Our story takes place 500 years in the future. We have just exited Shock Space and are swiftly approaching a planet-cracker class starship, the USG Ishimura, in orbit around the planet Aegis VII. The Concordance Extraction Corporation has sent us here to fix what is thought to be a busted communications array. The ship appears to be holding a massive chunk of the planet in its gravity tethers; however, the ship seems to be stagnant. It does not answer to any calls, the engines do not seem to be running, and the ship is swiftly falling to the planet below. As we come in for a landing, a guidance system malfunction causes us to crash into the landing bay. This is where our story begins. A flight team consisting of Commander Zach Hammond, Computer Specialist Kendra Daniels, Ship Systems Engineer Isaac Clarke, and a few flight interns set off to figure out what has happened on what looks to be an abandoned planet-cracker. As things swiftly begin to fall apart, we are left fending for ourselves, fighting to survive, dealing with loneliness, and, above all else, an overwhelming loss of hope.
Dead Space is, and will forever be, the greatest survival horror game on the market. However, understand that I am speaking only of the first game in the series. While I did enjoy the other three Dead Space games (i.e.: Dead Space 2, Dead Space 3, and the track shooter, Dead Space Extraction), they are far cries from the original in that they have evolved into action games and have mostly left the survival aspect behind. I do not judge the series for this, changing is a sign of growth, even if it is growth in the direction some of us did not want. This is off topic!!!
Dead Space, from the beginning, has a different feel to it than most other games, in the fact that the uneasy feeling captures you right from the start. As soon as your ship exits Shock Space you are given a wide view of the most ominous looking planet in the universe. This is followed by the sight of the most ominous starship in the universe. Once inside, the large feeling of the city sized Ishimura instantly disappears with your first helpless run from the creatures that now inhabit the ship. Of course, after this first dash of fear, you are given the delight of walking through tight and winding halls which are filled with the shipís dead crew. Adding to this dreadful atmosphere is the sound of these unknown creatures crawling through the vents which surround you, creatures which only reveal themselves when you least expect it. Enter necromorphs!
You learn that these creatures have been created using the bodies of the dead crew via a process called bio-recombination. As a result, necromorphs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The smallest of these are swarmers which are bits of reanimated flesh that attack in large groups. Lurkers are made from the reanimated bodies of babies. †Slashers, the most common enemy in the game, are named for the large blade like appendages coming from their arms. Even larger enemies exist, for instance, brutes and the pregnant slashers, which explode with swarmers upon impact. Necromorphs are the most frightening of any monster you can get in a game series. They are far more frightening than a mere zombie, or ghosts, or malformed person you get from games like Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Alan Wake, or Silent Hill. While these games could surely scare most normal people, none of them left me afraid to walk to the bathroom at night like Dead Space did. I still have nightmares caused by this game. I believe most of the fear comes from the fact that these creatures can only be taken down by dismembering several limbs, involving ammo management skills most of us do not have. Not only that, most combat sequences involve you being locked in a room while it fills with these grotesque, incredibly fast, aurally frightening beasts that only become faster and stronger as the game continues.
The next attribute to be discussed is something quite important to any survival horror game, a feature which needs to be used more often in gaming. This feature is the real time menu system, something that should be separate from the pause button. A battle for your life should not be something you can stop and heal yourself during. You should be forced to think on your toes, at all times. This is especially interesting when you are standing at a store or bench doing your work, and then you start getting pummeled unexpectedly. This greatly adds to the feeling of helplessness, but it also makes the reward of killing a horde of Necromorphs all the better once you have mastered it. The HUD also adds to this experience because it is a part of Isaacís body. The health bar specifically. If the health bar was just on the top of the screen it would take away from the psychological aspects of the game. Watching him die in this way makes you want to fight more to keep him alive. Not just for game progression, but because it makes him feel more like a real person you need to save.
A silent protagonist is always a better choice in survival horror because it is easier to project yourself into that character. The moment that character begins to speak, they have their own personality, and it becomes impossible to put yourself in their shoes. The entire reason to play survival horror is to feel the fear that the character on the screen feels. I find it difficult to feel that way when Isaac begins to speak in Dead Space 2. A lot of the feelings I had disappeared, when he opened his mouth to speak. Though this is not always the case, Alan Wake would have been a terrible game if no words were spoken by Alan himself because that game was centered on internal monologue.
The storyline for Dead Space is superb. It is difficult to make a compelling story without deep character development. This is something Dead Space delivers through non-conventional means, in the form of logs strung throughout the ship. These logs, be they, audio, video, or text, paint a very vivid and compelling story about what had happened onboard the Ishimura from days to mere hours before your arrival onboard. Though not at any point meeting most of the people who have left the logs behind, you begin to care about them and even worry if you will find any more of their logs in hopes of discovering if they have escaped their fate on the ship. Nicole, Isaacís lost girlfriend, included. You also learn how deep the rabbit hole is in respect to the Red Marker and Unitologists (the religious fanatics that worship the marker and consider becoming a necromorph to be a holy rite) that caused the downfall of the ship and crew.
Dead Space is a game with a rich and addictive story line, along with some great scares, and a fantastic battle system. The graphics and animations are smooth and the over the shoulder third person camera gives you a good view of surroundings without being fixed in place, which is a big problem with the survival horror genre. The voice acting is pretty good as well, which is something that can be hard to find in this genre. If you have never played a survival horror game and want a good place to start, or if you are a fan of the genre and just havenít played Dead Space yet, get out there and try it already! If you have played, put down what you are doing now and start playing again! Iím sure what you were doing can wait a little bit.