The Dead Space series has certainly seen its share of spin-offs. EA has been milking that proverbial cow even before the original game was released. There have been animated movies, comics, motion comics, a surprisingly solid rail-shooter on Wii and a not-so surprisingly awful series of mini-games. Not one to pass on the possibility of more monies, they’ve also seen fit to give us a new Dead Space exclusively for the iOS platform.
As a somewhat rabid fan of the series, I found myself torn at the prospect. On the one hand, if done correctly, I’d have my very own version of Dead Space I could play on the go, whenever and wherever I wanted. On the other hand, it could turn out to be a crappy spin-off just slapped together to make a quick buck. I’m looking at you, Dead Space: Ignition.
Thankfully and rather unexpectedly, Dead Space for iOS falls squarely in the former category.
When a Wii version was announced, people were excited at the idea of dismembering necromorphs with the flick of a wrist. Then it turned out to be an on-rails shooter. A decidedly high quality on-rails shooter, but one that pissed off quite a few fans nonetheless. When the iOS version was announced it had people hoping once more for a legitimate Dead Space experience on a platform that didn’t have a “3″ somewhere in the name. And for the most part that’s exactly what fans have been given.
The first thing that’s been done right is there has been no shoe-horning of an existing title meant for a big console onto a tiny handheld device. Dead Space for iOS is a brand new experience, meant to bridge the gap between the first and second games. You control Vandal, an anonymous (and rather gullible) initiate into the Church of Unitology. After a brief tutorial and one mother of a “whoopsie,” you’ll be lopping off limbs and running for your life. The story isn’t exactly thrilling, and both of the “big” twists are as obvious as they are uninteresting, but it carries the actual gameplay well. And the gameplay is what makes it all worthwhile.
It has to be said that whoever designed the interface for this game deserves a freaking medal. With the exception of the Rig button in the top-right corner, there’s absolutely nothing cluttering up the screen. You move by dragging your thumb over Vandal and double-tapping to do a quick 180. Dragging your thumb around the right side of the screen will look and aim while tapping it will raise your weapon and a second tap will fire. Reloading is as simple as tapping your weapon’s ammo counter and stasis is triggered by a tap of the icon on Vandal’s back. Melee attacks (with the bitchin’ new plasma saw) and stomps are handled via contextual swipes. It’s an incredibly slick setup.
Another holdover from the mother IP is the atmosphere. It’s certainly not going to give the original Dead Space or the sequel a run for their money, but nothing else on iOS comes close. If you decide to play with headphones you’ll most likely find yourself tense and jumping at the smallest noises and movements within minutes.
Most of the other expected series staples are back as well, including work benches, power nodes, stores, new armor sets and a handful of classic cutting tools. However there have been a few sacrifices made in order to cram it all into the palm of your hand. There’s a very limited number of necromorph varieties (five in total), environments get re-used quite a bit (and look a whole lot like the Ishimura at times), there’s a distinct lack of ominous shadows, you have no flashlight and the whole thing can be finished in just a few hours. Fortunately it’s actually really fun and will most likely pull you back in for multiple playthroughs.
Ultimately, that’s what it all boils down to: it’s a spot-on miniaturization of a popular series, it has great controls and it’s just plain fun. Some concessions had to be made, obviously, but none of that gets in the way and the near-constant auto-saving at checkpoints (along with multitasking support) make it perfect for quick bursts of play. If you’ve been wanting to play Dead Space when stuck in a long line, commuting to work on mass transit or sitting in an airport or on a plane, grab your iPhone or iPod Touch and get to downloading. It’s totally worth the $7.
Things We Liked: Damn near perfect representation of the Dead Space experience. Vandal may not be very dynamic, but it’s nice to play as someone other than Isaac Clarke in a game that doesn’t involve waggling or BS mini-games. Fantastic looking for an iOS game. Moody and freaky as hell if you play in the dark with headphones on.
Things We Disliked: The story is rather bland. Vandal seems like the universe’s biggest sap. The constant recycling of environments often makes it tough to distinguish one hallway or room from another. Way more action than scares. Stockpiling ammo is near impossible thanks to arbitrary restrictions. Why the hell do we have to fight necromorphs on every, single, tram ride? Seriously.
Target Audience: Dead Space fans. People who enjoy third-person shooters and want to try something a little different. People who are looking for an iOS game that will make them jump that isn’t Papa Sangre.
(Dead Space – Developer: Iron Monkey Studios. Publisher: EA Mobile. Available for iOS platforms. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)