A gigantic deep space mining ship, the USG Ishimura, goes dark after unearthing a strange artifact, unwittingly awakening the dormant evil within. The ship manages to send a distress signal and the USG Killian is sent to investigate.
Players take control of Isaac Clarke, an engineer aboard the USG Killian. Clarke himself has a vested interest in the Ishimura, as someone dear to him serves aboard the ship. A malfunction causes the incoming ship to crash into the Ishimura’s landing bay, effectively stranding the Kellion’s crew aboard the dormant vessel. It’s not long before the crew realizes something has gone horribly wrong and they are forced to fight for their lives against the grotesque Necromorphs, human corpses that have been reanimated by an alien virus.
Dead Space is a 3rd person survival horror video game developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts in 2011. It came at a time when the survival horror genre was dominated by Resident Evil clones. The game was such a departure from the formula, it stood out amongst its peers instantly.
Dead Space did away with clunky HUDs and menu screens that took you out of the game world. It implemented a Rig system, ingeniously camouflaging the health and stasis bars within Isaac’s own armor. Menus were shown as holograms in real game time. This meant bringing up the menu at an inopportune moment could easily mean Isaac’s demise. Even story events are shown through holographic means.
The game also touted a unique arsenal of sci-fi weaponry. Many of Isaac’s chosen tools of destruction are in fact just that: tools. From a remote controlled saw blade ripper and an ore cutter line gun, to the tried and true plasma cutter(my personal favorite), many of Isaac’s weapons are tools of his trade. That’s not to say he won’t pick up a pulse rifle or military grade armor along the way, but you rarely(if ever) get the sense that Isaac is Rambo and he can First Blood Part II his way through the hordes of Necromorphs.
Which brings me to the unique antagonists of the game, the Necromorphs. Part zombie, part John Carpenter’s The Thing, Necromorphs are an indomitable force. They are vile and tenacious creatures, possessing such terrible, evil willpower that decapitation hardly hinders them. They often feign death to lure Isaac into a false state of security, waiting until the engineer draws close enough for them to strike. The key to their destruction lies in the removal of limbs.
The concept of “aim for the head” has been synonymous with both the zombie and shooter genres for some time. Dead Space flipped the formula on its head and forcibly re-trained gamers to go against what every other game had trained them to do. Necromorphs are also tragic characters, the remnants of people who died in the most horrific and brutal manners imaginable. Call me sentimental, but I find tentacled, dead babies to be somewhat of a sobering sight.
Lastly, I would like to champion the characters, two in particular. The first is Isaac Clarke. You’ll watch as Isaac is shredded and reduced to nothing more than a torso, as he asphyxiates when you fail to properly navigate him through zero gravity, and witness his decapitation on numerous occasions. The necromorphs might even replace his head with one of their own. You experience these things with him in a gritty, visceral way and you can’t help, but feel sorry for him. It’s a lot like the feeling I get when I read a George R.R. Martin novel: “Oh, god! WHY???”
The second is the Ishimura herself. Her dark corridors and sound design are the things of nightmares. You’ll listen in helpless horror to the screams of other survivors as they are being torn asunder meters above you, their cries reverberating off the steel walls. The dripping of moisture in the engine room will test your skittish nerves and the angry lamentations of the hull will haunt you as the ship intelligibly bemoans the calamity that currently stalks it’s halls. The Ishimura is very much a character in her own right and it is one I’ll never forget.