TBT: Dead Space – A Visually Terrifying Experience

The survival horror genre is brimming with games where you are isolated in a hostile environment full of monsters, and Dead Space isn’t an exception. However, from the moment you’re introduced to the main cast through an fast-paced introduction until the excellent haunting conclusion, it’s clear that this game is something worth looking into. With its disturbingly twisted visuals, deeply engrossing story, and innovative strategic dismemberment combat system, Dead Space will leave players completely satisfied.

To anyone who hasn’t played the game, the premise follows like this: When the Concordance Extraction Corporation loses radio contact with its Planet Cracker-class mining ship, the USG Ishimura, engineer Isaac Clarke is dispatched on a routine mission to repair its communications array. However, Clarke is also on a mission of his own, having recently received a cryptic message from Nicole Brennan, a medical officer serving aboard the Ishimura. While on board he intends to reunite with her and learn the meaning behind her strange broadcast. Unfortunately, as soon as Isaac and crew dock with the ship, he is separated almost immediately from the rest of his team by the former crew of the Ishimura, which has been transformed into horrifying monsters called Necromorphs.

Forced to fight for his survival, Isaac has to use what’s available in order to defend himself. These weapons are essentially repurposed mining instruments like plasma welding guns, large arc laser cutters or buzz saws. These improvised tools are put to gruesome work as bodily damage to the torso and head are not enough to kill a Necromorph. Only by severing these creatures limbs will you be able to rid yourself of their attacks. This nuance, referred to as strategic dismemberment,  alters the preconceived combat approached of typically “aiming for the head” like most action games and zombie apocalypse scenarios have you do.

One of the basic Necromorphs up close and “way” too personal

BURN BABY, BURN!!!!

Every class of Necromorph requires a different strategy to handle, and knowing how to combat multiple types simultaneously is an essential skill if you want to survive for long. Though dismemberment is ultimately the key to victory, failing to finish off a monster properly will only send force it to adapt to its new body and attack you by other means.  Even more alarming is the fact that they are quite intelligent. Necromorphs attack in packs using loose team tactics, and are capable of traversing the ship’s extensive ventilation system to sneak around for outflanking or ambushing. They feign death among the corpses of their peers to rise up and attack when you least expect it, and they often come in waves, leaving you wondering if it’s truly over or if they’re simply toying with you.

 

One of the first things to notice in Dead Space is that it features a complete lack of a traditional heads-up display. To see his current health you need only glance at the iridescent meter built into the RIG’s spine (or pay attention to his physical cues), and to see how much ammo is left in your current weapon, simply check the display readout visible whenever you raise it into the ready position. If you ever find yourself wondering where you need to be next, you need only press in the right analog stick for Isaac’s RIG to temporarily trace a beam of light on the ground toward your next objective. When called up, menus are holographically projected ahead of you in real time, producing a sense of urgency as you remain vulnerable to attack. These simple yet ingenious systems ensure that you remain firmly within the realm of the gameworld at all times, preserving the horror experience.

As you explore the many decks of the Ishimura, you will come across two utilities that will prove to be of endless use: stasis and kinesis. Stasis allows you to temporarily slow down objects at the cost of using a portion of the overall charge you have (you can refuel stasis at certain stations or by using packets in your inventory) while kinesis gives you the ability to lift, move, and throw objects in the environment at no cost. Each can be used independently or in tandem to solve puzzles needed to navigate the ship as well as use in regards to dispatching necromorphs.

Just chilling in front of an asteroid. Nothing to see here.

The USG Ishimura, biggest planet cracker of her size.

Between searching for Nicole, trying to escape, and fighting for your survival, you’ve got your hands pretty full, but this is not to say that there aren’t other things for Isaac to do. As the monsters you are killing were once people, they will occasionally drop credits that can be spent in the automated stores you will come across. RIG upgrades, health items, new weapons, and additional ammunition can all be purchased, and if you happen to find a new item schematic and take it to a store, you’ll be able to buy that as well. Inventory management is a key element as you can only carry around so many medical kits or plasma cartridges. In the event that you find yourself overburdened, you can sell off your unneeded goods or toss them into the safe for pickup later at any other store location, but you may also find yourself constantly low or out of ammo if you simply go into every enemy encounter guns blazing–sometimes it’s better to run and conserve ammo.

As an engineer, Isaac can also make use of the numerous nanotech workbenches onboard the Ishimura to upgrade his weapons and equipment. Each upgradeable item has a circuit board arranged like a skill tree, and by placing in power nodes (typically found in fuse boxes or purchased at the store) down a set of branching paths, functionality can be greatly increased, with weapons having their damage and clip size increased to increases in Isaac’s RIG’s maximum health and duration of his stasis ability.

From engineering to hydroponics and beyond, Dead Space never fails to impress with its visuals. Whether you’re watching the torrential rainfall of asteroids across the hull of the Ishimura from the bridge atrium or witnessing the way a corpse spins serenely in a zero-g vacuum, the haunting yet beautiful graphics of Dead Space have a way of sticking in your mind long after you’ve quit playing.

What really rounds out the entire experience, however, is the incredible sound design. Throughout the halls of the Ishimura, you are stalked mercilessly by the Necromorphs, and while you can’t always see them, you are constantly surrounded by the menacing noises they produce or the eerie pitter-patter they make as they crawl through the ventilation shafts. You’ll occasionally hear the distant screams of Necromorph victims or the creepy singing of a mentally unbalanced survivor, and environmental effects such as those generated by the sudden release of a burst of steam will keep you on the edge of your seat. Perhaps the most impressive use of audio in Dead Space takes place in a vacuum: any sounds that originate outside of Isaac’s helmet are muffled and barely audible, while those from the inside, including his breathing and grunts of pain, are amplified.

Dead Space is an amazing game that stands out amongst a well-tread genre in almost every way, from visual presentation, an engaging story, innovative combat mechanics and fright factor.

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Cynosure’s own Robert Gamez has graciously recorded his entire play-through of the game and is posting videos regularly. You can check them out on YouTube by visiting the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9gxMPBa_q4

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