that reddish-hue going on; whether that was done to represent its new MVS capabilities (like Lancelot's swords), or to match the Guren's color palette, I'm not sure.

Overall, this figure's greatest strength is how imposing it is, compared to my other figures. Compared to my 00 Gundam, Arbalest, or even Lancelot, Guren looks almost demonic, with its pointy edges, giant claw, and full-sized wings. Incidentally, with the wings outstretched this figure looks a lot bigger than it is. 4.5/5

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dead Space

Okay, I lied. I was in the mood for a post, and my queue is seriously stacking up, so I decided to get on a public computer and write up a quick post. This one's for Dead Space.

Dead Space is another new IP from EA, among the likes of Army of Two and Mirror's Edge. It's a survival horror game, and a good one at that. You play as Isaac Clarke, a mute engineer who arrives as part of a small maintenance crew visiting the USG Ishimura (a gigantic colony-class mining ship) for repairs. However, the group arrives to find the ship is not only in serious disrepair, but has been infested by something that's turned most of the crew into zombie-like horrors.

The group soon learns however that it's not a virus that struck the ship, but a race of hostile aliens that invaded from the planet the ship was mining. These aliens, known as Necromorphs, are capable of converting human corpses to increase their numbers. They are influenced by an ancient artifact known as the Marker, a large stone buried beneath the planet's surface. The crew of Ishimura, believing the Marker to be a holy artifact of sorts, seek out the planet and extract the Marker. They quickly learn that the Marker was the only thing pacifying the deadly aliens hiding out on the planet, and once it's removed, these creatures strike quickly and begin to spread.

Though this whole deal isn't much of a concern for Isaac and the crew. Isaac joined the mission primarily with the hope of seeing his girlfriend Nicole once again (who was a crew member on the Ishimura), and the rest of the group is more concerned simply with surviving, and unfortunately that means the aliens trying to kill you are the least of your worries, for the moment. For example, the ship's engines are out of fuel, and the gravity centrifuge is offline, meaning it won't be long before it's pulled out of orbit and crashes into the planet. Even more pressing of an issue is the asteroid belt the ship is headed for. The automatic cannons are offline, meaning the ship will likely be shredded to pieces by bombarding space rocks before long. Of course, once a few repairs are done, the crew realizes that the aliens are a much bigger problem than they initially estimated. Without the Marker to control them once more, the Necromorphs will continually spread, and eventually consume all other humans in the universe.

But Isaac's an engineer, not a soldier. Nearly all of the weapons you use throughout the game are fashioned from typical tools of his trade, including a flame torch, hacksaw, and precision cutter. And his melee attacks are a joke, consisting of him flailing his arms about and curb stomping downed enemies into oblivion and beyond. Not only that, but the Necromorphs aren't your typical enemies. Their warped physiology prevents shots to the head and torso from being at all effective, meaning they'll keep going just fine even after being beheaded, for example. So you have to go for the limbs. Fortunately, as an engineer who's used to cutting things, Isaac and his tools are suited to this. But these guys are persistent. Even after shooting their legs out (for example) from under them, still they persist, dragging themselves toward you with their arms.

Necromorphs come in varying flavors. There's the little ones spawned from human babies, that shoot projectiles. There's the tall and quick grunt enemies with large bone blades sticking out of their wrists. There's the fat enemies filled to the brim with swarms of smaller bugs to further discourage you from aiming for the torso. And of course there're the converters, which look like little pterodactyls but have face-hugging tentacles for conversion.

With enemies like these, of course Dead Space (and a name like that) must be a horror game. And it is quite scary. For the first hour or so. After the tutorial (which has a LOT of scripted events that are truly terrifying), the game quickly runs out of tricks, and becomes predictable.
Here's a list of tips that outline some of the more noticeable patterns.
-If you encounter a dead necromorph you do not remember killing, it's probably faking it.
-If an enemy falls after only losing one limb, or after a couple shots to the torso, it's probably faking it.
-Make a mental note of all fan vents you encounter. Enemies have a shocking tendency to jump out of them.
-Be very wary of open areas. They almost always have ambushes waiting.
-You aren't safe while using Benches or the Store. The game will personally remind you of this occasionally.
-Be wary of long corridors.
-When an enemy attacks, before even fighting it, consider turning around. 70% of the time a second enemy will be trying to attack you from behind.
-Long elevator rides are also known as ambushes waiting to happen.
-Keep your gun up. You can still pick up items and open doors while aiming, and enemies jump out at you ALL the time. Don't even use the run button unless you're backtracking or are sure you're not going to run into something nasty.

Simply put, this isn't a really scary game. Creepy, definitely (those flesh walls? Yikes). But not all that scary. But it's also not an easy game. You'll always be on the hunt for more ammo and money, and the entire game feels like a race to upgrade your weapons and equipment so you aren't outpaced by the enemies (which also grow in toughness and numbers). Upgrading is done at the Bench (version 4.1), where you spend power nodes (which can be either found or bought for a lucrative price) to upgrade various aspects of your weapons and tools. You can upgrade your health, increase the clip capacity of your weapons, and enhance the effectiveness of your tech abilities, among many, many other things. Though there's a shiny gold trophy for it, it's impossible to fully upgrade all your stuff in one playthrough. Fortunately, there's a convenient New Game+ feature that lets you replay the game with all your stuff and access to a powerful new suit.

Though the Metroid-like in game map and various side rooms (some of which are locked) gives off the feeling that Dead Space is based heavily on exploration, it's actually quite linear. The Ishimura is divided into several departments, each of which are accessible using the tram system (once you get it up and running again in the first chapter). Each section of the ship serves as a chapter of the story, with you starting the next chapter as you get on the tram to head to the next area. Though you will revisit certain areas, it's always for a totally different reason (and the place is often different, or you get to enter places you didn't previously have access to), and rarely feels like backtracking. Breaking up the 3rd person shooting that makes up quite a bit of this game are a couple minigames to mix up the pace. These include a shooting gallery and a bit of Z-Ball (basketball in Zero-G gravity), as well as zero gravity sections.

Dead Space is also a a very well presented game. The graphics are crisp and easy on the eyes, and the lighting and shadows contribute significantly to the horror elements and overall "creepy" factor. Audio is done just as well. Though Isaac unfortunately doesn't utter a single word (only minor sounds, like Link from the LoZ series), the small cast of other characters are, for the most part, well voiced and the BGM once again contributes perfectly to the intended atmosphere, with the game, with (for example) the game playing along when a necromorph plays dead by instantly calming the music, and then striking up with gusto once more when it springs back up to surprise you. Dead Space also runs beautifully, with no slowdown or freezing to speak of, and minimal glitches (I did once go back through a door to find the game had apparently failed to load the previous room, resulting in a blank world of black). The corpse physics can be a little wonky sometimes, though. Load times are few and far between, occuring only once a chapter and when you first load a save, but sometimes you'll notice that doors take a little longer than usual to open, so the game probably does some "micro-loading" on a room-by-room basis.

Overall, Dead Space is a great game. It's easy to see a lot of effort was put into it, though it's not as scary as I thought it would be, and it's difficult to identify with Isaac and his situation since he doesn't speak or really show much emotion. The plot is paced well enough but beyond expanding on the background story, doesn't really go far, ending with a pretty sudden cliffhanger. Replay value is surprisingly high, with the Platinum trophy requiring no less than 2-3 playthroughs, and plenty of upgrades to toy with. There's even a New Game+ feature and a fourth Impossible difficulty setting. An 8.5/10.