Dead Space Started Off As Horror, But Now It’s So Much More

Dead Space Started Off As Horror, But Now It’s So Much More
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I beat Dead Space 1.

I nearly beat Dead Space 2, but I got so frustrated with one section near the end in which I was trapped in a room with regenerating Necromorphs that I shelved it. (This was after the amazing “needle/eye” bit.)

I come from a long history of loving sci fi, in particular, scary, gritty sci fi. Growing up I was more about “Aliens” than “Star Wars.” “Event Horizon,” as flawed as it was, still inspired a 20-something Cliff to implement similar scare gags in Unreal 1. “Sunshine” included, I love movies in which man explores space with his best intentions and all Hell breaks loose.

I’m quite familiar with the controversy over Dead Space 3 and the issue of horror versus action. Generally speaking, the scarier a game is the less empowered a player feels. Controls are often clunky on purpose, and the pacing is quite different from an action movie. It feels as if developer Visceral consciously gravitated the franchise more towards the “action” elements over the “suspense/horror” ones, and I’m quite OK with that. We look at the target audience for your average console game and it’s often a cocky young male who doesn’t want to be scared. Unfortunately, he’s the guy who wants to get in and “fuck shit up.”

Is it possible to blend the two? Yes, I do think it is, and those of you who have read my interviews in which I talk about how you could do that in Resident Evil have seen the thoughts. (Random idea 1: Alternate between two storylines, one is a first responder and the other is a terrified child.) Horror is HARD, and suspense is even HARDER. It requires a true director’s hand. A nudge this way and a moment plays as comedic, a nudge too far the other way and it’s not scary at all. To compound it all, making a scary moment is kind of like trying to tickle yourself. You think it’s scary, but you’re never sure until you test it on someone who has NEVER SEEN THE MOMENT.

(This is why James Wan is evolving into a great filmmaker. Apart from the slightly over the top 3rd act there are scares in his “Insidious” that work amazingly well.)

Regardless, I’m currently burning through the campaign of DS3 with my wife in co-op and it’s still quite a bit of fun. The dynamic of using stasis and limb shooting in a co-op environment works surprisingly well. If there are surprises and scares to be had it’s often the person who charges ahead LeeRoy Jenkins style who enjoys them. Grabbing a leg and impaling a foe is worth the effort, and it’s gratifying.

I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the weapon crafting and upgrading system, to be honest. Generating circuits, crafting them, etc… I could have used a bit more hand holding there. (The UI borders on comedic at times when you’re starting a game, with ROTATING METAL PANELS OF STUFF FLYING AT YOU EVERYWHERE!)

Overall game pacing is something that’s really hard to get right; it’s something that a lead campaign designer or overall lead designer are responsible for and that pacing doesn’t let down. The game builds to a crescendo of exciting moments (often with ships crashing) and then it takes its time before getting back into combat. The vistas and skyboxes are breathtaking, and the weapons generally feel good. (One of the issues with making sci-fi weaponry is that the guns don’t always look like guns. I know the series was going for more of a “mining equipment” vibe but I often have a hard time figuring out which gun is which when they’re icons.)

And yes, there’s a part when the game briefly feels like Lost Planet, but it’s a welcome change of pacing from dark space corridor after dark space corridor. One of my personal quibbles with the game is the lack of memorable locations. There are just so many corridors; there aren’t a lot of areas that can be defined as “the room with the N in it.”

Oh, and as a side note the parts when you’re in space flying around in your suit are suspenseful but somehow peaceful, if that makes any sense.

At the end of the day this franchise feels like it’s starting as a solo experience, a solitary and confined horror game, and now it’s evolving into much more than that. You can either fight it or embrace it. I choose the latter, as at the end of the day it’s FUN. (We’re about 50% through…the giant drill bit section was a highlight.)

p.s. In the 60$ disc based market horror doesn’t fly – it’s the ultimate “Campaign Rental” that’s played for 2 days and traded in and I’m sure EA knows this. When we’re fully digital we’ll see more true horror games coming back. (Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC.)

Cliff Bleszinski is a game Industry veteran. He blogs on Tumblr and can be found on Twitter at @therealcliffyb.

Republished with permission.


  • Cool to see that Cliffy B is now on Kotaku. (I know it’s a guest/republished thing)

    Also, I now feel vindicated that I gave up on Dead Space 2 in disgust at the exact same time as Cliff did. 🙂

    • I don’t see how someone could give up there. You break his limbs, stasis him, then open the control panel to hack the door and run out.

      • I tried for about an hour I think. The checkpoints at that part of the game meant I had no health, no med kits and no stasis recharge packs whilst I was being chased down the ahl on the way to the room you hack the panel. Try stopping a re spawning necromorph for long enough to hack the panel with that going against you! Every time I got to hacking the panel he’d be back up and would kill me when hacking. Maybe not enjoying it as much as the first helped me to put it down too…
        I did intend to pick it up again at some point, but it hasn’t happened.

        • It’s really not that hard. You just sit in the corner and stasis him right as your knock his legs out. He’ll slow down while falling and you’ll have enough time to hack the panel. I don’t think I’ve ever been attacked while doing it. It’s not different then the time you fight him in Dead Space 1, except now your stasis ability recharges itself.

  • Huge fan of the series, preferred 1 over 2, but Dead Space 3 is brilliant, I agree with him. They are crafting a brilliant environment that I just love to be in, feels real and significant and dangerous to explore. As said in an article the other day, the linear design of the first game was hidden to make you feel like you were on board a huge space ship and it worked. Had they just done that again people would have complained about it being another corridor horror entry to the series. This one may be more action, but the environments have stepped up too. Being outside with a coop partner exploring detelict spacecraft, with a coop partner that is seeing and hearing his own hallucinations? brilliant, a step forward for the series. Loving it

  • I think hating something because it’s different is incredibly ignorant. How could it not be? Dead Space 3 is different but exactly how much different to DS2 has been greatly exaggerated. Besides, it’s a perfectly good action/horror game. There is literally so little wrong with it as an action game. I think most of you are generally cool people who just got swept up in a hate bandwagon (again) and really fail to realise your own ignorance and the elitism you project.

  • OK OK… DS1 is now being placed at the top of my Pile of Shame.

    It’s OK Max Payne, I’ll get to you someday. Someday.

  • Hey Cliff, it’s only ONE regenerating Necromorph dude.

    You shouldn’t get stuck because you shouldn’t be staying still in that last act. You should be constantly pushing forward.


    • It’s a shame Cliff didn’t finish the game, as the end of DS 2 evokes/homages the dropship escape from the exploding cooling towers of Aliens.

      I disliked the the regen monster though; it’s unkillability came without warning and runs counter to the cautious, exploring playstyle the game rewards (up to that point).

      The lack of warning really is the worst part. You may have played through most of the game without dying if you played cautiously. Suddenly you’re dying every five seconds (from the monsters outside the room that you have to run headlong into) because you’re forced to abandon your technique.

      … Unlike Resident Evil: Nemesis, which communicates the expected playstyle almost right from the start.

      It’s not about fair/unfair btw. Undermining the player makes a game not fun.

      I haven’t played DS 3, but only because I don’t have close friends who would pony up $60 for a couple of nights of co-op limb dismembering. Crazy, I know [grins].

      Brad from GiantBomb recently wrote he played the game solo because in his opinion, that is the authentic DS experience. After reading a few reviews, I think the game devs fundementally altered what was fun in the game franchise, creating a unique ‘authentic’ experience for DS3… Which is part of why some people aren’t enjoying the game.

      I can both understand the critics and developers. Perhaps some more work needed to be done communicating the change of intent (with the game). Sure, they’d risk losing some sale to die-hard DS fans, but they might have garnered less negative press.

      I guess if people who like co-op are going to buy the game anyway, then it wouldn’t benefit the publishers to alienate a portion of their consumer base up front.


      • I agree on the regen monster. I didn’t like the idea of being pushed along.

        Parft of what I love about the Dead Space series is the slow pacing, and the ability to play the game at my own pace. The atmosphere built up, with scares thrown in along the way.

        The feeling of solitude, the claustrophobic corridoes and rooms.

        All feels gone in 3. Not sure why EVERY game needs to be turned into an action game.

  • Can I point out the number of “action” games on the market at the moment? It’s not like there’s a shortage, nor has there been one since CoD4. I can name ten that came out in the last six months alone. Proper horror games on console? I can count them on one hand (two if we go all the way back to games since DS1). So many that claim to be “horror” are just shooters of one form or another with a horror-esque aesthetic (Darkness 2, RE5&6, etc). Or even worse, pointless gore-fests (Saw games, etc). It’s because of this shortage that a lot of people appreciate the Dead Space games, and why they were hyped about DS3… and they got an action game instead. Is it any wonder it’s getting flak for that?

    I get it, I suppose – horror is hard to do. It’s especially hard to do in a sequel, let alone the third installation of a series. But given their track record, I really thought Visceral could have pulled it off.

    • But this conversation really should have happened last time. The second game was just like the first with
      more action. To be honest I didn’t find Dead Space 1 particularly horrific (playing system shock 2 at night though I refused to do lol), but as I said before the environment was dangerous and well done. The second game was all about the action but still in corridors and stuff that really didn’t come together as well as the Ishimura.
      On another note how many of the people branding it an action game sell out have actually got in there? Really does sound a bit like the anti Mass Effect 3 multiplayer brigade at times. They went noticeably silent after they, you know, actually played ME3 multi

      • I haven’t played the second one for quite a while, but I remember it still had some pretty great horror moments – the opening areas were amazing in that regard. Running from necros while in helpless in a strait-jacket? Grabbing a kinesis module while a guy who is clearly in the middle of heart surgery screams for help right next to you? And that last section fleeing the regenerator? Trying to get that door open while knowing that at any moment that monster behind you could get up and tear you apart?

        Compare that to DS3: Opening is essentially shooting people with a machine-pistol. Later on, waiting for the train facing two regenerators and four scorpion-things in a small, confined space, with nowhere to run. Every “jump scare” hilariously over-hinted seconds in advance.

        That second point, especially – if you’ve got nowhere to run, you’ve got no choice but to fight. That changes your mindset from “Oh crap it’s gonna eat me!!!!” to “Okay, bring it!”. The former is terrifying as you can’t run away and keep watch of where the enemy is, so you have to hope you’re out-distancing it as you flee. The latter is not scary at all, because you accept that you have to wait it out, and can keep an eye on the enemy at all times.

        Now, I have to admit, I’m yet to finish DS3 myself, so my criticisms are from the first eight or so hours only. The game might get better later on. But I’ve not seen anything online or elsewhere that implies that it will.

        And don’t get me started on ME3’s stupid “galactic readiness points” being affected by multiplayer. There are some people (myself included) that don’t want to play multiplayer (or pay for the privilege on XBL) in order to not have to do a perfect playthrough of a 30+ hour game.

        • Fair enough, but I don’t agree…I play on the hardest difficulty possible and I’m definitely not saying “bring it on” in Dead Space 3 on Impossible. I find it tense and the use of music on the spaceships is straight surreal/horrific in a way that has never been seen in the series before….I guess this is a great place to be considering how the series has succeeded when we could have got Colonial Marines for example lol. Here’s hoping they take it even further with future instalments.

          I agree with you about ME3 Galactic Readiness…My point was more to do with the people that instantly said it was going to be rubbish when any reasonably objective measure would tell you it’s at the very least an enjoyable, functional experience. Personally I’m not a massive fan but it’s definitely not as disastrous as what was being predicted sight unseen by “fans”.

          • I was playing on Hard, but that doesn’t change the lack of tension that comes from bad design. The tension of the first games came from the atmosphere, the expectation that anything could pop out at any moment. Having times when you enter a completely empty room that stays that way is crucial in adding to the unpredictability. DS3 choreographs these to the point that you don’t need to worry about an enemy sneaking up on you, cos you’ll be warned a few seconds before they enter the room by a “dramatic” chord. The only source of tension left is in the frantic combat, which you can find in any shooter on the market. Perhaps “bring it on” was a poor way to say that, but the mindset is definitely different. The fact is, when they give you weapons and block your escape, they make the decision to stay and fight for you; they tell you that either you have the power to get through this, or something will arrive to save the day, which simplifies the problem and hints that you don’t need to worry about it – just focus on putting down necros.

        • I agree with you generally speaking but what I would add is Dead Space 3 isn’t scary because it didn’t focus on character. Anytime a horror movie fails, it’s because it has failed to make you care about the characters.

          By getting to know characters, we begin investing in their likability. The more we like them, the more we fear for their safety. That is the essence of survival horror. Sure, you KNOW Isaac will survive because he’s the protagonist of the story (or will he…?) but you also fear FOR him, because the player represents his hopes. If he wants to save Ellie, then you’re the one who doesn’t want her to die. Atleast in Dead Space 2 I didn’t (I thought she was annoying in DS3).

          In Dead Space, I don’t remember well, but through video communications (I missed those. DS3 doesn’t have a lot of them) it focused on three characters mainly: Nicole and her relationship with Isaac, Hammond, and that treacherous villain. It also focused on the plot of what happened on the Ishimura. It added intrigue and context and motivation for you to find Nicole, while seeing and hearing various crew members doing crazy things to each other.

          Dead Space 2 did this as well, mainly with Isaac and Ellie (that I can remember anyway) and Stross, the unhinged lunatic helper guy. The player played through the game not knowing what the devs had planned for Ellie. Would she be his love interest or were they setting it up to look that way so they can shock and surprise us with a death twist? She also had an arc. She started off not knowing who you were and wanted to go her own way, but she gradually warmed to you, and you, to her. So when she gets stabbed in the head, you fear for her life.

          Dead Space 3 has a bigger cast of characters, ones that you interacted with more regularly IMO, but the difference is they rarely give you a reason to like them. You’re given a lot of reasons to hate that pathetic excuse that was Ellie’s partner Norton, so when it came to killing him, we would feel relieved in doing so (it wasn’t satisfying enough IMO). Beyond that, why should I care about the too-nice-to-be-considered-normal African chick whose name I really don’t remember, or the old dude Buckell? I know absolutely nothing about them.

          So when they died, did you really care? (If you said yes, then you aren’t jaded enough ;p)

          I would also say that adding a weapons crafting system was from a horror game design perspective, counter intuitive. But it could have worked, if you weren’t given exhaustive amounts of ammo, and had to share what you had and rely on each other’s skills to get through an ordeal. Once you have a big guns, it didn’t matter where the enemies come from, inhuman or otherwise.

          • That’s actually a great point. I’ve seen the other characters for all of a few minutes at the start, and a bit on the ship, but I have no real idea who they are, or (“save Ellie” mission aside) why I’m even here. The original (and the second, to a lesser extent) used video communication to achieve this while remaining separated from the other characters, which allowed you to learn about them and gave your mission context. Also, spoiler tags? Not that I’m sad to hear about Norton (et al), but I’m not that far in yet – just fitted the shuttle’s nav module, and I’ve not really been enthused to play it over the past few days. Might get through it over the weekend…

            And I completely agree about the weapon crafting system. Besides, the original games heavily discouraged using bullets to stop necros, yet in DS3 they added automatic rifles, shotguns, and who knows what else, all of which could be paired? Yea, horror and “assault rifle with underbarrel shotgun” don’t really go together. Combine that with the pre-order “bonuses”, and… yeah. Pretty clear they were going for action-over-horror this time around.

          • Oh… sorry about that 😀 I was hasty to prove a point. But honestly, did you really think there’d be another ending for that douche, even as far as you’ve played? He’s wonderfully annoying.

          • No worries 😛 I wasn’t that into the story, anyway (which is actually rather surprising – a good story is the main reason I play games).

  • um… so cliffy b thinks its fine the deadspace experience has become more and more like gears of war… not much of a revelation…

    “In the 60$ disc based market horror doesn’t fly”
    i don’t think this is any sort of justification for bending everything towards the generic bombastic action of gears, this is exactly what people are so disappointed about! the notion may even be completely true, but how do we really know if nobody has the guts to even try? if this was such a hard and fast rule why on earth did they make more deadspace games after the first?

    anyway i’m sure i will enjoy this game, but i am disappointed it looks so much like all the other big titles on the market

  • Getting into the lore too…Dug around about the ship names surrounding Tau Volantis (a frozen planet) and found a very cool connection. Haven’t seen it posted but I’m sure I’m not the first to figure this out, it’s not exactly encoded lolz. The ship names are CMS Ranaoke (main space station), CMS Greely, CMS Brusilov and CMS Terra Nova

    The Terra Nova was the ice breaking ship that took Scott’s last expedition to it’s doom

    Adolphus Greely was an American soldier that lead a pretty hardcore polar expedition that ended quite poorly with only 6 surviving and allegations of cannibalism

    Georgy Brusilov was a Russian explorer that vanished without a trace (until 2010) in the north pole region around 1914

    Roanoke. A former English colony in Newfoundland that disappeared without a trace in 1587

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