What happens if you shamelessly fuse the plots of loads of eighties sci-fi/horror films and combine them? Hey there Dead Space.
While this is at least partially true (the enemies look like the creatures from “The Thing (1984)” and even the font on the case of the game looks like the one on “Event Horizon’s,” the truth of the matter is that Dead Space had done what not many games had done in a long time – it managed to be gory and exciting whilst still being scary. As it happens, I love the Resident Evil series (especially 4, hint hint) but it is true that as that series has progressed the emphasis has been more on uninteresting character development and blockbuster style action rather than “Hmmm this corridor is quiet, best turn ar … FUCKING HELL.”
While there are those of you horror puritans out there who will argue that those sort of point and click survival games you get for the PC, the ones you have to dig so deep to find your spade breaks, are scarier, there is one thing that sets them apart. Dead Space is actually worth playing. I don’t care if “The depraved horrors of Dr.Ballbags mansion” or “Little girl covered in blood screams then runs off camera,” are scarier, they aren’t fun to play. Dead Space on the other hand, offers some genuine (if not eventually predictable) scares and a bucket load of blood and innovative gameplay. For as long as I can think, the staple gameplay mechanic in survival horror games has been “go for the head.” Here, aim for the head has been abandoned in favor of “sever every limb from that freaks slimy body.” And I have to admit, for me, it never got boring. Shooting the plasma cutter sideways to sever a mutant’s leg then running up to it, lifting your boot high and bringing it down with the power of a thousand obese men plummeting off a diving board into solid concrete. And that satisfying sound akin to someone punching a jar of jam, and then when you look down, the evidence of your alien killing activities is … evident?
I don’t know why I love this game so much; part of me tells me it should have been another run of the mill survival horror game. But for some reason, it refuses to be. The weapons are interesting, especially the plasma cutter (beginner weapon and probably the one you will use the most,) the mechanics are well thought out and feel natural very quickly. The game is also stunning, with vents hissing and lights shining in such a way as to create the ambitious, eerie, abandoned spaceship ambiance that the developers were clearly aiming for. The plot is, however cliche, engaging enough to keep you wandering through the Ishimura’s (the spaceship) winding, alien filled corridors. There are also the anti-gravity sections which I thought were fun, though admittedly there was one in Dead Space 2 that was a bit of a pain in the ass. The sort of, thank fuck I never have to do that again, moment in a videogame.
Overall then while it is true that Dead Space does not offer as many blood curdling scares as horror puritans may have wished for, it is hard to deny that it is a scary game, perhaps more in eerie atmosphere than individual shocks. It is even harder to deny that this game is a rewarding mix of challenging and fun, and the changes made to the conventional “aim for the head” method of zombie/mutant killing means that players are having to fight with their heads as well as their weapons. Not literally. Though I would salute any man brave or stupid enough to headbutt a zombie/mutant.