Five years ago, I never would’ve touched a horror game. One, because most of what was on the market was trying to copy the success of Outlast, and two, because I was mortified of them. It wasn’t until 2015 when I played Alien Isolation that I realised the brilliance of a good horror game. Since that time, I’ve played many more, but The Dead Space series is one that seems to have eluded my backlog of horror titles despite being highly regarded in the genre. What’s probably most interesting about the first Dead Space, too, is that it was originally intended to be a System Shock sequel until the release of Resident Evil 4 inspired EA Redwood Shores to go back to the drawing board and create their own take on the award-winning formula. Needless to say, this piqued my curiosity.
Set in the year 2058, the story begins with the “planet-cracker” USG Ishimura sending a out a distress signal while on a mining operation on the planet Aegis VII. In resonse, Isaac Clarke and his team are dispatched to investigate, but after a crash landing, it’s quickly discovered that the ship is seemingly abandoned. After looking around, an alien threat known as the Necromorphs make themselves known. It’s up to Isaac and his team to find out what happened on the USG Ishimura and to find a way off the now alien-infested ship. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It shares many similarities with the original Alien film, which a fair comparison, but what Dead Space does, it does well.
The plot twists and narrative threads are punchy enough to keep you interested and hooked on what the story has to offer, and while Isaac isn’t voiced, supporting characters do a good enough job to keep the momentum moving forward. In particular, there are a couple of revelations in the final act that really get things going, and though some questions are answered, others are not, which I can only assume will be tackled in future entries.
There’s no doubt that Dead Space takes inspiration from Resident Evil 4 and older survival horror titles. Ammunition and med-packs are in short supply, careful inventory management is crucial in the latter parts of the game, and smart use of weapons is paramount to succeeding. That last point might sound a little weird, but if you’ve played Dead Space before, you know what I’m referring to. To do significant damage to the Necromorphs, their limbs must be shot off. This means that instead of aiming for the head like a typical third-person shooter, you’re aiming to sever arms and legs. It sounds simple, but it makes for an engaging, thoughtful, and brutally satisfying combat system. New enemy types that are thrown into the fray also help to keep things fresh and prevent the game from falling into repetition.
As you play, you’ll find power nodes that allow you to upgrade your weapons and armour. The upgrades are as simple as damage buffs, increased reload speed, and larger clip capacity, but it creates an added layer of progression on top of finding schematics for new weapons and armour. Each of the eight weapons has two different fire modes, some more useful than others, but it effectively makes for sixteen different ways to fire your guns. The ability to pick up objects and slow down enemies with stasis abilities give you even more options in combat that are just as satisfying. The only real disappointment is that the ‘space’ part of Dead Space isn’t very well explored. You can make use of zero gravity to maneuver around areas that require it, but it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could be.
An hour into Dead Space, I’d completely forgotten that it originally released on 360 and PS3. This game is gorgeous on PC; the industrial look of the Ishimura sells the idea of it being a mining ship, and the quality of lighting and fog is unparalleled for its time. Character and enemy models are detailed, and the environments are uniquely designed to fit their purposes. The high-resolution textures and consistent performance make it hard to believe that this game came out on last generation consoles almost 10 years ago.
Horror is a concept that can be hard to pull off. When it’s good, it’s really good, but it’s also easy to notice when it’s ineffective and poorly executed. Dead Space is a bit of both. It has atmosphere in spades, and the amount of tension that the game can manage to build-up to at big moments is genuinely unnerving. The way lighting, sound, and visuals are used aboard the industrial rot of the Ishimura is near perfect, but all of it is thrown out the window as soon as an encounter starts. Unfortunately, the game opts for the loud screams of music in combat scenarios, completely negating all effect set up by the preluding atmosphere. It’s a shame, too, because there are some great moments where absolute silence works in favour of the game, and I wish there was more of it.
I enjoyed Dead Space way more than I ever thought I would. It’s a very well-made survival horror game, and you owe it to yourself to try it out, even if you aren’t a fan of the genre. It’s not a particularly scary game, but the atmosphere, well-told story, and satisfying combat make an experience worth visiting. Its an eerie adventure into the isolation of space, and serves as a solid groundwork for something near perfect. Despite it’s few flaws, Dead Space is a great game, and I can’t wait to jump into the sequel as soon as I get the opportunity.