Game of the Week: Dead Space (2008)

Fourteen years ago, the first Dead Space came out and redefined the horror shooter genre. Its mix of sluggish movement, a fully in-world UI and a carefully polished atmosphere set the bar for future horror titles. Its success spawned two more entries in the franchise and, recently, a from-the-bottom remake that promises to be more than just a facelift.

With two months to go until the remake, we’ve chosen the original Dead Space as our game of the week for a few reasons:

  • Everyone should get to experience the original before delving into the remake when it releases in late January.
  • Even though it’s a game older than some of our readers, it stills hold up very well.
  • Really, we just love dismembering aliens.

Combat, Movement, UI

Back in 2008, Dead Space managed to capture lightning in a bottle with their combat system. To set things off, we must first mention that Isaac (the player character) is an engineer – he’s not trained to slaughter hordes of aliens. Your starting weapon (interestingly enough, the best weapon in the game) is a Plasma Cutter, a futuristic run-of-the-mill engineer tool that only ends up being used two ways: To kill aliens, and to damage electrical machinery. Seriously, we can’t remember a single moment where the Plasma Cutter was used for its intended purpose!

Plasma Cutter digression aside, you’re basically pretty slow for someone expected to commit alien genocide, and half the weapons you find in the game are tools. Do not let this information convince you the game is handing you sticks and stones, though! To compensate for the fact that you’re slower than most enemies, your advantage lies in using the tools at your disposal before the xenomorphs close the gap, and none is more fun than the Kinesis Module.

Kinesis Module: Why Doesn’t Every Game Have One?

The Kinesis Module is a fancy term of the awesome power of telekinesis and is one of the best examples of why Dead Space is an awesome game. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what you can do with kinesis:

  • Move huge machinery around to solve puzzles and progress through the game.
  • Pick up and smash green crates to loot their contents.
  • Pick up items that are inaccessible due to being too far away.
  • Throw objects (crates, needles, fire extinguishers) at enemies.
  • Dismember alien corpses by picking up their claws, then shooting them at still-alive enemies.
  • Shoot a basketball through several hoops.

This all sounds pretty good, right? You’re not fast, but you’ve got all the tools necessary to keep yourself safe as long as you become proficient at using them. Don’t think you get any breaks in this game, however, because the only way to pause is going to the game menu!

The UI in Dead Space is fully integrated into your suit, meaning that when you’re looking through your inventory or browsing your local shop, you’re not safe. The game doesn’t pause. This is but one piece of the immersion puzzle that Visceral Games expertly crafted.

dead space plasma cutter upgrade tree
Seriously, you’re gonna’ want to upgrade this weapon all the way.

Immersion, Atmosphere

In a recent video, Glen Schofield, the creator of Dead Space whose next Dead Space horror game, The Callisto Protocol is coming out very soon, attributed sound design & art as being 50% of what makes a horror game effective at its main selling point, the horror. Nowhere is this more true than Dead Space.

Sound Design

Sound design has, overall, seen an increase in visibility in terms of people acknowledging its existence and its impact in recent years. This has not always been the case. The most important aspect of good sound design is making sure the entire soundtrack flows so well together and is crafted so expertly that you don’t notice it. Full immersion is the goal. If a sound effect sounds off, or a scream is too loud, or you’re hearing a conversation through a wall as if the wall wasn’t there, it means the sound design failed in that instance.

Take a stroll through any corridor in Dead Space and pay attention to what you hear. Nothing sounds out of place, ‘off’, underwhelming or overwhelming. Then, after you’ve played through the entire game, check out this playlist from the Dead Space remake. After playing through the original, you’ve probably formed the opinion that the sound design was good. The playlist shows you both how the field has evolved in the past decade as well as how, even though the original’s sound design is good, it can always be better. This is why it’s important to play the original Dead Space before delving into the remake – the original has so much to be proud of, and so will the remake. Playing the remake after the original will make you appreciate both games so much more.

Visual Art

Now, let’s briefly touch upon the visual art. The game came out in 2008, but it doesn’t necessarily look like 2008. Had I not told a random bystander the year of release, I reckon their best guess could go as far as 2012. It still holds up.

I’d like to have the art speak for itself, so here’s a selection of three pictures to illustrate how the game still looks good enough to immerse anyone willing to give it a shot.

If you’re looking for a game that can still deliver big spooks after the first couple of hours, look no further and start playing Dead Space 1 now. Did I mention it’s one of the few games out there that give you something new to do every level? You won’t just be shooting your way through an armada of xenomorphs from start to end, there’s more to it, I swear!

Did you play any of the Dead Spaces? How did you find each? Let us know in the comments below!