Rating: ★★★★½

Can horror be brought to the iPhone? Perhaps so as Dead Space publisher EA sought to secretly release Dead Space on the iPhone, a separate yet unique game to the franchise, simultaneously with their full-fledged console Dead Space 2. While Chris reviewed the home version, I got to play the handheld one, playing as unknown protagonist Vandal in what turned out to be a phenomenal iPhone game. But is it scary?

Read on to find out how to win a copy of Dead Space on the iPhone!Dead Space is a futuristic sci-fi 3rd person shooter that would fall in the horror category, but hasn’t been all that frightening. That is to say, it doesn’t scare you in the way horror movies do, with cheap tricks and shocking scenes. Dead Space is a psychological thriller, and the iPhone game follows suit, though the smaller screen does make it much more difficult to take seriously.

Gruesome scenes like this are commonplace. Though a miniature meat farm isn’t as disgusting
on an iPhone for some reason…

This of course is standard with all mobile games. Really getting into them requires a lot of focus, or some amazing game development. Dead Space looks great on the iPhone and runs very well (my iPod Touch, the device I tested the game on, crashed the game twice. Once in the gameplay video and once when I had some 30 applications open). It’s smooth, it’s fast, and the imagery is as gruesome and grim as one could ask for the handheld. But the game didn’t grip me, for two reasons.

First, it’s Dead Space on a much smaller scale. Anyone who played the original will instantly feel at home with how the game functions. Tight corridors, handfuls of undead nightmarish creatures stalking you during a frantic mess of searching for more ammunition and aiming properly so the shots do damage. That gameplay is great…on a console, in the comfort of your living room and couch in the dark of night. On an iPhone? Let’s just say the pangs of mobile gaming run deep. And those who have played the original, or even the new Dead Space 2, may find that the iPhone game feels like a dumbed down version.

Second, the hardware limitation becomes bluntly clear when only so many enemies attack at once, or when defeating certain enemies becomes a matter of time rather than a matter of skill. The famed “strategic dismemberment” returns and works surprisingly well. In fact, there is no iPhone game which utilizes environmental items better than Dead Space, except for id Software’s Rage HD: Mutant Bash TV. Then again, Rage’s in-game items were just there to press. in Dead Space, players can manipulate them using kinesis.

Zero G gameplay is minimal, but still very cool

But back on point, the lack of physical button controls and the limited iPhone hardware puts a real damper on how sophisticated, and thus how frantic and intense gameplay can be without sacrificing graphics. And for a horror game in 2011, graphics is a must, especially if half-eaten and bisected bodies are to be found in every fifth room of the game. The combined effort makes Dead Space a difficult game to get lost in.

That said, it’s still one of the best games on the iPhone. The stop and go pace is like that quote on war. Frantic scenes are common, and if you wear headphones (which the game recommends), there are a handful of scenes that may cause you to jump out of your seat. Headphones, or at least a good pair of speakers and quiet settings, are absolutely necessary to fully enjoy the game. Playing in a cafe with earphones and obnoxiously loud people nearby just doesn’t cut it. Neither does a family car ride.

Because Dead Space is so demanding, my iPod Touch ran out of battery twice (albeit over the course of two days and running other light applications), once during gameplay. One scene, which I won’t spoil, tricks players into thinking their battery is dead. The irony is ten minutes before the scene, my iPod showed the 20% warning, and I’d gotten up to go plug it in before I realized it was all in-game. Well played EA.

Like in Dead Space, Vandal starts seeing things. They say the first thing to go is the mind…

A generally bland plot of mistakes, redemption, trickery and a demonic plague are nothing new to the franchise, but this time Isaac Clarke is not on the scene. A voice-morphed Vandal is instead, and with many of the same Dead Space weapons like the Plasma Cutter and Line Gun, players must redeem themselves, or die trying. Oh, and you will die.

Dead Space on the iPhone is a great game. It’s limited only by the hardware, which in turn stunts gameplay significantly, but not enough to take away from the experience. It just keeps it from being immersive. At $7 and with four hours of gameplay and three difficulty settings (plus the option to replay any completed difficulty with all previously attained items), Dead Space is a keeper. And, as if that weren’t enough, registering the game gives you two free bonus items in Dead Space 2. Whether you’re in a zero-G room or ripping off the limbs of some poor, heartless sub-human creature, Dead Space is a bucket of fun. Boy, do I like buckets.

Did somebody say contest? Why yes, we do have a contest! You can check it out by clicking this link!

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.