Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Ryan Peters, @Thrashmarshall
2008 was a strange year for horror in gaming. Although solid titles like Condemned 2 and Siren: Blood Curse crept onto shelves, developers and gamers alike were beginning to whisper that survival horror was a dead genre. Luckily in the run up to Halloween EA released Dead Space, a sleeper hit that would go on to be a classic as well as breathe life into the ‘dying’ genre.
Dead Space tells the story of Isaac Clarke, one time silent protagonist and the galaxies’ unluckiest engineer. Isaac is part of a military team sent in to investigate a distress signal from ‘planet cracker’ the USG Ishimura, a ship that has mysteriously ceased all communications. As well as being the ship Isaacs’s girlfriend Nicole happens to be stationed on. It’s not long before Isaac finds himself fighting for his life against hoards of the now infamous Necromorphs, a race of brilliantly designed space zombies that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The story-line manages to feel fresh and exciting when compared to other horror video games, but it’s not going to win any awards for originality. The abandoned spaceship, blood soaked halls and madness addled crew screams Event Horizon, but it all feels like a decent homage instead of a straight rip off. Dead Space also boasts a pretty memorable ending twist which is well worth seeing if you’ve managed to make it to 2013 without having it spoiled.
While the plot is perfectly serviceable, the real highlight of Dead Space is simply how much fun it is to play. The game plays out much like Capcom’s horror masterpiece Resident Evil 4, mixing heavy doses of third person shooting with exploration of the deserted ship. Its Isaac’s role as engineer that gives this game one of its most unique features, instead of the usual array of video game weapons the plucky engineer is forced to use whatever he has to hand. This means an arsenal of flamethrowers, spinning saw blades and my personal favourite the legendary plasma cutter, possibly the coolest gaming hand gun of this generation. Every weapon and location has a worn and well used aesthetic that adds a lot to the overall atmosphere of the game.
This feeling of having to grab whatever’s nearby in a desperate bid for survival extends to more than just the weapons. The puzzles strewn throughout the game feel more like a lesson in space engineering rather than traditional puzzles. Using mechanics such as the time slowing stasis and the physics breaking telekinesis the puzzles feel familiar but different enough to be engaging throughout the ten hour campaign. Scenarios like fixing a giant generator whilst gunning down Necromorphs are thrilling and immersive takes on the familiar survival horror puzzle.
The Ishimura is dripping with creepy atmosphere and fantastic level design, each section of the ship feels different and well realised. The game still looks fantastic almost five years after its release; in fact its sequels are perhaps some of the only games that have it beaten on visual quality. Special mention also needs to be given to the audio design in Dead Space, particularly the fantastic zero gravity sections, which apart from some questionable voice acting is stellar. Audio design is half the battle when creating an effective scare and developer Visceral Games has done a tremendous job in that area.
One criticism that can be leveled at some areas of the games’ design however is that Dead Space suffers from the “monster closet” syndrome that famously plagued other horror games like Doom 3. It’s nothing too serious but knowing exactly where a Necromorph is going to pop out dampens some of the tension and challenge that comes with battling the demonic nasties.
There is a hell of a lot of game packed onto the Dead Space disc, in typical survival horror fashion there’s a bunch of unlock able weapons and costumes to be obtained through playing the games’ numerous difficulty modes, as well as an RPG style leveling up system that will have dedicated players scouring the Ishimura for power nodes. For those willing to squeeze everything they can out of this game, there’s easily 15-20 hours’ worth of game to be enjoyed.
While it may not break new ground, and borrows heavily from other popular sources, the overall level of polish and quality is so high that it makes for a satisfying and memorable experience. The action is satisfying, the scares are shocking and the game is an all-round joy to play. Dead Space also serves as an insight into what can happen when EA levels of money are spent on the horror genre.
Dead Space is a unique inclusion for ‘Ghosts of Gaming Past’ as it’s not quite dead and buried yet. It was such a standout title when it was released that it still burns bright in many gamers’ minds, not to mention the two sequels that followed as recently as this year. Perhaps ghost isn’t the right name for it, it may be aging a little but this dark horse isn’t quite dead yet.
The Final Word: Regardless of what happened to the series in the following years, Dead Space remains a fantastic and immersive game that’s still fun to play to this day. If you haven’t played Isaac’s adventure already and you’re a fan of horror gaming you owe it to yourself to pick this game up (it’s sells for pretty cheap nowadays) and experience one of the most memorable horror games of this generation.
Dead Space is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed).