I’ve been on the rampage trying to find games to load up on my phone. Tiny Tower came first, but with Joshua Topolsky jabbering on about Dead Space for Android, I decided I should give it a shot. I’ve always been interested in the franchise, but aside from 45 minutes with the original game after a Steam sale, I haven’t put any time into it at all, which is something I feel guilty about because it looks like a genuinely great sci-fi series from one of the gaming industry’s most unoriginal companies. The game’s format on mobile doesn’t lend to much psychological tension, but it’s a solid shooter that’s worth your money.
In this tied-off nugget of Dead Space lore, you play as the vocoded Vandal, a member of the Church of Unitology, the evil cult from the other games. This and that happens and you end up playing for the Church and for the Earth Government Thing at the same time. The story’s pretty thin and while you have some decent character moments (and some interesting hallucinations), you’re really just here to get from Point A to Point B. You have access to several weapons of destruction and blow through a bunch of levels taking out an interesting mix of necromorphs. For a $6.99 mobile game, it’s got plenty of length and with the ability to upgrade your weapons and armor, you’ve got some incentive to play through the game again.
There’s always some trepidation that surrounds playing a dual-stick shooter (and this is a dual-stick shooter) on a touchscreen device, but it works incredibly well. One thing that works in its favor is the fact that in placing your thumbs on the screen and moving them around leaves no visual reference. There are no little ‘stick circles’ or static overlays on the screen. It means you can easily move your thumbs around the screen without putting too much attention into where they’re at any time. It feels incredibly natural. (Of course, playing it on a 4.65″ screen didn’t hurt!)
While moving around feels great here, shooting and interactions don’t always work out. Tapping your finger in the empty space to the right of your character brings up the “iron sights” (sans actual iron sights) to fire on your foes, but I found no way to bow out of the mode once it was brought up, which became a hassle when tapping the wrong thing trapped you in this mode unless you moved your character around. Iron sights also slows your movement considerably, became a hassle fast when combating an enemy you have to get around. It doesn’t render the game unplayable, but it is the biggest flaw in the game’s control scheme. When interacting with doors, reloading weapons and picking up objects, life is easy, but trying to open boxes and lockers (or anything with circular interactive icons) was also a pain. I blew through many clips of ammo early in the game just trying to open a locker… to get more ammo.
Your weapons are mining tools and just like the original games, you still blast fleshy bad dudes with vertical and horizontal angles to slice off their limbs, achieved by tilting the device (other weapons use this to switch to secondary modes), which wasn’t fun with the phone tilted (like when I need to blast a few necromorphs before bed). The game gives you enough tools and handicaps to make combat against multiple enemies at once workable, so don’t despair!
Dead Space is gorgeous, and on a Galaxy Nexus, ran silky smooth… for the most part. During confrontations, it wasn’t a surprise to see the game shudder like a stalling car in hot summer. The levels are tile-based, so you’re not going to see many of the breakout levels that you’d see in the bigger games. Instead, you’ll go through two or three levels with similar layouts and art assets before moving onto new stuff. There are a lot of hallways. The game is thankfully generous with checkpoints, which helps a lot as playing on Normal the first time out lead to a lot of deaths. There are Achievements (which appear as nearly microscopic alerts) which also help replayability, as well as unlockable wallpapers for your Android phone (although none were enticing). Thankfully, there’s a relaxing lack of EA’s hubris in the game, meaning no EULAs, weird cross-promotions to other titles, or other invasive EA service stuff.
After playing through Dead Space here, I’m honestly wanting to return to its big brothers and experience those stories. If you’re up for some tense shooter action and have a decent phone, this is (to date) the best action game you can get for Android.