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Five space horror games better than Dead Space 3

1:00 PM on 02.05.2013 // Allistair Pinsof

In space, no one can hear you be mediocre

By now, you may have heard the inarguable, absolute truth -- as is the case with Destructoid's reviews that are handed down from the maker to our holy reviewers -- that Dead Space 3 is not as great as the first two games.

Being the case, throwing a temper tantrum and spamming EA's Facebook with inflammatory comments is understandable, but why not do something more productive, like play five other space-horror classics instead?

(Or, just go ahead and play Dead Space 3 which is still really awesome for what it is!)

In Dead Space, the sound design stirs the nerves as alien rattling, clawing, and screaming echoes down a hall. And when the necromorph comes within sight, the sensation of fear peaks, causing the player to nervously misfire a couple rounds before hitting. But, what if necromorphs couldn't be seen? Enemy Zero is such a game, wherein aliens are invisible and can only be eliminated up close. The first-person view, extremely limited ammo, and hush-quiet ship of Enemy Zero make it a space horror game that is yet to be matched in its pure, visceral scares. It's a bit too simple for its own good, and once the tricks of the AI are learned, the illusion of the aliens goes out the window with it. Yet, Enemy Zero is the first game I'd recommend to those who think Dead Space isn't scary enough.

Pick a genre, pick a perspective -- hell, even pick a platform -- and there is likely a worthy Aliens game for you. From the overlooked run-and-gun action of Alien Resurrection to the eerie Metroid-inspired Infestation, the Aliens series is among the few franchises to successfully make a transition from theaters to consoles, time and time again. Let Jim Sterling, Aliens connoisseur, be your personal spirit guide.

No "When I was 12" qualifiers here: I still find the Metroid series unsettling in its atmosphere and haunting sound design. Without relying on the jump scares, gore and narrative padding that Dead Space frequently indulges in, each Metroid game achieves a similar tone of menace and isolation. From landing on planet Zebes to evading bounty hunters, Metroid never offers the player a safe haven from predators. It may not be as shocking as Dead Space, but it's definitely as effective. There are few horror series appropriate for kids that still manage to scare the pants off adults.

Every year, people install and play System Shock 2, despite having to navigate the swamps of fan patches, setup troubleshooting, and cryptic .nfo documents that point the way to running the revered title on current systems. It's true that System Shock 2 led the way to Ken Levine's work on BioShock, but it's not true that BioShock carried the same elements of horror that made SS2 a remarkable game full of unforgettable scares. I wrote about one I had here, and could write about many more if I only had the patience to reinstall it on my current computer -- Oh, what the hell ...

I sure am cheating here. Cryostasis doesn't take place in space; it takes place in the North Pole, 1981. But, what makes a space horror game a space horror game? The tech and presence of the planets and stars, I'd argue. But, it's the confines of a ship, adrift and left nowhere, and the complete isolation that makes enemy encounters so scary. Cryostasis even offers the bonus of surreal dream sequences, especially near the end, that will speak to the sci-fi nut. I could have listed Doom 3 or Dino Crisis 3 (it's not bad, really!) here, but I chose Cryostasis instead because it really nails the elements of space horror even if it doesn't take place in space.

[Image by modusprodukt, courtesy of deviantART]

Allistair Pinsof,
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