Why Dead Space is Still Great
Resident Evil 4 showed us that agile tank controls, coupled with quick-time take down mechanics can make for an exciting and rewarding experience when dealing with the undead, or infected. Taking control of Leon with a landscape view over his shoulders, allowed for a heightened awareness of your surroundings and more fluid interactions with the environment than previous titles. As a franchise, Resident Evil set the standard for survival horror games and paved the way for future titles. We firmly stand on the belief that one such title met that standard, and even surpassed it; we’re talking about Dead Space.
In 2008, EA and Visceral Games released Dead Space across multiple platforms. Upon taking the controls, it was quick to familiarize ourselves with the game’s mechanics, as it’s control scheme carried the weight of influence. From Issac’s third-person panoramic view, the stop and pop combat style, and even the manner in how you interacted with the environment and managed inventory all was the result of the renowned Resident Evil 4. While these facets felt borrowed, the new survival horror set itself apart showcasing cutting-edge visuals, an immersive atmosphere, fluid faster-paced combat, and an original story and lead character.
Aesthetically, necromorphs are the most disturbing things to star in a survival horror game. Torn apart, mangled, and thrown back together, reanimated human corpses are the main threat in the Dead Space series. Unlike a traditional zombie, necromorphs do not retain the appearance of deceased individuals, instead the corpse is altered and becomes something more terrifying – therefore morph. Standard types of these deadly creatures are Slashers and, as their name implies, come equipped with elongated bone deformations sticking out of their arms that serve as blades. Even more grotesque are the leapers, dog-like abominations using claws, jaws, and a whip-tail to mercilessly attack our space mechanic. Pukers, stalkers and crawlers all are appropriately named enemy types that are responsible for the unique tension and dread built in this relentless survival horror.
Diverging from zombie tropes, Dead Space taught us that there’s more than one way to skin a necromorph. Sorry. While the rest of the gaming world had us practicing and perfecting our head-shots, necromorphs arrived and revealed to us that everything we knew about handling the undead was a lie. Visceral Games rebooted the genre’s mechanics, and we learned how to systematically dispose our foes with precision, instead of power or speed. Since a necromorph is essentially an alien being inhabiting and reforming a corpse, zombie or undead would not be entirely accurate when categorizing them. The same with how they are killed, necromorphs cannot be dispatched by destroying the brain or removing the head. Since their entire mass is a living organism, the necromorph is best executed by the maiming and dismemberment of its entire body. This unique aspect of Dead Space’s combat allowed for gamers to be more creative in offense, and more resourceful when it came to inventory management. Having completed the first Dead Space on normal difficulty, the game was generous on ammo but, you could have easily been caught in a jam if you weren’t careful. With enough practice 2 or 3 necromorphs were not a problem, but as the game progressed you were placed in more desperate exchanges where the user needed to balance accurate aim with bold frantic melee
The incorporation of stasis into gameplay and combat is another example of how Visceral strayed from the common and set Dead Space apart. “Bullet Time’ features have been a staple in most shooters since Max Payne, and Dead Space didn’t mind borrowing it while making it their own. Instead of slowing down time altogether, Issac has the technology to dispense a field of momentary seizure at targets. For instance, Issac can slow an attack of an incoming necromorph by enabling a stasis field granting him time to place accurate shots to take it down. If this sounds difficult, it is. You have a finite amount of stasis available and locating stasis packs can be laboursome. When done correctly, using stasis to set up attacks and string together multiple kills can be very satisfying! For the franchise, Dead Space’s control scheme remained consistent. The responsive mechanics, dire usefulness of stasis, and diversity in weapon modifications balanced well with the adrenaline fueled encounters with various enemy types. Upon spending some time with the game, we also realized that Visceral tied all these great facets into a good and relatable story.
For us, classic sci-fi horror can be summed up into a few films: The Thing (1982), Event Horizon, Alien, and Predator (1987). I think we’re good. Dead Space incorporated the best of what these films offered in the sense of intrigue, awe and absolute terror. The USG Ishimura and USCSS Nostromo both inhabited deadly alien threats the protagonists had to endure to survive. Similarly, MacReady, from The Thing, and Issac were tormented and stalked by deformed and reanimated bodies of their deceased comrades. Dead Space tells a story of a radical cult conspiring to release the power of “The Markers”, an alien relic capable of transforming humans into blood-crazed necromorphs. In Event Horizon, Sam Neil plays Dr. Weir, a physicist who becomes obsessed with the ship’s gravity drive and its ability to travel into dark dimensions. As a sci-fi fanatic, melding these worlds together made for a compelling narrative for Dead Space that consists of all the ingredients for an instant sci-fi classic.
The game was followed by 2 sequels, a spin-off for the PS move, 2 animated films, and a comic run from Image. Dead Space 2 and 3 were great games in their own right, but were developed in a time where tactical shooters, like Call of Duty and Rainbow Six, were dominating the landscape. It seemed, in an attempt to draw in a more diverse audience, Visceral traded the horror elements that made the original so great for more action infused gameplay, and even graced Issac with a more military look to his suit and helmet. Still, Dead Space holds a special place in our hearts and will forever be the stand-alone survival-horror that emphasised on Horror! It is our dream that the license is brought back, and we can once again blast, smash, and tear apart vicious monsters at the limbs to our heart’s content.