*Slight spoilers, but nothing game-breaking*
Almost two years after originally purchasing Dead Space, I finally got around to playing it through its entirety. Other games have graced my PS3 in that time but, after a long hard think about it, it was time to see it through to the end.
If you don’t know, when I first got it I was petrified of it. Fast forward to now and not much has changed. I tried to put my fears behind me and solemnly ploughed through the terror; the same terror that enthralled and engrossed me to keep going.
Dead Space is a survival horror game about a space engineer called Isaac Clarke who ventures onto the distressed USG Ishimura; a spaceship designed to collect and mine minerals and resources from other, deep-space worlds with the intention of replenishing what had been lost on Earth after a near wipe-out. The ship encountered danger when trying to find a religious artefact called The Red Marker on the planet Aegis VII. With the Ishimura taking the artefact, a wave of mutation began to run amok and as a result, the ‘planetcracker’ spaceship took a turn for the worse. The crew became infected with a parasitic life-form that turned them into Necromorphs; hideous, grotesque but vastly intelligent beings with the sole intention of turning Isaac’s brains into jam. Isaac battles his way through the ship with an array of tools at his disposal, cutting down Necromorph after Necromorph along the way.
In basic technical terms, Dead Space is your run-of-the-mill corridor based third-person shooter. Further from that, the mechanics of the game spread out above and beyond making this an edgy and scary experience. Although it follows tropes of having to follow simple objectives made a lot harder by obstacles such as a lack of oxygen or negotiating zero-gravity puzzles, it managed to keep me on my toes at all times. The tight, narrow corridors feel claustrophobic; as though running back from whence you came is not going to do you any favours. Having to fight the mutated remnants of the crew in such a constricted space makes you think of your movements and actions carefully before attacking. Sometimes you have enough time to go over the meticulous details; other occasions not so and you find yourself in a rush of panic as a Twitcher or Brute comes charging for you like a bullet. More often than not, I found myself creeping along edges of corridors in-case I came across something that might be around the next corner. It made me think, which weapon do I use? Do I use my heavily upgraded plasma cutter or shall I just unleash a torrent of fire with the flamethrower and then slice the limbs off with the Ripper? If option A, do I have enough ammo to last me a barrage like that? And so on until you inevitably run through so many options that by the time you get to the Necromorph, it has already sliced Isaac in two. You also have to remember what you did in previous rooms. Before I cottoned-on, it wouldn’t be rare for a dead Slasher to rear up when you least expect it. Now that I’ve become accustomed to this behaviour, remembering who or what you killed previously can save you the fright of a life, and so if you spot a body in a place you don’t remember it being, chances are it isn’t dead. Fortunately with my gun-ho attitude whilst playing, I try to brutalise anything in my way regardless.
Everything else does an amazing job in setting the scene and capturing the horror. The sound design for example is astounding. Every noise the ship makes keeps you alert. The rattling coming from the air vents; is that normal or is it a Lurker? Then the jarring symphonic strings start up and you know for fact that something just burst through an inlet, but where that inlet is, is anyone’s guess. Finishing an objective gives a reassuring hum and a bright blue glow to let you know everything is under control. Graphically, although the game is going on six years old and was made in the earlier days of both the Xbox and PS3 life, it still looks good. The read-outs on the weapons and Isaac’s suit contrast the dark environment and they are clear and precise, as are the menus and the guidance line. Dust particles illuminated by the lights fill the air in certain sections and the grisly textures of enemies are a nightmare in themselves. There are a few visual quirks on certain things and the physics engine does make corpses wrap around Isaac’s feet and then bounce off down the corridor (sometimes for the worse; the amount of times a loose flailing limb has nerved me into thinking it’s anything but was absurd). Even having the menus happen in game rather than a standard head up display simply adds to the immersion. There’s nothing more tense than trying to swap out an air can as Isaac is desperately losing his breath whilst Necromorphs continue their assault.
Adding these together can make for some intense sequences. When an area goes into a quarantine lock down, you know about it even when you don’t expect it. Everything goes dark, all bar the strobe of a lone, yellow warning light and the doors are barricaded with a heavy thud, as Necromorphs you previously thought weren’t there, come snarling in. With nowhere to hide, blasting through the extra-terrestrial zombies is your only way out that can lift the quarantine lockdown. Other times, the game plays with its flaws. We all know that with video games as you progress a new area has to be loaded. Dead Space does this with lifts and doors. In the lifts, enemies can burst through the ceiling and commit you to battle in something no bigger than a wardrobe. Doors to bigger areas don’t open straight away; you have to wait for the area to load. This doesn’t break away from the immersion as you can hear the guttural roar of a Divider coming up behind you and the pulse in your head as you frantically try to get the door open knowing that if you do turn around and open fire, the smaller creatures that make up the monster will ultimately deplete your ammunition. Shouting ‘open the door!’ doesn’t really do much either but the safe haven behind it is so satisfying.
Dead Space is a fantastic game and an experience that has had a lasting effect on the games I play. Considering my initial thoughts, I have grown to accept it and appreciate it. For someone who hasn’t played many horror games, the jump scares and the sudden mini-boss fights still unnerve me but it has opened me up into looking into playing more horror orientated games in the future, which was my aim all along when I bought it in 2013. I played it with an open mind as something new and it delivered on every promise Kat set it to. The feeling of escaping this hell was what kept my going and kept me coming back to it, knowing that there is a way out. I still played it with the ‘kill everything’ mentality and I found ways to keep myself entertained by giving the Necromorphs names such as Phil, Gerald, Hector the Infector and Ivor the Divider (because these were people once upon a time, maybe ‘Phil’ is still in there somewhere). Sprinkle in a bit of time to play on the shooting range and a round of Zero-G basketball (If Link can go fishing whilst Hyrule is under threat, it won’t harm Isaac to play a few hoops) and you have a neat but scary, little package that took me about twelve hours to get through. I will eventually want to play through again on a higher difficulty and now I’m at the end of the story, I can move onto its sequel but at the moment my time on the USG Ishimura has finally come to an end. And the last scare? Yep, that vibrating DualShock 3 again…
Words by Jimmi