I remember when I first heard about Dead Space. It was almost a full year, I think, before it even came out, and I came across a lengthy article in one of those game magazines to which my younger brother had subscribed. Those kinds of magazines were very interesting to me, and I might’ve had my own subscription, but, seeing as I’m something of a cheapskate, I would instead wait for his magazine to come in the mail and then rifle through it at the dining room table, always making sure never to wrinkle the pages and to put it back just as I’d found it. Dead Space immediately sounded like something that would be right up my alley. As a fan of series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the idea of having the crap scared out of me in space made my heart palpitate.
When I got the game on release day, I tore into the plastic wrapping like the case contained a winning lottery ticket, the case bending a little as I pulled at the wrapper instead of just cutting it. I knew that it would be a fun experience. Not only had everything I’d read primed me for playing, but right from the get-go the design of the game had me. The sounds playing over the start menu were filled with sharp metal scraping noises against a soft background murmur of voices.
The use of sound is one of the highlights of the game. As you control engineer Isaac Clark aboard the derelict USG Ishimura, you hear things clacking on the metal decks, noises in the vents, and the buzzing of lights struggling to stay on. Fans of horror movies will find a lot of familiarity, as sound has long been an effective way of getting people to squirm in their seats, and, occasionally, jump out of them. In one particular instance when I was playing, I came down a ramp and turned to grab an item from off the floor. As I did, one of the mutilated Necromorph enemies walked past, just on the other side of some debris blocking the corridor. A sharp note from the soundtrack made me forget to breathe. The game is filled with moments like that, when things can be dead silent before ramping up a few notes here and there to keep you from getting too comfortable. When that happens, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not something’s actually about to get you or if you’ve just been had.
From a visuals standpoint, the game is very effective, too. Lighting plays a strong part in the look of the game, with environments ranging from brightly lit rooms to stretches of deep shadow. The Ishimura is one heck of a well-designed ship, too, and the set dressing — the flickering lights, malfunctioning doors, and messages scrawled in blood on the walls — all build up this intense atmosphere that literally makes moving from room to room a tense experience. Luckily, Isaac has at his disposal several different engineering tools that he can use as weapons, from the simple but versatile plasma cutter to something called the “ripper,” which holds a buzzing circular saw in front of Isaac to help him sever the limbs of the creepy crawlies roaming the ship. Each of the several weapons available has a primary and an alternate firing mode, giving a good bit of versatility to the combat elements. To get rid of the bad guys you have to sever their limbs, which, aside from being creepy in and of itself, makes for an interesting combat dynamic. I liked the challenge of shooting off the arms and legs of the Necromorphs even as my sometimes poor aiming skills got the best of me at times.
I really appreciated Dead Space’s return to a more survival horror element. Running and gunning is fun and all, but sometimes omitting those can make for a more rewarding experience. And the game definitely makes you conserve your resources.
Dead Space has been around for a few years now, with one successful sequel out and a third entry in the series on its way. For any other cheapskates out there, especially ones who like the feeling of tensing up as you round a darkened corridor, Dead Space is the game for you and your local Slackers has it. One suggestion: remember to play it in the dark, with the volume turned up.