The Dead Space franchise has reached its tenth birthday, and yet remains in the cultural zeitgeist of horror classics. Despite this, there hasn’t been a single entry in the franchise since Dead Space 3 five years back.
This poorly-received sequel was bogged down by microtransactions and poor direction, but the first entry delivered scares that, in 2008, were decidedly next-gen. But now we’re on the precipice of another generational leap, so does this first entry hold up after an entire decade? Let’s take a look.
Dead Space is derivative but in all the right ways. The opening reeks of Alien, with our minimal cast of characters displaying a familiarity equal to the disillusionment they display towards their space-mining jobs. The player is made comfortable for a grand total of about three minutes before things start going sideways. The cast is split up, and the player, as Isaac Clarke, is alone.
Before they know it the player’s heart is racing as they’re blasting necromorphs in cramped corridors. Here is another point where derivative design is used effectively: reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, the camera is oppressively close to the player’s character.
This is genius in terms of delivering horror through game mechanics. Dead Space uses the uncommonly close angle to ensure the player cannot see the entirety of a room at once, in addition to making every single doorway a potential scare. This keeps tension high even in quiet moments, as often what the player can’t see is more frightening than what they can.
Its intriguing story and familiar yet innovative gameplay has aged incredibly well
The gunplay of Dead Space incorporated subtle but broadly effective gameplay innovations that also fed into the game thematically. Engineer Isaac Clarke is equipped at first only with his trusty plasma cutter. With this slicing tool in hand, it is quickly exposed to the player that severing the limbs of necromorphs is far more effective at dispatching them than merely aiming for the head or body. This puts a nice spin on how most shooters play, as the player spends the first hour unlearning their typical instincts.
Additionally, the audiovisual design of Dead Space is fantastic. Each weapon sounds punchy and powerful, necromorphs are otherworldly and intimidating, and the overarching ambience of the Ishimura is perfectly atmospheric.
Furthermore, while some critics at the time complained of the game’s plot, I personally feel that the drip-feeding of environmental storytelling and limited interactivity with other characters creates a satisfyingly slow burn, with few areas stretching on for too long.
The player is made comfortable for a grand total of about three minutes before things start going sideways
It can’t all be perfect. As previously mentioned, certain areas can drag on, such as the anti-gravity sections, which pronounced the worst parts of Dead Space’s control scheme. Additionally, the final stretch of the game is incredibly repetitive, with the designers placing multiple identical enemies in the player’s path. The gameplay also becomes incredibly easy on lower difficulties, and so playing on veteran mode is recommended to maintain challenge throughout the entire campaign.
So, does Dead Space hold up after ten years? In the main, absolutely. Its intriguing story and familiar yet innovative gameplay has aged incredibly well. Despite a couple of aspects, this horror classic remains immersive and refreshing in 2018.