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Scared Off By Dead Space

Halloween is great because it's the one night of the year when it's socially acceptable to scare the crap out of children. It's also the perfect time for a horror movie/gaming marathon. As a fan of both sci-fi and horror, the original Dead Space was a nightmare come true. However, Visceral Games did such a great job melding the two genres together into a unique and terrifying vision that I still haven't finished it.

Dead Space was an easy sell for me. Aside from the recent boom in the indie space, new horror franchises are few and far between, and rarely enjoy the triple-A support of a publisher like EA. The same is doubly true for sci-fi games. Dead Space received glowing reviews when it released, and once I started playing it, the game didn't take long to live up to the hype.

While the game has more than its share of jump scares and hideous monsters, the most frightening ingredient of Dead Space's formula is the atmosphere. Visceral Games managed to make the USG Ishimura feel like a real ship by forgoing the futuristic and sterile designs of most sci-fi games for a gritty, old-school look reminiscent of Alien's Nostromo or the ragtag fleet of Battlestar Galactica. Not only does the Ishimura feel grounded in reality (as much as any fictional starship can, anyway), it feels lived in – with an emphasis on the past tense. Like Aliens and Event Horizon, Dead Space does a great job of using the environment to convey the horror of the events that happened before you arrive, which makes uncovering the past a gruesome and scary proposition.  Dead Space's topnotch sound design also contributes heavily to the atmosphere and the believability of the ship – aside from a few cheap aural scares, like that pesky ghost wrench that's constantly being dropped in some distant hallway.

I love scary games, and when I play one, I want it to be as scary as possible. But Dead Space did such a good job of filling me with dread every time I played that I never actually finished the game. I just couldn't bring myself to play more than 20 minutes at a time; I'd complete an objective or two, survive an ambush (despite my fondness for the game, I resent how it constantly threw enemies at you from behind), and then call it a night. I wouldn't quit out of frustration – rather, every harrowing brush with death filled me with a sense of accomplishment and made me want to take a break before heading back into the fray. After borrowing it from the Game Informer vault for several months in a row, I returned it and moved on to other experiences.

Halloween makes me want to pick up Dead Space and give it another shot before the next-gen systems get here. Until I do, however, I'll continue to fondly recall my time with the game – even if it ended earlier than it should have.

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