How Dead Space saved Survival Horror

Posted: October 31, 2011 by Tim Utley in Editorials
Tags: , , ,

I apologize for the late posting, but here is my Halloween treat to you, enjoy.

For a while games that were being dubbed as “Survival Horror” titles were not really fitting the bill.  Cornerstone franchises of the genre such as Resident Evil were producing quality titles, but I felt as if they were gravitating away from their horror roots and planting them elsewhere.  It felt like big action set pieces were being shoe horned in and delivering scares became less important to the experience.  As I felt the genre slipping away a game by the name of Dead Space entered the forum and it emanated with such great promise of giving survival horror fans just what we needed; a terrifying adventure to partake in.

Visceral’s new IP came on the scene with the intent of righting the wrongs of the survival horror genre and when push came to shove it delivered.  Dead Space’s main concern was to scare the crap out of you and the first 15 minutes of that game were indicative of the rollercoaster ride that awaited players with the fortitude to stick it out.  Everything about Dead Space was terrifying as hell.  From the horribly disfigured Necromorphs you dismembered right down to the trepidatious landscape of the USG Ishimura; Dead Space kept your attention and demanded your concentration.  Dead Space delivered such an intense experience that nothing on the market could rival at the time and still doesn’t to this day.  I mentioned earlier how I thought big action set pieces were ruining survival horror games; I thought that up until Dead Space showed me that they could be integrated tastefully and still exhibit horrifying elements.

Dead Space’s Isaac Clark was the game’s main protagonist and without any spoken dialogue remained a mystery in and of itself.  His rugged exterior gave the player confidence to pursue and explore the horrors that awaited you around every corner of the ship.  When I felt anxious about what lurked in the shadows I took solace in knowing that Mr. Clark was more than capable of dispatching my enemies to the afterlife (or after-after life, they were dead as far as I was concerned).  Isaac’s creative arsenal of repurposed mining tools really added another layer of depth to the game, because it fell in line with what the Ishimura was, which was a mining vessel or a planet cracker to be specific.  Every aspect of Dead Space kept my blood pumping until its gripping conclusion.

So this begs the question what path might have the survival horror genre gone down had Dead Space never existed?  Would the genre have gradually homogenized itself into an entirely different entity (this thriller action blend if you will)?  Dead Space stopped that proverbial bleeding with a fantastic horror game of a bandage.  Fans of survival horror regained their genre, because like it or not people survival horror games are not for everyone and the niche genre should cater to specific people.  If you enjoy a variety of genres like me then you can appreciate the separation of certain elements, because when you play a game like Dead Space you expect something different and unique.   A dichotomy needs to exist between genres, not to say that certain elements can’t be shared or borrowed, but genres need to stand on their own two feet and offer an oppositional experience to that of others.  So I give thanks to Visceral Games for resuscitating the survival horror genre and re-establishing what it means to deliver proper scares.

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  2. marcb says:

    Sorry but i have to disagree with Dead Space saving the horror genre when Condemned: Criminal Origins was a much scarier and better made horror game. It had alot more in common with traditional survival horror games yet was still fresh and original. The story was incredibly unsettling ,the dark bloody slums for enviroments was perfect and the fumbly yet adequate combat system made sure you werent an overpowered superhero, it was everything a survival horror game should be.

    • Tim Utley says:

      I do appreciate the feedback, but I can’t help but disagree with you. I’ll give you that Condemned is a great horror game, but saying that it had a lot more in common with traditional survival horror games couldn’t be farther from the truth. The First Person perspective and the melee combat system pretty much was anything but traditional in nature, but once again I will give you that it was original. Dead Space on the other hand was rooted in survival horror from the ground up, everything about that game was drenched in survival horror components and too was fresh and original. Condemned had some bizarre environments (shopping mall, for example, mannequins galore) , but nothing to the scale of Dead Space. Like i said in my article navigating the Ishimura was a nerve racking experience in and of itself and was more chilling to my core than Condemned ever was. In regards to controls; saying that shitty controls made Condemned a more satisfying experience because Ethan Thomas never felt overpowered is a bit ridiculous to say as I am sure that wasn’t a premeditated decision on Monolith’s behalf. What this really comes down to is what game had better “survival” attributes and without a doubt Dead Space floors Condemned. From the moment the Dead Space actually starts you are plunged into a fight for your life. Condemned isn’t a tale of survival, with its lore more rooted in investigative and psychological horror it just offers a different experience. Please don’t be discouraged for commenting in the future, I like responding to and striking up debate with our community, thanks again Marcb for your feedback and hope to you see you commenting again soon.

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