Impressions: Dead Space (iOS)

For the most part, mobile ports of full-featured console releases irritate me. They hardly ever live up to even a third of what made the original games a success to start with. Combine this frustration with iffy touch controls and you have an overpriced, tedious little disaster of an app. Timed for release with its “bigger brother” version of anticipated sequel, EA’s mobile Dead Space for iOS devices (iPhone/iPod Touch version played) falls somewhere in between greatness and absolute mediocrity. On one hand, it accomplishes much for a “little brother” sized version of a popular franchise. On the other, it over-complicates things in such a way that strips the game of what made the bigger releases so darn fun in the first place.

This excursion is a different story unique to the mobile platforms, so it does not follow the familiar protagonist Isaac Clarke. As one Codename: Vandal, new to the church of Unitology (read: cult), you’re tasked with a secret mission that involves sabotage on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Supposedly this is all for the greater good of the Church, but this “genius” plan soon begins to unravel to the tune of hideous Necromorphs and plenty of other baddies. When Tyler, your guide to unwittingly unleashing the Necromorphs amongst the Sprawl decides he wants no part of this massacre, he leaves you to your better sense, where you ensure the Sprawl is safe from your momentary lapse of judgment.

In the beginning, time with Tyler provides a lengthy tutorial in order to get you familiarized with the many different functions in-game…and there are a ton. For a pocket-sized version of one of the better current survival horror titles, it boasts an impressive and equally intimidating amount of features. If you can do it in the console version, you can do it in the mobile Dead Space – firing, reloading, strafing, Kinesis…it’s all there. And because all of these functions are packed into a tiny little product, I began to feel a little frustrated when required to remember how and when to perform certain actions. It’s fantastic all of them were included somehow and speaks volumes for development on mobile platforms, but in the end feels too cumbersome and more like a tech demo than a fully-functional game showing off the features rather than placing emphasis on the actual gameplay.

Because of this, simple mechanics that may have seemed like a cakewalk with an actual controller seem more like difficult moves to master rather than required ones needed to progress. Combat moves too slowly and clunky to feel at home in Dead Space, where ammo is often scarce and prevision is key – you do need to shoot off their limbs, remember? Throughout the adventure you’re navigating plenty of the trademark dark corridors and it’s imperative that you miss as few shots as possible. Amidst the several swipes, taps, and awkward aiming, this can be a downright hellish prospect, and often results in an empty clip and Vandal bleeding out on the floor.

Solving quick Kinesis puzzles, scavenging for items, and drinking in the environments is clearly Dead Space’s strong suit, and I found myself thoroughly immersed even amidst the myriad of issues the controls provided, and even whilst dying several times in a row I still kept chugging along, as when you give the game’s atmosphere a chance to shine, it truly does so. With fantastic graphics, true-to-console music and sound effects, the presentation is top-notch. So it’s with a heavy heart that I hesitate to recommend this otherwise fantastic adventure in the Dead Space universe at full price. Stick around and pick this title up on sale for the story, the atmosphere, and female engineer Vandal. Leave it at full price for wonky controls, overachieving mechanics, and situations that you’d likely be much more at ease with if you were using a controller.

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