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Dead Space Hands-on Impressions: Scary as Hell

I'll admit it. I got scared by a baby. While I was playing in broad daylight, no less.

But this wasn't just any regular old baby. Oh sure, it looks like a perfectly normal human infant, right up until the point that it sprouts three tentacles and shoots off lethal spikes in a disconcerting attempt to release your innards from their fleshy trappings.

Hey, that corridor was totally clear a second ago. You can't blame me for jumping a little bit when the wee lad popped out from behind the corner. I hadn't seen any enemies in a while. I thought I was safe.

That's part of the magic of Dead Space. EA Redwood Shores' survival horror effort, due out on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 next week with a PC release on October 20, isn't all scary all the time. Like any good horror movie, there are lulls in the action.

The thing is, you don't know when those scary moments are coming. Sure, you can expect some blade-armed foes to be around when you enter a new section or complete an objective, but after you clear out an area, you start to feel safe. You don't expect some baby monster to be hiding around the corner after you've already been there and shot the arms off its bigger brother.

Make no mistake, Dead Space's emphasis on "strategic dismemberment" is no marketing ploy. Shooting enemies in the chest or blowing off their heads will do little good. If you want to take them down, you've got to tear them apart, limb by razor-sharp limb. And in the heat of the moment, when three or four beasts are running straight at you and your back's up against the wall, well, it's intense. BOOM video 470

Fortunately, a variety of futuristic weaponry isn't the only tool at your disposal. Shortly after the game begins, ever-silent protagonist Isaac picks up the ability to temporarily slow enemies and other objects through a blast of blue energy. Known as Stasis, this helps even the odds a bit, at least, until your short supply of energy runs out.

That's easily overcome by carrying a few extra Stasis energy packs, but there are two holdups. First, the game doesn't stop when you use items. While there's a button dedicated to health packs, for everything else, you have to go into your holographic inventory, select the item and then choose to use it. Not exactly feasible in the middle of a battle.

The other obstacle is Isaac's limited inventory. Are you really going to carry a few extra Stasis packs when you could be packing more ammunition and health packs instead? Don't worry about needing those Stasis packs to solve puzzles. If you come across a puzzle that requires Stasis, there's probably a recharge station nearby.

For example, there came a point when I had to switch a gravity generator back on. As I floated from platform to platform, I came upon the still-running rotors that powered the centrifuge, which were disconnected from the main assembly. Trying to push them into the device did no good, as they were spinning too fast to lock into place. The solution? Slow them down with Stasis and then move 'em into place. BOOM video 930

During this portion, I noticed one rather cool detail. Along with all of the other hovering debris, blood was seeping out of dead bodies and just floating there.

Another important aspect of Dead Space is its sound. Trapped in a pitch black room with only a small flashlight at the end of my Plasma Cutter, I relied more on sound than sight to discern the location of my enemies.

And again, just like any good horror movie, the music swells in a moment of uncertainty, such as turning a certain corner. Sometimes there is an enemy there, but sometimes there's not. Regardless, it certainly adds to the tension.

As I'm still only a few hours into Dead Space, I can't make any final judgments quite yet. Thus far, I'd it describe it as a blend of Resident Evil 4 and BioShock, with scattered audio logs and wall scribbles fleshing out the game's narrative in between bouts with mutated beasts from the deepest edges of space.

But as I've said before, comparisons to other games aren't a bad thing, especially when those other titles are so beloved. And from what I've experienced so far, I'd say that Dead Space borrows the best of each game. I have no idea what the later stages have in store for me, but even with deadly babies on a quest for my blood, I'm eager to find out--not because I have to, but because I want to.

Dead Space arrives on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on October 14, with the PC version coming October 20.