Why was Dead Space such a great game?
To the surprise of many, Dead Space was a sleeper hit that quickly cemented itself as a mainstay horror series. At the time of release, the horror genre had grown somewhat stagnant due to “horror” titles such as Alone in the Dark, Left 4 Dead, and Silent Hill: Homecoming, that either more resemble action games, or just weren’t scary. With its engaging combat, unsettling audio design, and creepy visuals, Dead Space immediately became a fan favorite.
Following the story of Engineer Isaac Clark, you are dispatched to the USG Ishimura to investigate radio silence. The ship has gone completely ‘black’ and you are sent to help get things running again. Your ship is damaged upon arrival, leaving you and a few other ship mates stranded. Before long, you are greeted by the most haunting visuals at the time. Rooms are pitch black except for console lighting. Severed body parts and blood cover the hallways. What should be a well-maintained ship is in total chaos. The second you enter the Ishimura you are given a very clear sense of dread, that what happened here was not done by a human, and that’s what’s most startling.
As you make your way through the ship, the noises take a turn to the macabre. Loud audio engineering in movies is frowned upon for being a cheap scare, but in Dead Space its systematically designed to accompany a visual effect. Lights flicker, bodies move, creatures pass by in vents. All the while the ship creeks and bangs, and pipes spout vapor –staples of deep space horror games/movies since the original Alien.
You’re soon faced with zombies in the form of Necromorphs, the twisted undead remains of crew members aboard the ship. The Necromorphs aren’t technically “zombies” because even though they do eat you, that is not their sole purpose. One of the biggest reasons Dead Space became such a hit was because it flipped conventional combat on its head. Years of zombie and military games trained gamers up to this point to aim for the head. Necromorphs can only be dispatched by dismemberment, aiming for the limbs and finishing off with a devastating stomp to the head. The variety of enemies (babies with tentacles, winged bat creatures, tiny spores that can’t be killed by conventional Dead Space means) also kept the game feeling new to the end.
Dead Space 2 took everything that made part one great and added to it, easily making it the best entry of the series. Even with the inclusion of microtransactions in Dead Space 3, the series still kept to its roots as it concluded protagonist Isaac Clark’s story. The entire series playing with on Isaac’s guilt about his girlfriend dying aboard the Ishimura and the resulting PTSD from part one, working with the mental illness in part 2, and coming to terms and moving past it in part 3. Dead Space, however, deserves the credit for stepping out of the gaming norms and trying something new and in turn, refreshing a genre that even now, often gets overlooked.