Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Snow
You know, I really used to hate horror movies growing up. I did. Maybe it was because I simply wasn’t exposed to them on any level as a kid. Or maybe…there’s a slim chance it could be because the ones I DID catch glimpses of scarred me in ways too horrible to mention. For example, I must have been around five or six when I inadvertently sat down and watched the infamous chest defibrillation scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Or how about Pennywise the Clown reaching out of the storm drain to snatch poor little Georgie to his death. Yeah. Thanks, Mom.
In any case, horror movies, let alone games or anything else scary, was something I simply “didn’t do”. So how did I then turn into the kind of person who likes nothing better than to turn off all the lights at night and work my way through the Dead Space series, arguably one of the scariest game series in recent memory? I don’t know, but that’s what happened, and Dead Space 3 certainly was no exception. It hit all the right notes of what I think a good horror game requires.
There’s something to be said about that cold feeling of dread that creeps into your spine as soon as you turn this game on. A chilled fluttering in your stomach, not of dancing butterflies but of skeletal fingertips lightly brushing against your insides, prodding to find the best place to sink their claws into. Putting Dead Space 3 into your disc tray is like saying Goodbye, Safety and Security. Hello and come on in, Vulnerability and Insecurity!
I guess a good horror game is as hard to come by as a truly funny comedy; many may try, but it takes undeniable skill to really induce those feelings of panic in a captive audience. The Dead Space team has succeeded swimmingly on this front, amazingly upping the ante with each and every game. The outer space setting, with its derelict space vessels and futuristic squalor, is, in my opinion, a natural fit for horror, since it already carries with it an aura of griminess and disrepair, where evil things would love to lurk in dark corners. Dead Space 3 combines this feeling with a similarly snow-and-ice setting as the earlier-mentioned B-movie horror masterpiece. All that’s missing is a synthesizer soundtrack composed on a primitive Casio keyboard to stamp the sealing kiss on the bottom of the developer’s love letter to Carpenter.
Naturally, I couldn’t wait to play the demo before the game was released. Walking the snowy paths on the planet was a good introduction; even though nothing was happening, the anticipation of what could happen at any moment was built up to nerve-tearing levels. It was important to see how being in the whiteout of a raging blizzard is equally as disconcerting as standing in a dark room when suddenly your flashlight dies on you. I got my first good fright while slowly approaching a ramp – barely visible through the storm– leading up to a building of some sort. Though I was expecting it, I froze in a cold shower of fear as a human figure became visible ahead of me, an outline wearing a snow jacket. (I know, I know. Another reference?!? Maybe I should be getting paid for this.)
On the whole, the game did feel a bit scaled down from Dead Space 2 – the zealously religious Church of Unitology aspect seemed to be dialed back some, and there weren’t quite as many Holy Crap! moments during cinematics and boss fights). Dead Space 3 simply worked on a more subtle level. I particularly enjoyed the awkward interplay between Isaac, Ellie and Norton, a love triangle doomed to tragedy, and the sacrifices Isaac is willing to make for Ellie in the later parts of the game – clearly, he’s past his previous games’ inner turmoil about Nicole. Overall, it just seemed like a more personal game, which I think was definitely a plus.
Still, there were some things I could have done without: I didn’t particularly care for the crafting system (nor do I ever; it’s just not something I enjoy messing with in games), and I left the multiplayer completely alone. I prefer lone-wolfing it at first. That’s not to say I’d be opposed to going it again with a friend sometime. Sadly, I’ve also not taken the time (or paid the money) to try out the additional downloadable episode. To be honest, I haven’t tried them for any game of the series. I really should, now that I think about it.
I guess without playing the extra content, I don’t know for certain how Isaac’s story ends. But whatever is in store, I sure hope that lightning can strike a fourth time – I’m certainly down for more! In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to sate my appetite for good horror games with Amnesia – just hope it’ll work on my PC…