Continuing on with my Frightfully Good Games series in lieu of the holidays, I present EA's stellar 2008 survival/horror title Dead Space. Taking place in the distant future on a mining ship traversing the stars, you play as Isaac, the ship's engineer. Your ship runs into altercations out in open space and after a series of crashes and explosions your crew goes off to see what's wrong with the ship. As the engineer, your duty is with the ship's interior, making adjustments and repairs. It's then that you realize that something got onto your ship after the crash, some things that are now in the ventilation system, rummaging through the supplies, and terrifying the other few workers on the ship.
One of the things that made Dead Space so terrifying was who you were playing as. Isaac is no Master Chief. He's no fighter, no hardened general. He has no military training, no survival training, and doesn't know any martial arts. Isaac is only an engineer, just a regular worker like the rest of his crew. Therefore the only weapons at his disposal are the regular (if not futuristic) tools of his profession. Soddering tools, cutting tools, futuristic saws, these are the only things you have with you. EA put a great deal of work into the creatures that populate this nightmare, and in doing so created the game's primary fighting mechanic. Whereas in other games, a pistol shot to the head is usually the best way to take down a baddie, the monsters of Dead Space has to be dismembered. That's right, dismembered. Because a shot to the face won't slow them down, you have to twist your cutting tools to chop off arms, legs, appendages, and (of course) their heads. It's a gruesom and wildly satisfying combat mechanism.
The combat is great, but the overall atmosphere is just as important. As the title suggests, you don't often hear any ethereal music to try and heighten the tension, often all you hear as Isaac walks through his battered ship is...nothing. Silence. There'll be the squeezing of vapors through ventilation, the sliding of doors, the click-clack sounds of the monsters inside the walls of the ship. But when you step out onto the outside of the ship, into literal dead space, the absolute silence is the eeriest feeling of all. Dead Space is a wonderfully crafted nightmare, a title whose polished strengths easily outweighs any minor flaws, and the best part is...
Dead Space is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Windows PC. If you haven't played this amazing game yet, get ready for one terrifying ride.