Backlog Project: Dead Space

I seldom find interest in playing horror games, for two cardinal reasons: In my experience they’re rarely actually scary due to how much easier it is to stuff them with cheap jump-scares and repulsive gore, and they tend to be subpar in terms of actual gameplay. After letting go of the hope that modern Resident Evil games would attempt to remind me why I loved the first few games, I essentially began ignoring the entire genre of horror games. It wasn’t until a few months ago that this was changed by a game I overlooked for years.

Dead Space Cover Art

  • Name: Dead Space
  • Genre: Action | Survival Horror | 3rd Person Shooter
  • Released2008
  • Developer: EA Redwood Shores
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3 | Microsoft Windows | XBox 360

In 2008, Electronic Arts published a brand-new title called Dead Space. Set on a derelict spacecraft, the Ishimura, which has mysteriously gone dark, the game combines graphic violence and a claustrophobic atmosphere with over-the-shoulder 3rd-person gameplay popularized by Resident Evil 4. It also employs strong survival horror elements, like scarcity of ammunition and healing items.

The protagonist is a reflection of the player’s underhanded position: we control Isaac Clarke, who is not a space marine or a monster hunter, but an engineer arriving on the Ishimura to repair their damaged equipment. Even most of the weapons available to him are not actually weapons at all: they’re mostly tools that Isaac must re-purpose for combat. He sure is lucky he knows his way around a workbench.

Not crazy about holding the elevator for this guy. Screenshot credit: http://www.bitcultures.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/deadspace1-1024x578.png

Not crazy about holding the elevator for this guy.
Screenshot credit: http://www.bitcultures.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/deadspace1-1024×578.png

One of the more masterful design choices in the game is the heads-up display – or the lack thereof, to be more specific. There is no floating information to be seen; instead, things like health and energy are shown on Isaac’s suit, and ammunition is displayed on a weapon itself, rather than in the corner of the screen. Even the map and inventory screen are portrayed as a holographic image that Isaac projects in front of him – and yes, the game remains unpaused while using those as well.

Dead Space has decent writing, particularly on the first playthrough when you’re still figuring out what’s going on. The actual story is average, which is almost synonymous with most horror games, but its presentation is actually pretty engaging. Not only does the personal story of Isaac unfold in very small steps, reinforcing the suspense, the story of the Ishimura itself can be uncovered from various notes, reports and journal entries scattered around the game. Studying those reveals the actual story, much like it did in the original Resident Evil, where the narrative in the foreground was hardly impressive, but the story of the mansion and its inhabitants was the one that gave us chills, as we pieced it together from short written testimonies.

"Shoot the limbs" is one of your first lessons in Dead Space. But sometimes "limbs" aren't what you'd expect. Screenshot credit: http://www.realmofgaming.com/

“Shoot the limbs” is one of your first lessons in Dead Space. But sometimes “limbs” aren’t what you’d expect.
Screenshot credit: http://www.realmofgaming.com/

Veterans of Dead Space may fondly remember the pacing of the game. There aren’t really any actual puzzles (although some light problem solving is involved), so the gameplay consists mainly of combat and traversal, but the latter always feels like waiting for the former – in a good way. Unlike in many games, the places where Isaac gets ambushed are not always as obvious as entering a large arena-like room; the most confined, narrow hallway that seems like nothing more than a link between two locations of consequence may turn out to be the place where monsters attack from both ends of the corridor, forcing you to make snap decisions to survive. The atmosphere is constantly full of suspense and anticipation of not knowing what’s ahead, easily making the first playthrough the “truest” Dead Space experience.

This game was a pleasant surprise for me, and I can’t believe I avoided playing it for so long. Even though I went in expecting my inner contrarian to rip Dead Space apart based on any and all flaws I could find, it still impressed me so much that I felt sad about stopping playing, even after achieving the Platinum Trophy. If you haven’t tried it out yet, you have my recommendation.

Trophy Hunt

I achieved the Platinum Trophy for Dead Space on April 7th, 2016, after playing the game for about a month. With the time I have to play games, it would probably amount to something like 30-40 hours of playing. It took me three playthroughs, which is essentially the least number of playthroughs it’s possible to achieve all the Trophies in.

I started my first run on Hard difficulty setting. There is no Trophy for beating the game on Hard, only the Epic Tier 3 Engineer Trophy for beating it on the hidden Impossible difficulty, but I picked Hard to avoid being overwhelmed by the increase in challenge. I also played the first run with only the Plasma Cutter, which is the requirement for the One Gun Trophy. This was also a pre-meditated choice, as I expected the Impossible run to be much easier after beating the game on Hard with nothing but the most basic weapon.

I obviously got the Tool Time Trophy for 30 Plasma Cutter kills on my first run, since that was the only weapon I used. I also gathered all the logs needed for the Legend Teller Trophy, the schematics needed for the Merchant Trophy, got 30 melee kills for the Brawler Trophy, achieved the Crackshot and Z-baller Trophies for their respective mini-games, used the Stasis and Kinesis abilities to achieve the Freeze and Armstrong Trophies, and got the Air Alert Trophy for 100 zero-gravity jumps. I unlocked the Ragdoll Check Trophy for 5 Gravity Panel kills mainly by accident, and the Pack Rat Trophy for storing 25 items in the Safe by stashing my entire inventory as soon as I had enough items, so that I wouldn’t miss that one.

On my Impossible run, I went after the four more easily missable miscellaneous Trophies: Playing Catch for flinging a pod projectile back at a Brute (or the Leviathan) with Kinesis, Kickin’ It for having a Lurker do their grab attack and escaping it 10 times, Don’t Get Cocky, Kid for beating the first ADS Cannon segment with over 50% health, and Slugger for beating the second one. Apart from the Plasma Cutter, I focused my weapon use on the Pulse Rifle and the Flamethrower, earning me the Autofire and Live with the Hot Ones Trophies for 30 kills with each. I also didn’t find the Peng treasure until this playthrough, so I only unlocked the There’s Always Peng Trophy this time around.

After the Impossible run, I started my “New Game +” playthrough on my Hard difficulty save, and started accumulating the remaining weapon kill Trophies. I unlocked the Butcher Trophy for 1000 dismemberments early on this playthrough (though it’s possible to get in a single run), and bought all the weapons for the Full Arsenal Trophy. I achieved Maxed Out, my final remaining Trophy, for fully upgrading everything just before the final boss on this playthrough, and as a tribute to how good Dead Space is, I still beat the boss.

In my opinion, the Trophy list was a really good one, in that there were no unreasonable or nonsensical Trophies. Even though it was definitely a challenge to get them all, it didn’t become frustrating to hunt for those Trophies, resulting in a thoroughly positive experience even after achieving the Platinum.

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