Gaming Oldies but Goldies: Dead Space is worth the play ahead of its upcoming reboot

San Mateo, California – Dead Space is a masterpiece of the psychological action horror gaming genre, and that spooky time of year is here again. TAG24's Oldies But Goldies review proves that the game sounds just as scary as looks, and has survived the test of time over the last 13 years.

The bridge of the USG Ishimura, a massive planetcracker mining starship, is one of the few places in the game where you usually have a few moments of safety.
The bridge of the USG Ishimura, a massive planetcracker mining starship, is one of the few places in the game where you usually have a few moments of safety.  © Screenshot/Electronic Arts Inc.

Dead Space was released in October 2008 for consoles and PC by developer EA Redwood Shore, and is fondly remembered as one of the best sounding games of all time.

The horror shooter's audio shines, but not alone. It delivers a solid story and memorable plot twists, great character and set design, and it set the bar for serving up a twist on classic game mechanics.

Players begin by stepping into the engineering suit of Isaac Clarke. He and a few other key characters on the USG Kellion are sent to help the USG Ishimura, a giant "planetcracker" mining spaceship.

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Soon after you and the crew of the USG Kellion arrive in the giant spaceship, the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller.

After a hair-raising intro, it's up to you to use your engineering tools to fight through hordes of horrors, fix the USG Ishimura, and hold onto any shred of sanity.

The well-thought-out narrative has small Easter eggs stashed throughout. Even the game's ship names are meaningful: A "Kellion" was a small Eastern Church building, and "Ishimura" means "stone village" in Japanese. It's an apt name for a ship that is basically a village that mines stone, in the form of planets.

Even though the graphics haven't aged well, there is still enough body horror – bolstered by the fantastic sound and game design – to creep you out.

Terrifying sound design

Isaac Clarke can use his repurposed plasma cutter to slice apart a necromorph. It isn't for the faint of heart.
Isaac Clarke can use his repurposed plasma cutter to slice apart a necromorph. It isn't for the faint of heart.  © Screenshot/Electronic Arts Inc.

Dead Space's sound design is easily the best part of the game.

Everything in Dead Space is designed to build tension, unsettle you, or spring a jump scare on you.

There are just two noises that don't sufficiently scare or warn you that something bad is going to happen: the chapter completion chord and the reloading sound of your weapons.

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The massive mining spaceship creaks and moans like a spooky skeleton, while mundane engineering tasks sound a little off. It's all suspenseful enough for a screech of escaping gas or scraping elevator doors to make the quiet moments in the game feel dangerous.

And then there are the action-packed sequences with rooms and corridors full of twisted abominations built to rip you apart. The beasts screech and fleshy noises echo as you dismember them – before they can dismember you.

Its music also pulls its weight, adding to the air of unease and underscoring tense moments and jump scares with sharp, unpleasant-sounding horns and strings. A good pair of headphones or speakers is the best way to experience this game.

The sound design in Dead Space is meant to make you feel like you are right there with the protagonist, at the edge of space and with almost no hope of surviving. And even if you do survive, the music is there to remind you how much of your sanity you left behind on the USG Ishimura.

Gameplay and graphics

The suit shows you how much more damage Clarke can take. Better "strategically dismember" those shambling horrors!
The suit shows you how much more damage Clarke can take. Better "strategically dismember" those shambling horrors!  © Screenshot/Electronic Arts Inc.

Dead Space introduced a great twist on zombie shooters.

Everyone knows that you must shoot the undead in the head, but in Dead Space, "strategic dismemberment" makes you aim for limbs.

The challenge is that there are often too many limbs that are too spiky and disgusting, and they have to come off if you want to do the most damage with your dwindling ammo supply. Otherwise, the predators will hack and slash at you until you finally put enough plasma into them to kill them for good.

It can deliver some serious thrills. In some parts of the game, you are not only scrambling to mow down the game's creepy-crawly baddies, but you get to do it in disorienting zero gravity rooms.

In other heart-pounding moments, you have to beat the clock by completing a puzzle sequence or objective before your dwindling O2 supply kills you.

A reboot is on the way

EA has given the go ahead for a Dead Space reboot.
EA has given the go ahead for a Dead Space reboot.  © imago/Future Image

The good news is that the dismemberment is returning August 2022 for a reboot.

EA has greenlit Dead Space's remake to make use of modern consoles, PC hardware, and game engines. Gunner Wright, the voice actor for Isaac Clarke, and Mike Yazijan, the art director for EA Montreal, will both return.

Until the new installment arrives, playing the original Dead Space is still an excellently scary choice, mainly because of the excruciating soundscape the design team put together, as well as a solid plot that takes some not-so-predictable turns. The game even has some nods to two classic sci-fi horror movies, Alien and Event Horizon.

Released for the Halloween season in 2008, Dead Space is worth revisiting if you want a game that sounds fantastic.

Yes, the graphics and controls are dated. But they don't get in the way of commending and cursing the design team for an exquisitely tailored shooter that makes you love to hate every creepy sound effect, strain of music, and tortured voice over.

It isn't for the faint of heart.

Cover photo: Screenshot/Electronic Arts Inc.

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