Dead Space has long been a series I’d wanted to play, but I somehow always ended up being too distracted by other things to give it a fair shake. I mean, I’ve always been a fan of survival horror, and I’d heard nothing but good things about the Dead Space games. With Dead Space 3 on the horizon, I figured it was finally time to see what the fuss was about.
When I first started my Dead Space adventure, I was largely unimpressed. The first half hour or so of the game felt like just another third-person shooter, satisfying enough, but without anything that really made it stand out.
But then I started noticing subtle little details that I loved. For example, your HUD is on Isaac’s suit; your health bar is a series of glowing tubes on his back, and your stasis meter is a half-circle on his shoulder. Whenever you pull up a menu, there is a hologram that pops up in Isaac’s field of vision. And Isaac’s weapons have a blue laser site, which turns red whenever you run out of ammo.
All of this makes for an entirely diegetic HUD, something very few games could ever pull off. And that means the separation between player and character is reduced to a minimum, as you’re not dealing with things like flashing ammo counts to constantly remind you that you’re playing a game. And that’s important, because Dead Space is a series that thrives on elements of insanity, and the more immersed the player is, the more breathing room those elements have.
Perhaps best of all, though, is the sound design, which is absolutely fantastic. There is always something going on in the background, whether it be the scurry of Necromorph feat on metal panels, whispers coming from the vents, or even a child singing at one point. It keeps you on edge, never allowing you to truly feel safe. But perhaps my favorite audio element of all is the way sound gets muffled, almost to the point of being inaudible, whenever you enter an atmosphere-free zone.
And this is truly survival horror, putting you in situations where you have limited supplies of ammo and are forced to make every shot fired count for something. And that goes hand in hand with Dead Space’s “strategic dismemberment” mechanic. Rather than fill the chest of each Necromorph with a barrage of bullets, you’re encouraged to shoot off limbs to deal extra damage and make the baddies bleed out.
And if this isn’t cool enough on its own, there are two more elements that make combat in Dead Space something truly remarkable. You have a stasis ability, which allows you to freeze time around your enemies, and a kinesis ability, which allows you to pick up and throw heavy objects. (Think of this as the Dead Space version of Half-Life 2’s gravity gun.)
Now, eventually you’ll realize that the flow of Dead Space is fairly formulaic—get off the tram at a new location, finish off baddies while solving environmental puzzles, get back on the tram and head to a new location, repeat—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The gameplay is legitimately entertaining, and the storyline does some really interesting things in the game’s final portion.
Ultimately, Dead Space is a game that may not be perfectly refined, but it does a whole lot of innovative stuff that makes it interesting throughout the entirety of its ten-or-so-hour campaign.
But Dead Space 2 reinvents the wheel a bit. Where the original took a little while to get interesting, Dead Space 2 throws you straight into chaos.
In fact, pretty much every element of the original game has been refined or expanded upon, even the controls. And this makes for a game that is, on the surface, much improved over the original. The environments are far more interesting, with an aesthetic that feels almost Blade Runner-esque. (The elementary school scene is particularly well designed.) The story is far more complex, with a better handle on things like pacing and character-building. (A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that Isaac finally has a voice.) There are new types of Necromorphs that force you to switch up your strategies on the fly. And, of course, the combat has been improved, with the ability to use kinesis on severed limbs to spike enemies into walls. Even the zero-G segments are better, giving players more freedom to explore the environments as they see fit.
Unfortunately, the one element missing is survival horror. The original Dead Space made you feel weak. Isaac, for example, was an engineer, and all the weapons in the game were actually tools he would have used in his career. Whenever you encountered a couple Necromorphs, you were legitimately afraid because you knew you were only a few rounds short of running completely dry on ammo.
The second game makes Isaac more of a badass, so it takes much larger groups of enemies to cause any legitimate fear in its players. And that makes for more formulaic encounters, where you enter a room that gets swarmed by necromorphs . After dealing with these guys, you’ll enter another room where you’ll have to deal with pretty much the exact same thing.
Now, as far as horror elements go, Dead Space 2 has one scene that shines brighter than the entire rest of the game. I speak, of course, of the return to the Ishimura. Even though absolutely nothing happens for the first twenty minutes or so, that downtime is truly terrifying. The developers went above and beyond with the environment design, making a horror experience that holds up based on atmosphere alone. In fact, I would argue that this might be the best scene in the whole series thus far.
Ultimately, I’m glad to have experienced the genesis of the Dead Space series, and I have the highest of hopes for Dead Space 3. February 5 can’t come soon enough.
Editor / Social Media
Date: January 14, 2013
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*