I’ve been playing horror games since my grandfather bought me a copy of Nightmare Creatures from a yard sale for PS1. Was I probably way too young to play it? Absolutely. I remember fighting one monster, pausing it, and going upstairs because I was too afraid to play alone in my basement. Since then, I’ve played a lot of horror games. The one I’ve played through the most was Dead Space when it first came out for Xbox. It was an instant classic for me, and I’m elated to say the remake has the same magic the original did when I picked it up. I think the reason Dead Space lands so well in my heart is that it does something much better than most horror games. It lets me become the monster.
Readers who have played the game may be saying to themselves that Dead Space doesn’t let you play as the series’s monsters called “Necromorphs,” and it doesn’t. When I say monster, I don’t mean that the Dead Space remake lets me become a spiked-arm alien ghoul. What I mean when I say that it allows me to become a monster is that I can become the killing machine that stomps through the squishy bodies of those who stand in my way.
The plot of Dead Space blends the atmospheric horror of being locked into an oppressive metal corpse of a ship hurtling through space with the scares of mutated human alien monsters that just won’t die. It also sprinkles into some truly incredible alien cult threads along the way as well. It’s a perfect cocktail of fear for the game’s hero, Isaac Clarke, to slam back before this totally normal man goes to try to find the woman he loves.
Isaac is just a maintenance man sent to help repair the ship where his girlfriend works. He’s not a space marine with years of combat training. Just one silly little guy in way over his head who picks up tools and weapons to become a one-man killing machine throughout the game. The remake does give him a voice and does flesh him out a bit as a character, but it’s nothing jaw-dropping in the ways of character work. But for me, that’s more important for something like this. I want to feel like I’m in his suit as I try to do what I can to make it out alive. It’s more immersive that way rather than him giving big meaty monologues. Sometimes being quiet can let you sink into a character a lot more.
But we are getting off track here; this review is going to have both feet firmly planted on why this game rules. It turns me into the thing that necromorphs should fear. A trend in horror games recently has been to make you a character who must outthink or outrun the threat. Those games have never interested me because, when I play games, I want to be the threat. I’m the kind of player who uses the biggest melee weapon they can find and a shotgun. I am far too aggressive of a player to want to hide in a locker. Dead Space gives you the tools to do this.
Something unique about this one versus the original is a new “peeling system” for the enemies. What that means is that their flesh and tendons will peel off the bones realistically, which sounds sick. But the thing that made the enemies of the series so interesting is that you don’t kill them with headshots or just hold R2 until your clip runs out. Instead, you have to dismember and destroy them. So there’s a heavy emphasis on weapons to take off their arms and legs. So a peeling system makes those combat encounters, unlike any fight in a horror game out there. You’re shooting their legs off with buzz saws or burning chunks of flesh from the bone with flamethrowers. By any means, you need to take these things down. And when they’re down…you can stomp your heavy metal boots through the remains as a double tap to ensure they’re sent back to the spooky hell they crawled out of.
The game has an intensity Director which means that even when you clear spaces, they can repopulate or do new things to make sure they’re scary when you pass back through. So a different pipe may burst steam at you to get a quick jump scare, or a necromorph may burst from an air vent when you walk through a room. It makes for an extremely replayable experience. For me, though, it just gives me another set of monsters to strike fear into the hearts of.
The necromorphs are even creepier in the remake with the current generation of graphics and effects. One, in particular, is the Lurkers. The Lurkers are, essentially, babies with three tentacles that come from their backs to fire acid of some sort, like a long ranged weapon. The reason they’re even scarier is that with modern technology, the darkness in the game feels even more realistic than before. So you may be in a room with no lights, and these little rugrats are scurrying up and down the walls trying to fire shots at you. It’s extremely spooky until you unload on them and stomp until they’re nothing more than an alien monster pudding. Every enemy type is really unique, with their own strategies for the players to send them packing.
I’ve been playing horror for nearly 20 years of my life because of my grandfather’s knack for buying me inappropriate things at a young age. When I say that Dead Space delivers exactly what I want in a horror game for the next-gen of consoles, I mean it. From graphics to game features and more…Dead Space delivers on it all. But most importantly, it allows me to live out my dreams of becoming a killing machine hell-bent on protecting humanity from the nightmare creatures trying to destroy it. So if you’ll excuse me, I have some necromorphs to hunt down, and slaughter on my battlefield called the USG Ishimura.