Horror video game fans are a very hardcore bunch. Traditionally horror games were actually pretty poorly made with some maddeningly poor game design. As such, horror games are known to be very difficult, and are not, traditionally, made for casuals. Dead Space was not designed for the hardcore in mind, and as such, it has been met with a lot of criticism from horror fans, who simply refer to it as an action game in the post Resident Evil 4 world. This a mostly inaccurate statement. What Dead Space adds to the video game horror canon is the Hollywood approach to horror. While this can be easily derided by the hardcore, it is also something that hadn’t really been attempted before, and it works very well. In a sense, it is blatantly manufactured horror. It won’t even begin to scare a horror junkie, but it does prove to be effective against the uninitiated. So for our fourth day, we look at the casual-focused Dead Space series and its place in the horror canon.
|Aw dang! Thats ma scatchin’ hand.|
From early developer interviews, Dead Space was intended to be some kind of mix between the movies Alien and Event Horizon. I don’t think I have to explain what Alien is, but Event Horizon is a little more of a niche movie. It is the only movie from director Paul Anderson that isn’t absolute garbage. Set on an abandoned spaceship a salvage crew finds out that the ship has been to some kind of hell dimension and it has brought terror back with it. The influences of these movies are apparent all throughout the first game. The creepy corridors, pitch black areas, and beasts that could burst through a vent at any moment. Similar to those movies, the first Dead Space is entirely based on a space ship. It is a mining space ship (Alien), which is abandoned and full of horrors (Event Horizon).
|I seriously recommend Event Horizon.|
Truthfully, the setting of the first game works incredibly well for horror. The mystery of what happened is extremely gripping, as you proceed through the various sectors of the ship. The environment doesn’t work in the same way as Silent Hill, as there is no constant feeling of dread of isolation. After all, you are in near constant communication with someone. Also, Dead Space telegraphs its scary moments in the same way that Hollywood movies do: by reducing the sound or having you approach an obvious trap. It is cheap, but it works fairly well.
|When you see this, you know to expect something.|
Dead Space 2 was always intended to resemble the movie Aliens more than anything else. Admittedly, the focus of the second game switched to action. In some ways it is hard to blame them. After all, the player now knows everything about the creatures and their origins, so there is no mystery that can be put on. It demeans the horror, but the game is still horrific. There are far fewer tense moments, but it still maintains some major horror elements such as the brutal creatures, insane humans, and the general shit storm that occurs on the space station. However, just because it has those elements doesn’t make it a horror video game, but Dead Space 2 is close enough to the line between action and horror, that it might be worth considering as a horror game. Dead Space 3 does not look like it will even remotely resemble a horror game, as I outlined here. Dead Space is clearly moving away from horror like the Resident Evil series, which is pretty apt since the original Dead Space was more or less a Resident Evil 4 clone.
|So that suit worked well in the freezing vacuum of space, but you need a fur collar for an ice planet?|
Is Dead Space survival horror? Horror fans very adamantly insist that the game does not even begin to resemble survival horror, while non-horror fans often cite the games as among their favourite survival horror games. This is indicative of the death of survival horror, yes, but I still think it fits into the genre. The most important aspect of survival horror is inventory management and ammo conservation. A capable gamer will not notice any problem with this, as he or she accurately blasts off enemy limbs after learning early on that limb rending is the best way of killing the enemies. However, a less capable gamer can sink all of their ammo in an enemy, either missing them or not focusing entirely on the limbs. A less capable gamer can easily run the risk of being strapped for ammo, cash, and health. Other elements such as tank controls help make it feel a lot like survival horror. If it isn’t, then it is very close.
|See, it does happen.|
The enemies, the Necromorphs, are horribly mutilated humans, and are legitimately terrifying. They are extremely well designed horror creatures. The problem lies in overexposure. Even in Dead Space 1, the game had a tendency of throwing waves of them at you in brightly lit rooms. As I mentioned in Day 1, it is hard to be frightened of a creature, when you just finished off ten of them. The developers of the game also rely way too much on jump scares. For the first half of the first game, a ridiculous amount of enemies are revealed through jump scares. There is nothing wrong with a well timed jump scare, but once again, overusing tactics like this demeans all of them.
|Really great enemy design right here.|
Dead Space is a horror game in the same way that the Paranormal Activity movies are horror. They both rely on tried and true horror conventions but bring very little new to the table. At the same time they both did something unique. Paranormal Activity popularizing the found footage industry, and Dead Space bringing many of these movie horror conventions to games. Maybe these things shouldn’t be praised, or maybe they should. I guess it depends on your point of view.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer