Dead Space: Scary Space

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SPOILER WARNING! 

This article contains SPOILERS for the Dead Space trilogy. 

You have been warned!

The ability to evoke an emotional response is one powerful one, and fear is a very potent emotion.

I remember being intimidated by the original Dead Space’s main menu alone. I didn’t even want to start that first game. So creepy! Naturally, different people will have different reactions. Some of us are desensitized to certain stimuli (for example, H.P. laughs when people get eaten in Attack on Titan), while others aren’t so hardy (that same show gives me nightmares).

This story is about my journey through the Dead Space trilogy. It starts with a truly fantastic and terrifying game: the original Dead Space. For me, it was one of my most memorable gaming experiences of recent memory. The game positively oozed atmosphere and presented a repressive sense of isolation.

Granted, this wasn’t the bowel clearing fear of a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but it was more than enough for someone like me who dabbles with scary games, but prefers not to be permanently, psychologically scarred by them.

So, yes. Dead Space was the right scary game for me. Yes, it frightened me, but I had guns (or really wicked mining tools, in this case). I could deal with it.

One of the things I really enjoyed was just how alone you feel in the game. True, there is a smattering of supporting characters. And yes, you do get to interact with them before they meet gruesome fates. But, for most of the game, you are alone. Horribly, unbearably alone. It’s just you and your plasma cutter against a haunted ship full of space zombies that want to eat your face.

And it’s not only the necromorphs. Just about everything you come across wants you dead, including the ship, the asteroids around it, and the very vacuum of space. Dead Space places you alone in a truly oppressive environment, and I enjoyed (I’m using the term loosely here) every minute of it.

Then came Dead Space 2, and it too was a blast to play. But something was different, something that took me a while to figure out.

You see, I wasn’t alone anymore. Isaac Clarke, the silent protagonist from Dead Space (well, except for horrible screams of pain) was now an absolute chatterbox.  In Dead Space, I was on my own against everything the Ishimura could throw at me. I was Isaac. In Dead Space 2, I tagged along with Isaac for the ride.

That made a huge difference for me. I found that I was much more at ease turning the next blood-splattered corner now that I had a badass engineer at my side, strange as that may seem. The shift from silent protagonist to a more fleshed out character really made the game a lot less scary. For me, personally, at least.

That’s not to say it didn’t have its share of brilliant moments. The return to the Ishimura? Definitely my favorite part of the second game. That long, drawn out lull in the action kept me on edge as I crept deeper and deeper into the ship’s decommissioned halls to the point where I was begging the game to throw something at me.

When the necromorphs finally arrived, it was awesome.

Dead Space 3 was … well, it just didn’t feel like the same game.

Sure, we still had the space zombies and the disturbing environments, but something was lost on the way from 1 to 2 to 3. The Dead Space games have always been big on jump scares, but Dead Space 3 seemed to take this to a ridiculous extreme. A huge chunk of the game was dominated by mobs of slasher and puker necromorphs jumping out of vents and running at me from all sides.

Sure, jump scares make you jump. That’s what they do. It’s a very human, very understandable response to a surprising stimulus. But after a while, it gets old. I became desensitized. Yeah, I still jumped here and there, but after that initial startled flash came another emotion.

Annoyance.

I tried playing through Dead Space 3 with my faithful plasma cutter, but abandoned it for heavier weaponry about halfway through. I became sick of fast necromorph mobs swarming me, stun-locking me, and having to furiously press the Do-Not-Die button to break their scripted animated holds.

So I retired my plasma cutter for some of the new weapons like shotguns and rocket launchers. I wasn’t even shooting off limbs at this point. Just overwhelming the enemies with sheer damage output, trying to survive a boring spam of cannon fodder. It felt like a different game to me.

To a certain degree, it was. Machine guns? Rocket launchers? Co-op? Many of the additions amped up the action and, as a side effect, lowered the tension. A few necromorphs charging you and your nearly empty plasma cutter is scary. Twenty of them charging your fully loaded rocket launcher? Not so much.

But the strangest addition came in the form of Unitology soldiers. Sure, additional enemy variety sounds good, but here it came at a price. By the time the climax arrived, I had basically wiped out a whole paramilitary army single-handedly (with the occasional necromorph eating a few of them). Those final soldiers blocking my path seemed afraid of me rather than the other way around. For the first time in the series, I really felt like the unstoppable juggernaut rather than the isolated engineer struggling to survive.

I still enjoyed Dead Space 3, but not nearly as much as the previous two games. Again, a lot of this comes down to personal preference. I bought Dead Space 3 because I wanted more of the same intense experiences I had in the first two games.

What I received was a horror game watered down by more guns and more enemies.

Meh. Could have been better.

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