Reliving Dead Space
I’m sitting at home alone before getting ready to work Christmas day and the next few days after that, because I have to work the family is out of town, leaving me home, alone to my own devices. After the gym and the necessary meals to live I was obviously going to game…a lot, I mean like all day.
I pass the early hours with arcade and ranked matches in Overwatch being duped by holiday gift boxes, then traversed the snowy streets of New York again in The Division, but the hours pass and the sun sets, I’m not bored but I want something different, something I haven’t felt in a very long time, much like the feeling Vader felt when Obi Wan arrived on the Death Star. I had a moment where curb stomping necromorphs and warming up round the Red Marker just sounded like the perfect holiday treat, so I dusted off the ol’ dependable PS3 and slapped in arguably one of the greatest survival horror titles of all time, Dead Space.
This post also comes after I really had to find a reason to write about Dead Space again. It had just been on my mind recently after purchasing a sick Ishimura crew bomber jacket from Insert Coin Clothing, and a little too late for the 8 year anniversary of its release, and honestly, who celebrates an 8 year anniversary? Conversely, waiting 2 years to post this up to match its 10 year anniversary sounded absurd, about as absurd as a post about Dead Space during the holidays. Yes, I’ll admit that.
Dead Space was and is still special to me, it was one of the earliest titles that I cared enough about to spend a good amount of time mastering and earning its Platinum trophy. I don’t know if people feel the same way I do about it, do they think it’s overrated? Do they even think about it as I do? Do they even remember it? Do they consider it a staple in the survival horror genre? I pondered all of these questions, enough to spur a moment where I knew I had to play through it again and speak about just how special it is.
I’m not going to go into exact details of Dead Space’s plot, if you haven’t heard of it by now, it’s been literally 8 years, and that’s what Wikipedia is for. The short version I have the patience to share is you play as Isaac Clark, an engineer part of a CEC (Concordance Extraction Corporation) team to find and investigate a distress signal released by the USG Ishimura. Shit goes south, yada yada yada, now you must try to survive.
I remember vaguely the largest complaint about Dead Space was how linear the story and navigation through the ship was. Secondly, Dead Space suffers from the silent protagonist sickness, the illness fraught on gamers to silently follow mundane orders and fetch quests without ever a whimper of opposition. I rebuttal however, that although on the outside these complaints appear major, they are actually in fact the reason why Dead Space succeeds as a survival horror game, and unlike other horror games like Alien: Isolation, the quest to fetch whats needed never really feels like filler.
I remember reading an article, I can’t remember where from, where they interviewed one of the writers or developers from EA Red Shores, who stated every sound and every jump scare were carefully crafted in the game to create an environment of anxiety and support the ongoing story. As I replayed it this time around, I really started to notice and respect the sounds the most. They were so aggressive, abrasive even, playing with surround sound sends your mind into a frenzy with knocks and other unfriendly rattles all around you. Vents crash open, jet engines fire, and monsters screech, It’s because of this constant aggravation, and not the actually scares of the game, where long play sessions of Dead Space can be exhausting for the mind. I found the mark where I needed to stop was just around 4 hours each session.
Dead Space also took a page out of the Silent Hill playbook with Isaac Clark, although he is the silent protagonist, he’s also a man of circumstance. Much like Harry Mason, Isaac has no real combat training, he’s an engineer armed with a plasma cutter. Sure you can get plans for others, but they’re arguably not weapons, besides the pulse rifle they’re all really just different forms of tools. It isn’t until late in the game when you’ve mastered these tools and upgraded them with nodes collected throughout the game where you finally begin to feel powerful. Still, even then, the story takes a turn and the necromorphs begin to come in swarms, putting just how much you’ve learned to the test.
And let’s just speak on how iconic Isaac’s engineer suit is in Dead Space. The design, the color, the glow from the mask, they way it replaced the need for a HUD by putting most of your vitals on his back. It’s instantly recognizable, much like a vault dweller or Big Daddy, when you think Dead Space, you see Isaac’s suit.
It’s because of all of this that Dead Space survives as one of the best survival horror titles to this day. I can say with confidence, replaying through it again 8 years later, that Dead Space has aged brilliantly. I spent just enough time for everything to feel fresh, to still bring a few scares, and just familiar enough to remember to sweep the legs, and put them in a body bag.