I have always wondered what it is about horror games that keep making me come back to their glorious offerings. Is it the brutal guts and gore that is present in many of the games? Or is it the tense, creepy atmosphere that can render one frozen in an unforgiving grasp? That question was answered on the 14th November 2020 when I rebooted the 2008 classic Dead Space. The objective of the game is to find out the horrific truth behind a massacre on a deep space mining ship, a task which involves dismembering the limbs of mutilated, reanimated corpses. It had been nearly six, possibly seven years since I last played it, and damn is it still a bloody good time.
The main franchise has been dormant since its last instalment in 2013, Dead Space 3. While by no means a bad game, its identity as a mostly action-oriented co-op game with only a few slim offerings on the horror side, in thanks to the “brilliant & creative minds” over at Electronic Arts (EA), contributed to the financial failure of the game, leaving the franchise in limbo ever since. After going onto YouTube to watch some old playthroughs, I suddenly got the itch to go back and revisit the horrific, isolated halls of the USG Ishimura. Luckily for myself, I own Xbox Game Pass, a service which has been recently supplemented by the EA pass. It features mostly EA sports franchises like Madden, NHL, UFC and, of course, FIFA. The Battlefield franchise was also present along with a few nice little indie titles, but of course, the one I was interested in was Dead Space. All three games are present, so it was only right to boot up the first game and satisfy my hunger for a horror game that existed in a time when AAA game publishers weren’t afraid to take risks and try something new.
Upon starting the game back up, I realized what made me fall in love with it in the first place, atmosphere. In my own humble opinion, the atmosphere is the most important factor when it comes to a horror game. Take the 2013 game Outlast. It may not have the most inventive gameplay or objectives for the player to complete, but the tone is set from the first minute into the game. This is also the case with Dead Space. The crew of the USG Ishimura are not responding to your call, you must investigate and then out of nowhere, the mutilated alien corpses begin attacking, a perfect introduction. The gameplay of Dead Space is timeless in my opinion. Instead of enemies being bullet sponges, you’re encouraged to shoot off their limbs to take them out more efficiently, thereby conserving ammo and increasing your chances of making it out alive. All the while, you begin seeing strange visions of your girlfriend that do not make sense as you go deeper and deeper into the ship to learn the horrifying truth of what transpired.
Playing through the game, however, made me melancholic. How EA managed to screw up this franchise is beyond human understanding. Only EA could catch lightning in a bottle and yet still somehow manage to make a total mess of it. Horror games have always worked within a niche genre, but EA was hell-bent on making it a sort of trans-media franchise, with books, films and mobile games. Making Dead Space 3 more of an action game did not help either. Unfortunately, Dead Space also serves as an early example of the egregious microtransactions that would poison gaming in the years to come. Even traditional games media were shocked at the sort of “packs” EA had put into the game.
Electronic Arts shut down Dead Space developers Visceral Games in October 2017. Here’s hoping the franchise makes a return under a new studio, though this seems unlikely. Here’s also hoping that EA’s corporate machine does not claim any more victims, I’m rooting for you BioWare.