Dead Space is the ultimate jigsaw of gaming's greatest hits, shamelessly stealing features from a decade of classic action games and mixing them together in one giblet-filled melting pot of horror. You've played it before: Resi 4's camera, Gears of War's movement, Doom 3's corridors, Bioshock's atmosphere and story revelations, System Shock 2's horror, The Thing's monsters, Metroid Prime's doors and Cold Fear's location (only, er, in space)... EA Redwood Shores nabs them all, squeezes them into a terrifying ten-hour jaunt and backs it up with production values to rival the very best.
And although, post-credits, Resi 4 still remains king of the genre, Dead Space has proven itself to be more than just an accomplished copycat. In fact, Capcom should take note. Because EA can teach them a thing or three about survival horror.
Take the controls. It's no wonder that after playing Dead Space, Takeuchi has opted to swap Resi's classic set-up for Dead Space's sidestepping freedom; a change we vehemently protested until trying it out for ourselves. Isaac's added manoeuvrability makes racing through the infested corridors a breeze, even without the quick-turn action which was mysteriously dumped during alpha testing.
You need this extra control as Dead Space's monsters don't just line up for the slaughter. Keeping a clear head sits just below keeping a head at all in the importance stakes, because unless you carefully pick the limbs off the approaching enemies you'll find yourself surrounded with an empty cartridge in your weapon. The Ishimura has a fully designed vent system which allows monsters to make their own way through the ship. Fail to stop them before they jump into an air duct and they'll pop out behind you minutes later and take two bites out of your arse before you've had time to react.
Resident Evil 4 with better controls isn't a bad sell at all, but the improvements don't stop there. Strategic dismemberment enforces a much more tactical approach to combat. Hacking pieces off the Necromorphs is an integral mechanic to survival and although it tends to limit the design possibilities of your enemies (later Dead Space falls into the trap of using the same monster models but changing skin colours to signify extra toughness) the dismemberment system makes other horror foes look decidedly average.
Shooting somebody in the face only to see them stagger and then continue their sprint towards you is disappointing now that we've seen the alternative - shooting them in the face and removing their head only to see tendrils sprout from said hole and the beast run in your direction while flailing its arms at twice the speed in a blind rage... We never said it would be pretty.
But Dead Space's real showpiece is its Zero G environments. When the gravity is removed the fun really starts, and you'll be running along more walls and ceilings than Domasi 'Tommy' Tawodi. Usually the space hopping is combined with a lack of oxygen. If you've not been bolstering your O2 supplied via the BENCH upgrade system, the time limit can make for a tense scramble for the next airlock.
Hotfooting it across the ship's hull with low oxygen reserves is bad enough, but things are made even worse (or is that better?) by the silence. Sound bleeds out along with the oxygen, which mutes the tell-tale warnings of approaching Necromorphs.
The menu system is another striking feature, and another original idea among a sea of, erm, 'borrowed' mechanics. Ammo, health and stasis bars are brilliantly integrated into Issac's suit, and an additional holo-display menu, independent of the orbital camera's movement, deals with the rest. Sleek and efficient, it further immerses you in the world. Cleverly, tapping x will inject Isaac with a health booster (provided you've got one to hand) while the D-Pad lets you hot-swap weapons on the fly so you're never left totally helpless mid-scrap.