Dead Space for iPad
Before you start up Dead Space for iPad, developer Electronic Arts suggests the player “use headphones for best experience.” What seems like an innocuous request is in fact an integral part of one of the scariest games you’ll ever play—on an iPad or any other platform. Developed by EA as an adaptation of its terrifying survival horror series, Dead Space for the iPad is a surprisingly compelling third-person shooter that is good for more than a few scares.
You play as a saboteur set to attack a government space station called “The Sprawl” as part of an uprising. But your sabotage inadvertently releases a slew of nightmarish creatures called Necromorphs that infect and kill the mining population on the lower levels of the massive station—now you must fight to survive.
The survival horror genre lives or dies based on its ability to invert the normal gaming paradigm and make the player feel like they could be snuffed out at any moment. Instead of being a gun-toting, muscle-bound killing machine, comparatively more pedestrian and decidedly more vulnerable player characters take center stage in survival horror games.
With Dead Space’s pins-and-needles soundtrack and thrilling atmosphere, you’re on edge before you even see the multi-limbed monsters that you’ll have to battle. Fittingly, Dead Space’s “Vandal” character is a pawn in a larger conspiracy and her panicked broadcasts and meager armaments reflect that. It’s clear that she is being lead around the hallways by people who have more information than her (and, by extension, you), but at the same time, your situation is so hopeless you can do nothing but trust their guidance will keep you alive.
Dead Space for iPad’s armory embodies the “drafted into heroism” ideal of the survival horror genre. Your weapons are nothing more than modified mining equipment—saws, bolt guns, and razor blade launchers are some of the ghoulish weapons you’ll find throughout The Sprawl’s spooky, blood-spattered levels. The weapons feel futuristic, yet barely up to the task—you’re constantly scrambling to find ammo and your shots need to count as it’ll take several well-placed blades or bolts to take out even the most basic of foe. Unlike modern survival-horror-shooters, you can’t “run-and-gun” either. That forces you to run down a passage, turn around, and hope that you can put enough shots into your approaching foe before they reach you.
If the beasties do reach you, there are touch-activated quick-time events you can initiate. Depending on the enemy, these can simply push the enemy back a few feet or kill them outright. If you fail to tap the appropriate button in time, you’re a Necromorph’s lunch.
You’ll be able to find “nodes” that will help you upgrade your armor and weapons, though each improvement is slight, so you’ll have to tactically pick your upgrades. The effect is a bit frustrating, as you never feel prepared for a prolonged fight. But at the same time, the game never pushes you too hard in any segment. Dead Space for the iPad keeps things challenging and yet fun without being so difficult as to make you throw away your iPad in frustration.
That’s a testament to Dead Space’s well-designed control scheme. Aiming, shooting, and initiating quick-time events are all easy with a tap of a finger. You can also swipe during certain segments, though the game would be admittedly improved if it followed Infinity Blade’s ability to swipe your melee weapon in multiple directions instead of the prescripted one. I found the ability to initiate secondary attacks a bit difficult, but aside from that, I can’t really complain about Dead Space for iPad. It’s exceptionally hard to do the shooter genre justice on the iPad but the patient, third-person perspective that EA uses here seems best suited.
Through the ten chapters of the six-to-eight hour campaign, Electronic Arts does a masterful job of creating a compelling narrative with many frights, twists, and turns. Dead Space for iPad isn’t just a great extension of the Dead Space franchise, it’s a solid standalone game in its own right. It’s one of the most technically solid, brilliantly executed games on the iPad.
[Former associate editor Chris Holt remains a frequent contributor to Macworld.]