Ta very much Microsoft, I’ll be having that free download of Dead Space. Well technically it’s not free, but they could’ve dangled the carrot in front of me for full price on the backwards compatibility scheme and I probably would’ve bitten.
And, after booting up the game late last night for the first time since 2008, I immediately regretted my decision. Not because Dead Space is a bad game – I was actually astonished at how well it’s aged – but because it’s still able to scare the absolute crap out of me.
Now I’m something of a baby when it comes to horror. Well, modern horror to be specific, not the proper, traditional horror that people like Ridley Scott and James Cameron pioneered in the 1970/80’s with Alien and it’s sequel, Aliens.
The recently cancelled TV iteration of Hannibal was also a bitter-sweet reminder of how great horror can be when done right. Horror is meant to scare, not disgust, and while this is entirely an article for another time, this is also what the original Dead Space nailed about horror.
I first played Dead Space upon release back in 2008, and for some reason I was considerably less of a coward then than I am now. I sat through most of the Saw films (don’t ask me why) and various other garbage films attempting to fill the rotting corpse of the horror genre.
But Dead Space utterly scared me back then, and it scares me just as much now. As previously mentioned it’s aged incredibly well – you could’ve tricked by into thinking it was a full remaster of the game and I probably would’ve believed you – perhaps with the exception of some of the visuals.
Now Dead Space is just about fully reliant on jump scares for it’s actual shock factor on the player, since it very cleverly avoids the trap of becoming an obsolete gore-fest, and instead focuses on establishing a fascinating narrative that made me never want to put down the controller for even a second.
I’d almost entirely forgotten where the jump scares in the opening act of the game were, and considering I’ve got the kind of strange memory where I’d remember exactly that sort of thing, this is entirely a testament to the design of Dead Space. In addition to this, the opening act of the game never places the jump scares in the simplest sections, opting instead to go for less obvious jump scares and monster closet placements.
Sure, the setting is stolen from Event Horizon, but that’s no detriment to Dead Space when considering what it adds on top of it’s setting. The game adds a nice, intelligent cast of characters (for the most part), and doesn’t even bother weighing you down with the traditional dim-witted protagonist or sidekick.
The game importantly never outstays it’s welcome either, not having nearly the run-time that 2014’s Alien Isolation sadly carried. It’s a taught, tight experience from start to finish, and Dead Space is always able to dangle the threat of an impending ambush right over the head of the player.
Dead Space is still an utterly sublime experience, and is just as vital to the horror genre now as it was 8 whole years ago. The design and storytelling of the game are an absolute masterclass that other developers should absolutely learn from, especially now that the genre is in somewhat of a lull.