Cut off their limbs.
Dead Space brings a first-class horror experience to gamers who can stomach the fright.
Dead Space is a third-person survival horror that’s part shooter, part mystery, and part run for your life. It’s set in a derelict spaceship orbiting a distant star and follows only a handful of characters. The premise for Dead Space feels more like a big-budget sci-fi action movie than it does a horror video game. But those ambitious goals are more than met in the blood-soaked halls of the U.S.G. Ishimura.
Dead Space is not for the faint of heart. Just because it’s won over 14 different awards from various journalists, guilds, and academies doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It’s a frightening story set in a terrifying world with menacing enemies and situations.
Dead Space’s design–from the visuals to the audio to the atmosphere–is crafted to encompass a player in horror fully. If you can only play an hour or so at a time, you’re not alone. At least you can make it an hour.
Story and concept
In Dead Space, players jump into the gravity boots of one Issac Clarke, a voiceless engineer who works for Concordance Extracting Company (C.E.C.) and repairs their ships when they break down.
The story starts with a video message from Nicole, Issac’s girlfriend, who was working as the Head Medical Officer on the U.S.G. Ishimura. Until the crew of the Ishimura went insane, and the ship’s comms went dark, that is. Being the badass, heroic boyfriend that Issac is, he volunteers for the rescue/repair mission and heads out immediately to the silent ship.
Once on the Ishimura, it’s not long before Issac’s means for escape are destroyed, which strands him and the few of his crew who survived on a verifiably haunted spaceship. With Unitologist zealots roaming the halls looking for new sacrifices and mutated necromorphs jumping out of air vents to feast on their next prey, Issac has his work cut out for him.
Repairing the comms on the Ishimura turns into fixing the tram system, which turns into restarting the power generators, which turns into fixing the whole damn ship. All while avoiding the hungry predators that are more than aware of Issac’s position at any given time.
As the story progresses and Issac finds other survivors on the Ishimura, you start to understand this story can’t be told in one title. The pervasiveness of Unitology, the outbreak of necromorphs, and the Markers; all combine to create a story arc that spans the galaxy. But before players start connecting the dots of the solar system, they’ll have to live through the events of the Ishimura.
The goals are simple. Fix the Ishimura. Find Nicole. Survive.
The graphics of Dead Space’s macabre world are meticulous and nuanced. There are enough messages and words scrawled upon the walls of the Ishimura to fill up a book, and players can spend plenty of time trying to decode the twisted phrases. The details of Issac’s spacesuit, the glow of his health rig, and the features of each upgraded gun are vibrant and noticeable to those with a critical eye. And each small detail only adds to the immersiveness of Dead Space.
Players can count the individual stars in the sky when taking zero-gravity walks on the Ishimura’s hull. They can marvel at Aegis-7, the planet they lazily orbit. When facing the site of mass suicide, players will see different clothes on each of the dead and the flickering of every candle they lay beside.
The manipulation of light and light sources is masterful throughout Issac’s journey. Each small flashlight throws wild shadows about, giving you pause anytime one is disturbed. Was that just the flashlight rolling along the floor? Or was there something moving in front of the light?
Sound & atmosphere
The category Dead Space won the most awards in was audio, and it’s clear to hear within the first few minutes of gameplay. As you move through the Ishimura’s hallways, you’ll hear all sorts of sounds that make you feel you’re not alone.
The bangs and clangs you hear aren’t random; they feel as if produced by an enemy just on the other side of a door or beyond the bend in the corridor. Because they are. Very often, that sound you heard wasn’t just designed to make you feel scared. That was the sound of a necromorph busting through the air vent behind you.
From the moment you boot up Dead Space, its atmosphere of intense paranoia is infectious. Glitchy sounds, skewed visuals, and abrupt changes in color make you feel unstable as you play. This feeling is precisely how Issac feels navigating the Ishimura, facing each unsettling turn as it comes.
Dead Space manages to communicate what its protagonist feels to the player in a way that feels so authentic. Players will forget they’re just in a game.
The dark atmosphere and invasive sound design–more than the bloody visuals–make Dead Space hard to stomach for some. The constant whispering in your headphones, the screams of the wounded and damned, the cries of hunger from monsters unimaginable produce fear. Period.
The dead bodies you find are disturbing, yes, but the voice whispering “make us whole” over and over again whenever you see them is just plain creepy.
The visage of a necromorph is shocking, to say the least, but it’s the sounds they make as they chase you through the halls, stalk you from air vents, and feast on your corpse that last into the night.
Again, not for the faint of heart.
The gameplay of Dead Space is slightly more involved than your average survival horror title. Are there guns? Yes, lots. But with the addition of the stasis and kinesis modules, Dead Space provides more than just sci-fi bullets to shoot at enemies.
Stasis is a way to slow enemies down to a crawl for a short period of time. Perfect for the extremely fast necromorphs that charge out of the darkness before you can get two shots off. Statis is used for more than just quick enemies, though, as there are plenty of malfunctioning doors, trams, and other pieces of machinery that need a soothing touch.
Kenesis is another way that Dead Space adds creativity to murder. It allows users to pick up an item in a zero-gravity field and manipulate it. Much like stasis, this is used to repair large pieces of equipment that have broken down or to manipulate controls just out of reach. But kinesis comes with a hidden feature: any item picked up by kinesis can be fired by kinesis. Most objects will make poor weapons when fired by kinesis, especially at pissed-off necromorphs. But some things, like survey spikes, machine stakes, and even the spear-like arms of necromorphs, turn into powerful weapons you can use to impale your enemies.
The gameplay of Dead Space revolves around conserving ammo and health packs as Issac dives ever deeper into the conspiracy of the Marker and Unitology. But another way Dead Space mixes up the traditional survival-horror shooter recipe is with the very anatomy of necromorphs themselves.
Necromorphs are nigh impervious to damage if shot in the torso, so the only way to kill them is to shoot off their limbs, which turns Dead Space into a fine-tuned shooter. Good luck trying to aim at that shoulder or knee joint while monsters are jumping out of the shadows at you.
It will take some time for you to master your aiming. When enemies burst out of air vents and charge you, it takes some practice to reign in your panic and focus the crosshairs. But after a few gruesome deaths, you’ll get the hang of it. Remember: shoot off their limbs.
Like many survival horror games, some people will say Dead Space has a replay value of precisely zero. The assault on someone’s psyche is more than enough to handle with one playthrough, let alone several.
But for us, the replay value of Dead Space is high. With multiple difficulties and plenty of hidden rooms, blueprints, and items, Dead Space is definitely a story to reexamine.
The first time you play through the story, you’re just trying to survive. You’re trying to collect and conserve all the ammo and health you can. You’re so scared and just trying to get to the final boss. But during subsequent playthroughs, you’re allowed a more detailed view of the game. You’re more in control of your fear. You remember that this room is a trap. You remember that necromorphs like to play dead. You remember not to stand too close to those vents.
Dead Space is absolutely a game to be revisited for those players who make it through their first journey.
Final thoughts on Dead Space
Dead Space is an experience that feels too grand to be contained in a video game.
- It’s a masterful work in intense fear.
- It’s an incredible story with relatable characters and infamous villains.
- It’s a wildly fun ride with sci-fi guns and weapons of all kinds.
- It’s a beautiful spacewalk in zero gravity.
Dead Space blends story, gameplay, and the element of fear in lasting ways that are sure to stick with many players for years to come, whether they want them to or not.