Dead Space Anniversary: My First Time Aboard the Ishimura

Some may find it hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the ill-fated engineer Isaac Clarke took his first steps onto the Ishimura. Of course, Isaac’s space station nightmare sparked a line of games focused on sci-fi horror, gore and terrifying jump scares. There were even spin-offs and an anime show.

While the franchise effectively concluded with Dead Space 3 and the closure of Visceral Games (the developer of the well-loved franchise) Dead Space still lives on as a gaming classic, one which I, a gamer totally new to the Dead Space franchise, decided to play this month to see if it deserves the plaudits nostalgic gamers lavish upon it.

It all starts when Isaac Clarke and the crew of the USG Kellion respond to a distress signal from the USG Ishimura. Upon docking, the troop find a gloomy picture of death and destruction with no human survivors left to greet them. Delving deeper into the ship Isaac and his crew become split up after a necromorph attacks. These monstrous abominations are the cause of the havoc aboard the station and, to Isaac’s and my horror, The Ishimura is plagued by them.

Dead Space was released in 2008 and playing it for the first time in 2018 was an interesting experience. As a horror game, Dead Space heavily relies on jump scares for high intensity frights. While I found most of these elaborated set-ups to be a tad dated, the tense atmosphere which fills the corridors of the Ishimura racks up the overall effect. This means that even predictable moments left me trembling, desperately scanning every inch of a room for a potential threat even if it’s probable that the danger has subsided and you’re in the clear.

Dimly-lit corridors stained with blood set the story of the Ishimura’s downfall as well as extinguishing any hope of finding survivors. The narrative is simplistic, but the game sends Isaac around the entire ship uncovering the secrets of the Marker and the necromorphs it has spawned. The twelve chapters are equally balanced, and the detailed intensity of set design means that each individual area on this planet-cracking spacecraft feels lived-in, bringing a level of authenticity and sadness to the story. The structure adheres to typical survival horror tropes with the game providing minimal ammunition and health, forcing you to adapt your gameplay and use Isaac’s stasis module to slow down throngs of necromorphs rather than gunning away your limited ammunition. It reminded me a lot of classic Resident Evil in this regard yet more innovative with the use of multiple weapons and modules to better your chances against hordes of necromorphs.

Sound design is another factor in the success of the game. In fact, a large proportion of the horror comes from the ingenious design of Dead Space’s soundtrack, composed by Jason Graves. With an eerie blend of animalistic cries and the shunting of broken machinery on the Ishimura, an atmosphere thick with dread is slowly constructed. Whilst minimalist sound effects add to the overall feel of the horror atmosphere, silence is equally as frightening. A sense of anticipation follows Isaac as he moves through the different segments of the ship awaiting the next attack.

When all of these features come together, they form the perfect blend of classic survival horror which, even ten years after release, still holds up unbelievably well. Frankly, I was an instant convert to the Dead Space fandom and unsurprisingly I’m keen to play the rest of the series. During daylight hours of course.

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