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Discussion The Patient Gamer: Dead Space - Definitely Not Survival Horror

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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I hate horror games. I thoroughly enjoyed Dead Space. Therefor, Dead Space cannot be a horror game. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Don't get me wrong, Dead Space has many of the trappings of a ****ty horror game. Jump scares galore, atrociously claustrophobic field of view, character moves and handles like they're wadding through quicksand in an atmosphere made of molasses, absurd levels of gore everywhere, so on and so on.

However, it does two things radically differently than most horror games: You don't go more than 15-20 minutes between save points (along with some hidden checkpoints), and the difficulty curve at "medium" makes you functionally invincible if you spend your upgrade "nodes" wisely. Drink some liquid courage to power through the jump scares and you're golden.

You play as Issac Clarke, a Gordon Freeman-esq mute-way-out-of-his-element protagonist, assigned to a crew to investigate an interstellar mining operation lead by the mining ship The Ishimura. Did the mining operation stumble onto some horrible eldrich secret when splitting open a planet? Did they release something they shouldn't have? Is there a psychotic cult that worships the thing they may or may not have released to up the horror/creepfest factor? Are you the only competent person from your team that is tasked to basically do everything while other characters hang out in their safe spaces? I dunno, you should play the game and find out.

The story is told in that standard "Shocklike" fashion through one way radio commands from other survivors to give you objectives as well as audio/video/text logs that document how the Ishimura ended up in such a sorry state. Its a solid story telling device everyone has seen a thousand times before, but it works well in Dead Space so no complaints.

Where the game really deviates from older Silent Hill/Resident Evil style survivial horror games is that Issac is actually remarkably durable, is fed a steady supply of ammo/health packs, and has access to suit and weapon upgrades while the enemies don't really get substantially stronger over the course of the game (although they do tend to get faster and more numerous). In my experience in these types of games, going narrow and deep on an upgrade tree tends to be much more fruitful than going wide and shallow. As such my upgrade path was basically dumping all my nodes into health upgrades for my suit as well as damage and capacity upgrades for my starting weapon, the plasma cutter. I died precisely once due to stupidly getting lost in a "vacuum" environment and running out of oxygen. I slayed, the monsters feared me by the end of the game.

The level design is fairly straightforward, likely a limitation of the generation the game launched into. Each level follows a hub/sub-hub and spoke level design, which tend to be a series of corridors punctuated by a box like room where... you guessed it... you'll be locked in and bum rushed by enemies until you kill them all and the room unlocks. Killing enemies is something this game actually does remarkably well. Unlike virtually every other game ever where shooting something in the head will instakill it, Dead Space flips the script. Decapitating headshots do nothing to the enemies you're facing, you have to shoot off their limbs to kill them. This adds just enough of a twist to combat to keep things relatively fresh as you desperately aim for the many spindly limbs/tentacles/ohmygodWTFisthat of the assorted enemies the game throws at you during these sequences.

As you're on a now derelict spaceship suffering the aftermath of everything going wrong, you run into variations on the standard corridor gameplay design: zero gravity rooms and vacuum chambers, sometimes both at the same time. The zero gravity segments add a sort of labyrinthine element to the level design that makes any flat object in your 3d space a new floor with a new perspective to either be attacked by horrific space monsters or to solve puzzles or do both. Vacuum segments are portions of the ship that have been vented into space and you have a limited amount of time (around a minute or two) to navigate the segment, kill enemies, and get to another pressurized section of the ship. Both of these design elements are used intelligently and the zero gravity element is even showcased by a rather interesting boss fight.

Ah, and lastly, the boss fights. Most of the boss fights boil down to "shoot the giant glowing yellow puss filled ganglia on that horrific space cthulu thing" but some do shake things up a bit by tossing in Zero-G segments, turret segments, and one standout boss that cannot be killed, only slowed down by shooting off his legs to create some space to run and repeat.

On a technical level, the game worked great on my crappy laptop (i7-8xxx and GTX1050), but beware: if you want to enable V-sync, do so at the driver level before launching the game, not from the game settings. Using V-Sync from the game settings reduces the game to a nauseating 30 FPS, while activating at the driver level properly locks the framerate at your monitor's refresh rate. This can however cause some quirks with the game's scripting which is occasionally tied to the frame rate. There were two or three (very few basically) moments in the game where something was obviously supposed to happen, but then didn't. Simply activating the in game v-sync to allow the script to run, then immediately deactivating it again solved these issues 100% of the time.

All said an done, I did not expect to like Dead Space, but once I understood that I was actually playing a really low tempo TPS and not a survival horror game it really pulled me in. The atmosphere, the tension, hell even the story and characters, they're all really well done in an Event Horizon sort of way. I look forward to firing up Dead Space 2 in the near future to see where they take this thing.
 
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rivethead

Platinum Member
Jan 16, 2005
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Good review! I had the same reaction when I played it a few years ago....expected to hate it, ended up loving it. I also had the same reaction to Dead Island.....so maybe I don't "hate" horror as much as I think.

Dead Space 2 is also worth playing. More of the same which, in this case, isn't a bad thing.
 
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GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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Good review! I had the same reaction when I played it a few years ago....expected to hate it, ended up loving it. I also had the same reaction to Dead Island.....so maybe I don't "hate" horror as much as I think.

Dead Space 2 is also worth playing. More of the same which, in this case, isn't a bad thing.
- I think the big thing with Dead Space is its honestly closer to something like System Shock, Bioshock, or Doom 3 than it is anything that we would actually consider a straight up horror game like the early Resident Evils or Silent Hill games, or even Amnesia or Outlast.

In fact, it really is basically a third person Doom 3 with the gore/blood splatter turned up to 11. While Doom 3 definitely caused me to jump, it was very squarely in the action game category.
 

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