The Dead Space story takes place in deep space when a group of technicians is sent to investigate a distress signal sent by a massive mining ship called the USG Ishimura. Among this team is an ship systems engineer named Isaac Clarke. On approach, trouble with their own ship forces a crash landing into the dock of the Ishimura and as they enter the terminal, it soon becomes apparent that something is wrong. There is no sign of any crew, which is particularly troubling to Isaac as his girlfriend Nicole is the Ishumara's medical officer. As Isaac enters another area to release the door locks into the main ship, his team are attacked by strange creatures and killed. Although his captain and the chief communications expert manage to escape, Isaac is now cut off from them in a different part of the ship.
With their own ship out of commission, the goal of these three now becomes repairing the Ishimura to a state that will allow them to escape. As the captain and communications officer diagnose the problems, Isaac is sent to various regions of the ship to repair them. However, the problems only seem to be amassing. The full story of what happened to the mining crew is slowly revealed through recorded logs found by him and his team. Throughout it all, he finds himself battling some alien species that kills and then reanimates the dead bodies of the Ishimura crew. Isaac is spurred on by his need to find his girlfriend.
For taking place in a fairly confined area, it's quite impressive how Dead Space manages to keep you interested. Isaac often passes back and forth through the same locations, but they never get boring as new previously locked doors are opened up. The aliens also come in a variety of mutations keeping you guessing about what you might be facing next. Because you are often hemmed in by passageways and small rooms, running from the creatures is rarely an option. If the aliens get a chance to jump you, frantically mashing the use key will cause Isaac to go into melee mode. Killing them can be very challenging, especially as it requires severing their limbs with head and body shots having little effect. Survival then depends on a fairly precise aim, made more difficult by a common problem with mouse control. (see below in issues) As to other mechanics, Isaac cannot jump, climb, crouch or lean and is limited to walking or sprinting. On the whole though, gameplay is relatively problem free except for some minor issues with camera angles. For instance, Isaac comes to dead halt and facing in wrong directions after any melee attack in which the creature may still be alive and attacking. Also, you must be standing still to reload or the gun will come up empty. Considering they don't hold much ammo, this can be problematic at some critical points.
You can see that a lot of care went into level design as the spaces are extremely detailed. The aliens are also highly defined and not just some blurring and blending of parts. However, I would like to have seen more variation in our view of Isaac as we are constantly treated to looking at the same angle of his back. There are also only the bare bones of his character development which may have been helped by giving us even one look at his face. However, there is a ton of variety in the missions often made more complicated by first finding things like keys and parts for the ship. There are also areas that have zero gravity and areas that require Isaac to replenish his depleting oxygen.
The first weapon Isaac finds is the plasma cutter and it's also the best. Some people have played the game entirely with this only. Isaac also has a pretty mean melee attack. Other types of guns become available as you find schematics for them and upload these to the stores found in locations throughout. You must then purchase them with the credits you find. The same applies to various other things like ammo, health, armor, air and statis. Stasis freezes the enemy for a limited time. Killed enemies drop various things you can pick up and you can also find everything but weapons in lockers and storage vaults and top up your stasis and oxygen at stations. Upgrades are available by finding or buying nodes and installing them at workbenches. Nodes are not plentiful and often need two or three to join circuits, so plan carefully. One other tool you are given at a specific time is the kinesis gun, which allows you to move or grab certain objects within range. You also have a map system, a log system and an objective log, which are cleverly rendered as holographs.
An improvement I would like to have seen is an inventory system more like Crysis where weapons and items could be cycled and chosen very quickly. As it is, it's rather slow in Dead Space and sometimes problematic in sticky situations. But these PC control problems are often found in games designed foremost for a console.
Dead Space is quite a long game and towards the end I found myself getting a little tired of the repetition of fending off monsters that always behave in the same manner. I think I would rather have seen a few more puzzles and less aliens considering the limited scope of what could be done to kill them.
When people ask for a list of horror games Dead Space is one title that usually come to mind. For my own part, I would describe it as more gruesome than horrific with lots of blood, gore and dismembered limbs flying around. It does attempt to add suspense by not knowing when the next attack is coming, but lacking is any kind of psychological mind play that would truly place it in the horror genre. I feel this is due to the fact that we never really know what our character is thinking or feeling. There are other games that I think fall better into the horror genre than this one.