Dead Space

Dead Space


[i]Twinkle Twinkle Little Star / How I Wonder What You Are


– Popular Rhyme

Rickenbacker. Von Braun. Nostromo. Icarus II. Event Horizon. No matter how much technological progress humanity might one day make, sending lone ships into the unmonitored wilds of space usually ends in a rather disastrous mess. With the release of Dead Space, we can add another name to ye grande list of doomed vessels: The USG Ishimura.

It's long been a rule in cinema that horror flicks go to space to die. Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Leprechaun, all were once-respectable franchises that sputtered as they turned to the stars. But for the home console screen, the vastness of space teems with yet-untapped horrors that are all-too-eager to stalk across our darkened living rooms. In the best of these stories, jaunts into space demonstrate man's own inhumanity. We, who have conquered the stars and have mastered freeze-dried turkey dinners, are yet unable to overcome our base nature. There exists, in reality, a galaxy of horrors within each of us.

Dead Space isn't quite as introspective as my faux film critic diatribe. In fact, most of the elements of the game seem eerily similar to other titles you may have played. But if Dead Space isn't turning the space-based horror genre on its head, at least it's genuinely terrifying, right? Right?

Stop Me if you've Heard this one Before

It begins with the standard search and rescue schlock. The Ishimura, a “planet cracker” designate, has been silent for way too long. You, and a team of racially diverse math-science types, are sent to knock on the vessel's door. In the process you hope to run across your girlfriend, who is conveniently stationed on the...station. Immediately, your shuttle falls into problems – problems of the “losing your starboard engine” magnitude. You're soonafter attacked by some thing, at which point you realize that the Ishimura's crew probably didn't have a raging space-kegger, and is instead embroiled in some deeply weird business.

In a change of a well-worn cliche, the protagonist of Dead Space is not a Space Marine. He's more a Space Army Corps. Of Engineers type. While the difference may appear to be only a superficial one (he, for instance, has a nice head of hair), it's accurately reflected in the type of weaponry you carry. Your tools of carnage are aesthetically suited to cut pipes or carve wood, for the most part. It's not a huge change, but I welcome any deviation from the standard.

If you experience a bit of deja vu while trekking through the vacant halls of the Ishimura, it's because you've seen the concepts behind Dead Space at play before. The monstrous Necromorphs and their creeping biological habitat recall The Many. I realize that counts as blasphemy in some circles, but the “lumbering, fleshy, hive-minded ghouls” thing was done so well in System Shock 2 that it's hard to avoid the comparison. The core story (involving exploratory mining, an archaeological artifact and a smattering of religious zealotry) is strikingly similar to that of Doom 3. The handy routefinder is a less-intrusive version of the GPS system seen in Army of Two and the holographic map projection wouldn't exactly be out of place in the Metroid Prime series. I'm not saying it's derivative or uninspired, but the game does recognize its predecessors and reflects those roots accordingly. One could say that its built on the successes of prior titles. I just wish it didn't seem so reminiscent of said games.

But while the overall feeling of playing Dead Space makes me think I'm revisiting some choice entries in the horror or action genre, the game earns a lot of points from me for its novel approach to the inventory and heads up display systems. Instead of pausing the action and taking you on a temporary status screen vacation, the game's map, item, mission objectives and log database are displayed in game-space as a holographic projection that your character looks towards. Moving the camera while the screen is up (or while a video log is playing) can actually shift the focus off the display entirely, or move behind it. You are at all times tied to your character. Your experiences are one and the same. Likewise, your health is communicated through a blue tube mounted on your spine. In-game, this is a kind of communications harness that you use to sync up with your other crew mates. As you're injured, the column of light goes from a full blue to a warm-beer yellow, and finally to the familiar you're-going-to-die red. Since you're able to get all your information just by looking at your character, you're never really taken out of the situation at hand. It's remarkably minimalistic, but doesn't skimp on necessary information. A small touch, to be sure, but it really feels like this is the game's big innovation. One that marries gameplay and setting in an interesting way. I hope developers take notice and swipe the idea for future games.

Yes, but is it scary?
In a word, no. So far, this game is no Resident Evil Remake. That's a game that could make me whimper in the middle of a bright summer day. Certainly there are moments when I was surprised at a turn of events, but I have yet to feel the kind of terror that would have me cower in a corner, desperately hoping that the enemy I had just run into didn't follow me.

I blame my cynicism.

In the 25 years I've been alive, I've digested a lot of horror, be it from games, movies or Stephen King. I know that if the strings section launches into shrill staccato, I'm in for something jump-worthy. I know the innocent-looking enemy on the floor is probably waiting for me to walk up to it so that it can spring to life and eviscerate me. I know that if I come across an especially useful ability, quest item, or weapon, an army of nasty things will be rushing toward me the moment I turn around. I know that the huge, bloody hole in the wall means I'll come across what caused the hole somewhere down the line.

By and large, Dead Space follows the tired conventions listed above. Ugly as the Necromorphs are, I have a hard time feeling afraid of them when they almost universally drop extra ammunition for my base weapon – a weapon that is perhaps too effective at taking these enemies out. The game really captivates when you're confronted with a multitude of foes. As you choose which to slow down, which to dismember and switch betwixt your weapons of mass amputation, a visceral thrill comes bubbling up. You may not be scared of the situation, but at least you're having fun dissecting the situation.

Admittedly, you may lack my steely resolve. If the concept of walking down a darkened hall makes your skin crawl, then your experience may differ a bit from mine. It seems that in the frenzy of showcasing the limb dismemberment mechanics, the game expects you to kill every single thing you come across. This is unfortunate, because the true horror in a game like this comes when you've got enemies to kill and just your fists with which to do it.

Scary? Not so much. But atmospheric? Overwhelmingly, yes. Dead Space is one of the few space games where I truly felt I was on a derelict ship teetering on the edge of ruin. The environment creaks and groans as steel presses on steel and buckles, somewhere. There's an area by the engine room that really showcases the immense scale of the ship: you look over a broken, bent railing and all you can see is a single bright spotlight, its distance incalculable thanks to the haze between you and it, the outline of a Brobdingnagian piece of the ship looming silently before you.

You are alone, and oh, so very small.

Granted, you'll be playing through cramped corridors and medium-sized rooms through most of the experience, so scale won't be your primary concern. But running across a treat like that does wonders for establishing mood.

And really, it's the unconventional that sets the tone so well. In one case I had walked to a T-shaped corridor, a save marker ahead of me as I made my way into the bowels of the ship. I felt safe, secure, as I passed up the opportunity to preserve my progress. Not more than six steps later, the lights failed in the passageway. Immediately I readied my weapon, bringing up a small diameter of light with which I scanned the darkness ahead of me. As I inched my way forwards, that save point was suddenly looking very alluring. Moments like that tend to be remembered for a long time.

It's worth noting that, while I was unphased by the terror held within, my Xbox 360 was apparently scared sh*tless. It Red Ringed on me while I was progressing through game's half-way point.

Dead Space: A game so scary it'll cause your 360 to die.

Dead Space at
Dead Space at
Dead Space at


shihonage wrote:

On the flipside, it uses highly predictable "spawn one monster in front, another behind player" routine that got old real fast, and I am only on chapter 3. The boo-tactics are quite cheap. They obviously scare the crap out of me, but they're cheap.

Doom 3 did the same thing... or at least the demo portion did, I decided not to buy the game because of the mechanic so I can't speak for the rest. I hope Dead Space doesn't do this all the way through. I'd been looking forward to the game, but don't have much interest if it can't scare me without cheap tactics like this.

I just listened to podcast 106 and was disappointed that you guys say the game is not scary. I'm assuming you're playing through the game on medium. You've been playing games for's time to man up and start games on the harder difficulty levels, the first time you play them. I'm not far into Dead Space yet, but the amount of ammo you need to use on Hard is making the game hard enough that the suspense/tension is palpable. This is despite my already been scare-proofed by playing Doom 3, etc.

Real fear is not the fear of having to reload from a save and replay the same section you already waded through. Real fear is invoked by atmosphere, plot, and events, and has nothing to do with the difficulty level you play at.

If it did, you could never have such a thing as a frightening movie... unless after a character gets killed you had to watch the five minutes leading up to it, again and again and again. Somehow I don't think that makes a movie more frightening.


P.S. By that standard Pac-Man is one of the scariest games ever.

Keithustus wrote:

I just listened to podcast 106 and was disappointed that you guys say the game is not scary. I'm assuming you're playing through the game on medium. You've been playing games for's time to man up and start games on the harder difficulty levels, the first time you play them.

The thing about Hard Mode is that sometimes the frustration overwhelms the fun. Gears of War was an unbearable chore for me because I went into it on a harder difficulty. Call of Duty 4 caused me to throw a controller at the wall because it was such a friggin pain.

While it's true that a lot of GWJers have multiple notches on the Gamer Belt, they also don't usually have much time set aside for gaming. If something is causing them to snap, they may be less likely to come back and finish the experience.

In terms of fright: one of my most memorable scares ever was in the Resident Evil remake. Lightly injured, I was making my way to the supply closet by a small staircase. It had usually been clear of enemies, or (at most) had a lame-ass zombie shambling about. I run into the area and I'm greeted with a green lizard-man thing. My pistol has no effect. Frantically, I get my shotgun and unload into it. It's knocked back, but not dead. I run into the supply closet, safe for the moment.

I was trapped. Outside lurked that scaly green thing, and I knew I didn't have the ammo to take it out.

That's really the paralyzing fear that I wished had come out of my initial playthrough. A constant fear of encounter that triggered a fight or flight response.

As for Dead Space, I'm getting my XBox back on Halloween. You can bet I'll spend the wee hours of the morning finishing my trek through the Ishimura. I just learned there's a New Game+ mode, so I'll be sure to run through Hard on that (and there's supposed to be an Insane mode as well). I'm actually very interested in how the different difficulties will color the experience. In this case, it seems as though the first run-through gets you acquainted with the game, while the additional modes are to suck you into the experience.

We'll see...

But I really do want to stress that I enjoyed the game. It's a surprisingly strong new IP, and the story (in its various elements/media) is pretty compelling.

In case someone missed the slightly more entertaining point of view of Dead Space...

Puppy Dead Space

I'm just putting this in (I got distracted way long ago and, well, forgot about it) and I'm not sure if it's because I turned the lights out, am home alone, or the current cocktail-combo I'm enjoying at the momeny... But holy f*ck I'm freaked out already. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who cannot play Resident Evil if I don't have someone sleeping with me for the next month or so.


Update: This chick has some nice T&A.

After I got my system back, I played the game at night, with the sound cranked up.

Yeah, that helps make it quite a bit scarier at parts. Not necessarily tense or forboding, but uncomfortable at parts.

Just be glad you won't be playing this with headphones on.

It actually becomes a lot less scary as it goes along. There are a few really panicky bits, but there isn't anything ever again as creepy as that first attack.

Sonrics gave a Steam Key away for this a while ago and I'm attacking it now, just after completing Far Cry 2.

An hour in. Oh, my! This is a combination of game genres I love most; sci-fi and survival horror! So far, this doesn't seem to be ACTION ALL THE TIME BLAM BLAM, either! I hope the slow, few enemy surprises at a time lasts.

I'm really impressed with the graphics. Copyright says 2008 and this looks really good! But then, I think the WiiU looks awesome, so... :p

If I didn't have to shovel snow, I'd be up all night on the ghost ship. Awesome.

Enjoy, Zoso!

Resurrecting this thread is like agro-ing a Dead Space monster.

Keithustus wrote:

Enjoy, Zoso!

Resurrecting this thread is like agro-ing a Dead Space monster.

And I've aggro'd quite a few lately. 6 hours in, on chapter six. I don't know if I can even spoil a 2008 game, but... I'll be safe!

I'm at a spot that's really reminiscent of an awesome original Resident Evil area.


PLANTS EVERYWHERE! Instinct told me to pick up the Flamethrower I stored hours ago. I'm hoping the leviathan is a giant plant, but probably not.

I am managing about a chapter a session, and am definitely playing on easy. It's scary enough, and the asteroid spot and few areas just after them were still rather tough, resulting in about five deaths.