The genre of survival horror was one that got rather flooded in the days of the Playstation 2, but in this current generation of consoles there has been very little. Out of the few that have appeared there has been even less that have actually been worthwhile.
It seems that in this generation a lot of the survival horror developers have turned their backs on the roots of horror and opted to turn to action elements instead. Remember back in the days of the original Silent Hill when the combat controls were so clunky and slow that you would often run rather than fight? Nowadays every other protagonist seems to be rather adept at wielding some sort of weapon.
On that note however, there is one particular series that has stood out and stuck true to it’s roots. That series is Dead Space.
First released by EA in 2008, Dead Space took to the survival horror market and batted its competitors to the sidelines. Being one of the few horrors released during 2008 along side Silent Hill: Homecoming and Alone In The Dark, Dead Space gained the best reception. Winning awards for several categories including ‘Best New IP’ at IGN’s Best of 2008 and multiple awards for the games audio, it truly stood out from the crowd. But just what is it that makes it so frighteningly appealing? Lets have a look.
Audio: As with all kinds of media, without the audio the game would not stand anywhere near as well as it has. The audio in the game is utterly nerve tinglingly great, wandering the corridors of the mining ship USG Ishimura and hearing some rattling of pipes and scurrying of footsteps before hearing an almighty clatter and turning round to see an alien running full steam ahead at you with the sole intent of tearing you to pieces.
The soundtrack for the game took multiple awards from various different sources including the prize for best audio at the Game Developers Choice Awards. The game is truly terrifying with a set of headphones on.
Atmosphere: The game creates a truly dark and nerve-racking feeling that you can feel deep in your chest with each and every corner you turn, the slightest thing can send you into a state of shock. As well as that, there is a constant feeling of being alone and yet, a feeling that you are always being watched by something, somewhere.
While the game has it’s fair share of jump scares, it really excels when there is nothing happening what so ever. Just you, standing in the middle of this big empty room, alone, with god only knows what crawling in the walls and ceiling. Since the necromorphs use the air ducts to travel around the ship, they have the ability to appear from just about anywhere, keeping you on edge at all times.
Environment: Whilst the majority of the first game takes place on the USG Ishimura, the ship is truly well designed. One thing I really enjoyed about the environment is that there is detail in things that are normally overlooked when designing an environment, simple things like adding in bathrooms makes you feel like there was at a time many people worked and lived on this ship. The even smaller details such as maximum weight in an elevator to the detail on screens when you pass by a computer just make everything feel so authentic instead of taking the quicker route and leaving them all broke and/or static.
Pacing: I cannot praise the pacing of this series enough, it’s one element that I find it has perfectly nailed. It takes it’s time to build up the character of Isaac and is probably one of the more interesting silent protagonists (before being given lines in Dead Space 2 onwards). Whilst you explore the Ishimura you will find audio and text logs scattered throughout the environment, often giving hints or details as to what happened to members of the crew. Slowly the game builds up a picture of what happened to the Ishimura and it’s crew and why everything happened in the first place. The voice acting for the audio logs is great and you do get a real sense of terror and despair when listening to the recordings.
Set Pieces & NPC’s: These are some of the most interesting parts of the game in my opinion, and quite possibly the most disturbing too. Possibly the most memorable of these is the scene from Dead Space 2 in which you enter the nursery to find a woman sealed in a room cradling a necromorph baby that blows up completely out of the blue. My skin was already crawling from this scene, but when the necromorph blew up I jumped out of my skin. Another of these scenes is one that you have direct control over, and if you’re squeamish then I’d suggest getting someone else to do it for you. Isaac has to lay down on a table and drill into the pupil of his eye, the drill spinning super fast yet descending so slowly whilst Isaac becomes more and more panicked and begins to squirm. It sends your heart racing and your stomach into a fit of back flips.
This of course is just a closer inspection to the elements of the game that as a collective make for a great experience and whilst reading this explains it, you really have to sit down in the dark with headphones one to truly experience what I have told you.
Remember, no one can hear you scream in space.
[Written by contributor Declan McGeachey]