Dead Space is like a wicked seesaw that keeps you teetering between states of panic and outright nervousness no matter how predictable the outcome of a scenario is. This is its real voodoo, the magic of the title, which is informed by a sharp, terror-drenched atmosphere influenced by various sci-fi horror works such as “Event Horizon” and “Alien.”

Its setting, plot, and combat feed into this rich atmosphere, making the title feel as if it were a cohesive whole. However, the game’s weakness, the combat, should give you a bit of pause. It’s not hard to recommend Dead Space, especially if you plan to play with the blinds pulled down, but it’s not a good shooter, which carries some weight.

Dead Space is a sequel to the original Dead Space, a console and PC joint created by the folks at EA Visceral. It’s a confusing name at first glance, until you peel the experience back a bit and learn that Dead Space iOS really doesn’t do anything to separate itself from its forerunner. It feels like a one-off experience just so happens to take place before the events of Dead Space 2 on the mining colony “Sprawl.”

You spend all your time on this colony drifting amongst a cluster of stars, completely detached from the rest of civilization. Gorgeous panels and LCD displays sprinkle and contrast the cold, hard steel of the floors and walls of the Sprawl, while the remnants of civilization inform a grim tone and atmosphere.

Things, of course, have gone bad on the colony. Sickly, disjointed aliens are now taking over, slaughtering all in their path. For you, this means you get to see the aftermath -- all those pools of crimson, those piles corpses with the missing flesh, and the wrecked lockers, broken glass, and general disarray.

I think what’s most remarkable about the setting is that it’s crafted in a way that all the future stuff feel familiar, yet obviously above and beyond what our civilization can accomplish and build. You can connect with the setting, but you recognize it as alien.

And it’s in solitude that you dwell. Dead Space is really good at making feel both helpless and alone in the face of something much, much larger than yourself. In this specific one, your avatar, code-named “Vandal,” isn’t the chatty type. Your guide -- who also doubles as the games’ narrator to some degree -- isn’t all that talkative either. Also, your adventure, as a result of an incident, isn’t filled with many people with jawbones intact. Essentially, you live and breath in a world without any living and breathing.

So, you're alone -- alone against hordes of aliens, I should add. Unfortunately, combat isn’t good enough. Vandal is essentially a slow meat turret with basic strafing abilities, which makes it hard to be either aggressive or even defensive. Granted, the weaponry in the game is plenty violent; the Plasma Cutter and the god-like drill weapon can put serious hurt on your foes, but you’ll constantly be re-negotiating your position in battle and never quite comfortable with what you’ve chosen.

Combat isn’t this grand ballet where you can skillfully move about enemies, juking and jiving and delivering punishment with the grace and ease of a Kratos. It’s more like a square dance for people with insanely large feet. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if you could aim and fire with accuracy and quickness, but you can’t do that. The touch implementation of both these mechanics -- bringing up the gun and choosing your target -- are clunky, leading to a lot of missed shots, missed opportunities and a needless death here and there.

And you’d figure the combat would be grand: the game features a dismemberment mechanic for god sakes that rewards you for shooting off the limbs of aliens. But the accuracy just isn't there, so the pay-offs aren't either. (You also can't aim with tilt or gyrometer, for that matter. There's also no way to invert the Y axis, or any way to customize the controls.)

The kicker for me is that I think the weakness of the combat actually enriches the experience to some degree. It heightens the scares and does the most work in informing the nervousness you’ll feel. I say this because you’re not a Terminator; you can’t just obliterate anything in your path, making you actually fear the next confrontation.

There's a level of immersion in this game as well, due in large part to the game's super limited HUD. Health and bullets, for example, are displayed visually on the character and its respective guns, which makes for a super clean presentation -- one in which you control Vandal with invisible dual-analog sticks, which are serviceable, but still not ideal for some of the things the game throws at you in the action department.

Bullets are limited, which is an interesting touch. The lack of ammunition will force you to rethink battle strategies, readjust and lean on the game’s generous upgrade system. With collected nodes and cash, you can refill your guns and make them stronger and faster via Benches and an in-game Store.

To dive into a little bit more of the brick-and-mortar, this is a rigidly linear, scripted game that goes a little something like this: you are to go [there], and the only way you can get to [there] is to find a way to unlock a door, the key in which you'll need just so happens to be tied to a scare or a fight with monsters. And… that’s about it.

Of course, straying from the set path by a few feet will net you goodies, but for the most part, the game doesn’t offer anything outside of its invisible racing line (which, hilariously, you can pull up visibly at any point in case you lose your way).

And while you’ll encounter few instances where something isn’t scripted, there’s still a lot of atmosphere to soak in. The sound design, in particular, is ridiculous good. You’ll hear the patter of aliens in ventilation system, the terrible groans of aliens behind you, and these astoundingly dramatic crescendos that spurt from nowhere, often sparking you back into a state of high alert. Wear headphones if you have them, it's worth it.

The art and visuals are also particularly inspired. The art manages to parallel the grim undertones of the narrative and the visual work is top-notch.

However, I wish there was more "new" in this game. A lot of the assets and elements of the original Dead Space for PC and consoles, including the enemies, the lockers, the weapons, and so on, are reproduced here. I suppose if you haven't had experience previously, though, this isn't a big deal.

Also, The Retina display visuals on the iPhone 4 look tremendous, though I think the control issues on this specific version of the game are made a little worse because of the lack of screen real estate. Your thumb will almost always obscure part of the game. I lean towards preferring the iPad version myself, but you'll get a similar experience no matter what device you play on.

But, I think what’s best about Dead Space isn’t the art and sound despite their impressiveness; what's best is how good this game is at keeping you thinking about what kind of terrible things can happen -- that overwhelming sense of dread that you get from the best horror flicks.

In some sections, the game terrorizes you with traditional video game tropes, having you check bodies that you know will spurt to life. In another section, it plays with vertigo, and still in others, it hammers you with sudden conflicts, bouts of nothingness complimented by a roaring firefight, and hallucinations. It's kind of amazing when you consider just how many ways this game tries to screw with you.

Sure, Dead Space is worth a download based on its production values alone. The team has successfully created a very, very dark title bolstered by a rich atmosphere that oozes everything you want out of a solid horror game. And the story isn't so bad, either. As Vandal, you set off a series of events that it must, in turn, stop. It's almost a revenge narrative, though to really dig into it would kinda kill the experience for you.

But, I feel like the weakness of the combat far surpasses its usefulness as a bolster for the scares. The end of the game turns into a series of unintelligible slugfests that will grate on you, especially on higher difficulty levels. It's a bummer that more imaginative situations weren't created for the last hour or so of the game because the rest of it manages to feel so smart.

This isn't the scariest game on the planet, nor is it the best put together. The combat in particular is a black eye. But there's a lot in Dead Space to keep you engaged and there's some points of great design that I think you'll appreciate -- especially if you're daring enough to play this on your sofa with the lights off and some great headphones on. Just keep the minor issues in mind and I don’t think you’ll leave the game disappointed. I suppose there’s also the chance EA could go back and implement fixes like sensitivity sliders or even some kind of aim assist system, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • Brad Nicholson

    Looks dull.

  • backtothis

    Was a nice read while I wait for my download. Thanks for the heads up on what to expect!

    • Mark

      I agree, this was a good review and (even though I'm more of a casual gamer) what I come to touch-arcade for. My favorite thought in the review was this one:

      "You can connect with the setting, but you recognize it as alien."

      Reminds me of how I often feel about well done sci fi movies. Well said!

  • Noah

    Guess I'm holding off on buying based on that review! Ah well...

  • Rylin

    Well worth the 10 bucks. Mild control issues aside, iOS gamers owe it to play this at least once through if nothing more than to support more AAA titles on the iOS platform.

    • Horsefly

      Well, yes, if by "AAA titles" you mean "console-style games from familiar franchises with barely acceptable ports of console-style controls".

      • Silentcorp

        Said clearly by someone who hasn't played the game. The game offers insanely good controls, this review is pretty shoddy work at best. Hell, the reviewer wonders why the character moves the way he does and not more like "kratos". FFS this isn't an ADD action game people, it's survival horror. The controls allow you to use pin point accuracy to de-limb enemies. Not sure what iDevice games the reviewer plays but this is the most accurate control scheme for a shooter yet devised.

      • Nonnymus

        When considering the value of Silentcorp's contribution, and the accuracy of his judgement, readers may wish to refer to the review above, and see if Brad does indeed "wonder why the character moves the way he does and not more like kratos", as Silentcorp claims.

      • Pahncrd

        Really, it's not that bad, it works just fine for anyone with some iOS gaming experience under their belt.

      • Horsefly

        I agree, believe it or not. I'm enjoying the game, and I think Brad has overstated the control issues. But:

        1. I don't believe that this kind of attempt at a console-type experience is the Holy Grail of iOS gaming, something that we're obliged to "support", as Rylin put it. The imagination and creativity of titles such as Osmos, Tilt To Live, and Spider strike me as more admirable, and better proof of the health of iOS as a gaming platform.

        2. Some of the responses to Brad's review seem a little hysterical, to me. Ad hominem rubbish; straw-man hissy fits. All because Brad wasn't quite as effusive in his praise of a video game as they wanted him to be! It's okay to disagree with a review—and as a consumer, I'm grateful to hear different perspectives on a game—but the ugliness of some people's reactions is just bizarre.

      • Ndwag13

        you all can suck my dick!

    • Anonymous

      I'm a bit unsure about the price. $10 and it has in-app purchases?

      It seems the IAPs are optional, but really, it seems a bit 'horse armor'-ish to me....

  • MrSlinkySpring

    I'll wait for a controls update before playing through this one. I want the first time I experience it to be as smooth and intuitive as it can be.

    • Rylin

      Your certainly going to miss out if your really going to pass this up over mild control issues (some, not all) have. I easily adjusted and having a blast.

    • MrSlinkySpring

      Damn. Willpower of a flea.. Downloading!!

  • Ai

    Oy! Did you really expect "Kratos" Style combat?! I don't think this reviewer has played DS before! The combat is pitch perfect compared to the consoles. The controls allow me to take off enemies limbs pretty easily, something I've never been able to do in other iOS shooters. Bravo EA, the first real contender for a "modern" console game on the idevices.

    • lolol

      i couldn't agree more.. what can i say, it's brad again.. you know, the guy who judged crysis being dull even though he only played the demo.. for me, it's the first TPS game that brought a console experience to ios.. cheers for ea, visceral, and of course iron monkey studios..

      • Pahncrd

        After reading this review and then actually playing the game, Brad has lost credibility as far as I am concerned. It just seems like whining for its own sake. If anything, it has some of the better on-screen controls seen on 3rd person shooters on iOS.

    • Anonymous

      Nothing more to say when i read kratos stylo combat was a big rofl

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Where did anyone say "We expect Kratos style combat?" If you read the review, we use God of War as an example of really great control over your character's movement... Something this game is sorely lacking. I suggest you re-read the paragraph you're confused about.

      • Ezekiel

        WELL WELL WELL, look what we got here. A reviewer, a critic one would say, a bit pissed about some readers not "reading the review as it was intended". Oh, life as ironic as it is, can give you a few surprises.

        Then you "suggest" them to "re-read the paragraph" because, they must be confused, it can't be a lack of journalism skill what made several people think the same, no; must be them. They aren't reading the review as it was supposed to.

        Can someone feel Eli and Brad ears going red of anger?

        Just kidding Eli. You know we toucharcade readers love you like monkeys love bananas. It's just that Brad sometimes.... well... he goes a bit too far to level a review with 50 good / 50 bad.

        The game is fantastic, but yes, the controls are a bit off. Doesn't have nothing to do with deadspace, I believe it's because the device itself is a bit hard to play with. iPad looks fantastic and plays better; but still, is frustrating at times yes. I blame apple here, not EA.

        Did you tried it with the Fling iPad joysticks?

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        I'm not angry at all, mostly just confused by how it's apparently possible to read so far between the lines in a simple comparison. Also, Dead Space doesn't work well with the Fling because of the swiping required to move the camera around. If the view control worked like the movement control, it would likely be awesome with the Fling.

      • Silentcorp

        But you are comparing apples and oranges. Why not mention how much Dead Space doesn't control like Smash Brothers for the Wii next? It makes no sense and you were called out on it man.

      • backtothis

        When did Eli Hodapp and Brad Nicholson become the same person? Please learn to read, and wow, your comment means absolutely nothing in this situation. Brad was using "Kratos" as figurative language..a simple comparison, in any case. Why don't you write an in depth review for all of us instead.

      • Bonesmasher

        But what's the point in comparing the movement of a hero in a hack and slash game compared to a hero in a survival horror? Is Vandal supposed to move like Kratos? I think not. And holding that against the game isn't logical.

        Also, what's so "hilarious" about the invisible racing line? You can also pull it up at anytime in the console and PC versions of Dead Space.

        The controls IMO, are fine. I can run away from necromorphs by sliding my finger further upwards, and you can turn around by double tapping the left side of the screen, did Brad realise that? I have had a couple of issues here and there with bringing up the gun and getting it to shoot, but nothing so bad as to merit a mark against the game. I'm glad other websites didn't hold the game to such a -- seemingly -- low regard.

      • Silentcorp

        So you use God of War (AAA console game using a controller) which in turn is a completely different genre and style of action to compare an iPhone (touch screen only controls) and you wonder why we comment? This review reads like it was written in crayon for the most part.

  • crex

    I just bought it. I'm hopin I didn't make a mistake.

  • crex

    I just bought it. I'm hopin I didn't make a mistake.

  • gmadera

    if developers keep on making games as beautiful as this and infinity blade for the IOS, the iphone/ipad will be the future of handheld gaming ;)

  • Anonymous

    Not the scariest game? Not the best put together? Show me a better one for the platform then, or you are actually trying to compare this with the console game, for real?

    • http://twitter.com/NoSuperMan ImNoSuperMan

      I dont think its a negative for the game if brad is is comparing to the console version. Thats infact an honor for the iOS version IMO.

      Anyways, downloading the game @ 512 kbps. 3 hours remaining. FML :/

  • Orinationx2

    Wait a second, I have no idea how to beat the final boss. Can't even make a scratch on him. Help, anyone, PLEASE!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001218463429 Tim House

      Before he uses this tongue attack, he tilts his neck up and exposes yellow glowing spots. Shoot all these to make one of his weakpoints appear. Destroy all the weakpoints to kill him! Hope this helps! :)

  • Josh Trolin

    Ohhh... It's another Brad-lee "joint." Contrarian viewpoints tinged with east coast slang.

  • owen-b

    Hang on. In the review you call the controls out for being pretty bad - you miss shots and opportunities, the accuracy isn't there, you die often, you cant invert or customise in any way - and yet by the end is rather serious issue in a shooter is relegated to a "minor point" that won't really spoil it.

    If im playing a shooter those precise issues are the biggest reason to stop playing it.

    Touch Arcades habit of calling out serious issues then by the end virtually dismissing them for some reason is becoming quite a big problem for me.

    • Ixbilalxi

      By the end he realizes that he is just not very good at the game and that others will adapt to the controls in more natural ways.

    • Orinationx2

      Just beat the game, I ENJOYED the controls. More precision than, say, NOVA's.

      Don't let this review deter you, it isn't very well-written if you ask me.

  • Shift

    this review is dull

  • Clyndeon

    Don't know if it's just me. But for me this is one of the best playable (which targets the controls) iOS Shooter / TPS if not the best. Well, no it is the best. I have no trouble with the controls. All feel's well adjusted, I'm deeper in the game because of gesture controls I don't have on big consoles. That aside it's not even on rails and looks simply stunning. So yeah, I agree with everyone saying that this is like the promotion of iOS gaming into the "serious business" stage. (Just like RR2)

  • Anonymous

    Don't know if anybody else caught this, but EA rated the game ages 12+ I'm pretty sure this game needs to be 17+ I have a feeling EA didn't want to lose sales on kids who's parents wouldn't let them... that's pretty shitty EA

    • Porteal

      Well, those sneaky kids who want to play 17+ games but are not allowed to will be happy.

  • Coppertop

    It seems that we don't get it in Germany.....Not available in the AppStore! :( Too cruel for us...

  • Clyndon

    Lucky me, in Switzerland it has been available since 2:00 in the morning. ;)

  • Asdf

    i wrote my own review of the game (should be in pg 32-33 of the dead space thread) after reading this 1500 word idiom.

  • http://twitter.com/thepandav2 Bryan

    Wow, he finally reviews like he's supposed to, did apples fall on his head?

  • Anonymous

    Seems like waiting for the inevitable sale will do me a favour. I do want this, but would like an update to add tilt or gyro aiming.

    Hah! An update from EA, sometimes I slay me.

    Pity EA dont release universal apps. This is just too expensive to double dip.

  • FastOne

    I found the controls pretty precise actually. There's something about fingertip-precise controls that feels more natural than 360 version. I wonder if this reviewer is TPS/FPS challenged.

  • life_is_pleach

    Hey, were is my comment gone? Is it not allowed to criticize EA's release politics?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

      Apparently not. This is the second time I've criticized an EA release for having separate iPhone and iPad versions with no discernible difference except a $3 price hike on the iPad, and again my post was deleted. Frankly, if the mods here want no talk on the price point or value proposition, I'd rather they come out and say it so I know my opinions aren't wanted on this site anymore rather than having my posts stealth deleted and wondering why.

  • Smint

    Awww, no introductory price? I will wait for sales then.

  • E_Domina

    hmm. EA seems to have slacked off with some little issues they even put into B:BC. Control customization, pricing, etc
    decent tho

  • Deadfolk

    No Y-Axis inversion? Wow. Really easy way to lose sales. How long would it take to implement? An hour?

    I certainly won't be buying it until I hear this has been changed.

    • Dsfdf

      I agree.

  • Backtothis

    Why is it that iOS gamers always have the most shit to say. You're paying NOTHING for these games. I've been paying $40 per game since those old piece shit cartridges, and seeing people even refer to the pricing of iOS games is just pitiful. And also, maybe they didn't want to add all the damn features that you waned in this game? Why would you need tilt controls or inverse-axis controls to enjoy this game fully..seriously why don't you complaining, entitled mindset douchebags go back to using your iPhone for texting and calling and go back to using nanos. My god, seriously though..if I see one more effing complaint about prices..I mean if you can afford a device that cost more than a god damn 360 this holiday season, I'm sure you can pay for games that are over 8x cheaper. Entitled damn teenagers.

    • Ezekiel

      AMEN brother. That's one reason why iOS games stay casual. And on top of that, don't anyone deny this, iOS games are pirated as hell. A game comes out and it's immediately pirated. Then they come over here (some of them) and curse and complain about technical issues when they didn't even paid for the damn product.

      HAS TO STOP. Yes.

      • backtothis

        The worst part is that it's all here on TA. While we're supposed to be role models for other iOS gamers, we have complete trash littering the place even here. It's so pitiful and simply disgusting. I have never seen people as rude, greedy, and feelings as entitiled as the people on this site and other iOS gaming forums. They tear developers apart, spit shit about a perfectly playable game, and complain just for the hell of complaining. Grow the f*** up. You might as well just throw your damn devices down a sewer.

    • Will Buckingham

      I don't have a problem paying for a quality game on the iOS platform. My problem is that publishers continue to play the "HD" and non-"HD" release game, long after the excuse of remaking higher resolution graphics has worn out. If a developer is designing for the retina display on the iPhone, then the iPad's resolution is only a small step away. They are hoping for suckers to double dip and inflating the "HD" iPad version price for almost always no reason. I'm a grown man with a job who has purchased over 900 apps on the app store, never pirated a single thing, and I frequently buy the week of launch missing sales. I still have a problem with this ridiculous release scheme. If you're going to charge more for the iPad version, there needs to be some kind of feature benefit, be that universal compatability or extra content. Moved around controls and a bit higher resolution are not enough.

  • ENDWARO7

    This game rocks!!! The controls are a bit weird. They are not bad. I got both version one for when im home or a place i can take my ipad. The other for when i just go out.

  • http://twitter.com/severinggecko Eliott Geisler

    I would have to say that the combat is just like it was in the full game, makes sense though because Issac was not a marine, he was an engineer in an engineer's suit using engineer tools. And vandal is the same way.

    This game feels just as good as the xbox version just a little too much pure white lighting, but im still early on so hopefully that will change!

  • Tbonephoto

    How do you make the gun shoot in the secondary mode .. horizontal?

  • Anonymous

    I will be getting this game come pay day. It looks gorgeous and the length and apparent quality from videos and screens warrants the price IMO. My only complaint is EA's lack of Gamecenter support. Seriously, what is the hold up EA?! I need my Gamecenter achievements and I need them now.

  • Turkeydipking

    I hate the way this is not available in germany.... why do i live here? D:
    Please tell me its coming later

  • Anton Soccer

    i love this game... it is by far the most console like experience on ios.. I love the hallucinations

  • Ciminochristian

    First of all, play this game with headphones. The surround sound experience will blow you away. Second, this game is FUCKING. SCARY. While the storyline and combat may only be slightly frightening, it's all of the hidden back rooms that will get you. These rooms may give you upgrades and ammunitions, but you'll have to sacrifice a little sanity. If you travel off the beaten path in campaign, you'll find horrors you wouldn't believe could be held on a portable device. However, the campaign itself hold some terrors of its own. For example, one of my favorite mindfucks is (don't read this if you want to be surprised) a part when the protagonist is walking into space when he is struck by hallucinations. Suddenly, the space he is walking in turns into a desert, with a spiraling shrine in the center. As a shrill, female scream resonates in the background, the protagonist sobs "I don't know what is reality anymore". As the mirage fades away to the new area to conquer and the player realizes the disparity of the situation, a chill runs through their body as they realize they are looking at the face if a demon. Games like this can really mess with you because they can move past the realm of sanity, placing no limit on the horrors you will face.

  • owen-b

    Well there's a lot of anger there. You need to work that anger out, kids.

    Look, I've been gaming for decades. I suspect longer than you based on the tirade of abuse that just lured forth but whatever.

    Getting the controls right in the first release is generally what professional ame developers do. Tilt based, not so much, but implementing inverted y axis is Page One. I haven't played a video game that didn't offer it in... Well, YEARS.

    So just you calm your little heads. You are the ones making yourselves look silly, not gamers that quite rightly question why a game would be released with such a paucity of industry-standard control options.

  • guest

    I can't see anything written against in the game's description on the app store but can anyone please tell for sure if this game is compatible with a 2nd gen iPod Touch?

    • The1willy

      Yes, I have it and works just fine (really smoothly infact). I've not had a single issue with it.

  • gangsta 32

    the ending almost ruined the game for me...
    spoiler alert*****************************************
    the main character is a girl... that pissed me off to ruin such an awesome character, anyway its still a great game but ill just pretend the end didnt happen

    • kqjrjkrawr

      *spoiler (sort of)*
      You must have been horrified at the ending of the original Metroid game for the NES then.

  • Rwbenson2002

    It has to suck to be a reviewer: you give a glowing review and you are a butt-kisser. You make criticisms and you get called an incompetent idiot. Anyway I really found the controls on this game to be among the best - If you have played NOVA you prett much know what to expect. In fact I would say that I emulates the Xbox controls amazingly well while utilizing the touch screen at the same time. I had no problem strafing on my iPad but I could see how a smaller screen may make it pretty hard. Agree that the graphics are amazing AND that it would have been nice for them to have added more new stuff. This game's quality level is among the highest in th app store. Fair warning to all that this is NOT a kids game: it is pretty scary and uses a fair amount of adult language.

  • Carolinamic

    how do you get out of "the Core" in the game????

    • Metallica11797

      U have to get to the bottom loook down and Ull see a big hole jump into it

  • Metallica11797

    Bad ass I was really confused at the end

  • http://twitter.com/kfmush Isaac Cady

    This review doesn't read like it's 5 stars. 5/5 is perfect right? According to the reviewer, the controls weren't perfect and neither wasn't the end of the game. You really can't trust point ratings on review sites, they're almost always sponsored. You have to read the review and judge for yourself.

  • ppinc2

    Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are great games, really scary too. I think that it is due to the fact that you play from a third person perspective and it take some time to check what is behind your back :)
    By the way, if you play on PC you can actually get them 75% cheaper now, check this link: http://dontpayforgames.com/deals/dead-space-dead-space-2/ .

  • http://www.fymaventura.com/ descenso del sella

    Incredible game. The best i've played on Iphone

  • Salsand3r

    Free for this week! FTW!

Dead Space™ Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 5