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Amnesia: The Dark Descent got to me first before I could play this game, so I COULD be biased on how I say it's not scary. There were a few shameless jump scares, but you had a gun the whole time, and some kinesis to fall back on. No worries.
BUT, it did give me a sense of dread, a sense that I could potentially die on this big frickin' ship stuck in space and NO one will hear me scream. It REALLY does have some of those "creep the shit out of you" moments like hearing twinkle twinkle little star to some good old fashioned ritualistic executions. Yeah, no. How about let's NOT take the big spaceship to Saturn?
Heheh. Well, in any case, with the player character not so much speaking a single word through the whole game, you will feel pretty alone and stranded despite having two people hound you about shit sometimes. But being alone is a good thing. Because the mortifying mistakes for organic life that stalk the ship with you aren't there to rip your guts out. Riiiiight before they do...and they sometimes will if you're not careful. Game isn't without some gore...well, a lot of gore. Isaac gets ripped apart practically every time he dies.
What I like the most about this game is the survival. It's a real unique survival space horror that's worth playing. This is only the beginning for our friendly space engineer Isaac...and the first doesn't fail to please.
Dead Space is one of those few horror games that actually manages to scare me. The game's got a nice dark setting, plenty of blood and gore, though it fits in this case and is both horrifying and tasteful without being just thrown in for the fun of it. Honestly, it's one of the first games that made me pay attention to all the random corpses laying about. The idea of using engineering tools instead of the usual military weapons is fun and creative, though; the flamethrower, as usual, sucks. (Honestly, what's with that?)
The story line is interesting, if not a bit dull and stupid. You feel more like an errand boy through the game than a survivor, which is irritating but the sequel does a nice job of fixing that up.
Overall, as a survival horror game, it's pretty scary. If you're looking for innovation and something totally different, look somewhere else, but if you're looking for something that will make you jump time and time again, then look no further.
4 out of 5 stars.
To the point: Dead Space was not really scary for me. A few monster appearances were surprising (which applies to firecrackers people suddenly use a week after Sylvester, too), most monster designs were gross, but nothing was honestly scary. Why? Because it was too easy. Let me tell you why before you simply recommend a higher difficulty level that changes some numbers around:
Granted, not so genre-savvy players may have been scared by monsters in the early levels playing dead, but once they learned about it, even they should have checked every corpse they didn't kill or watch out for drops after they killed. You always know how to deal with zombies because the solution to killing them quickly is pounded into your head so early and so throughout that there is no way you could overhear it. No matter how gross the monster you encounter, it'll either display its limbs like an attention whore or it will have suspicious yellow glowing blobs you can attack (I'm looking at you, boss monsters). Even the story behind Isaac's wife was one big You Should Know This Already. Early in the game the player is already being told that people on the ship start hallucinating and seeing ghosts and the like and seeing as everyone you encounter on the ship is already dead or is dying (with the exceptions of Mercer and Kyne), there's no reason to believe your wife is still alive. When you meet her for the first time "in person", some suspicion appears because ghosts and hallucinations shouldn't be able to type on consoles, but the game makes sure to drop more hints and teleport her around so it's pretty clear again she's a ghost. Of course, like Yahtzee pointed out, it's pretty damn hard to care at all about the protagonist's life at all because of the horrible characterization. The Hunter was supposed to change that "I know what to do" attitude because it's "invincible", but cutting off the legs makes him crawl pathetically and solves that problem, too. Even when the player is supposed to feel cornered the game just drops Stasis packs en masse and you can take your time. The sudden dramatic music also makes sure you never ever overlook a stalking enemy.
All together, Dead Space was gross, but in the end just one flashy soulless firecracker - not scary.
P.S.: "Make us whole again" were the most annoying arc words I've ever heard.
If Dead Space receives one constant criticism (certainly having plenty of examples here) it's that the horror is "just" monsters jumping out at you, as if the Jump Scare is a lower form of horror. But, cat scares are used so often in the genre because they work on a lot of people.
Its greatest strength is its presentation. If you have an eye for game design, you'll notice there is very little going on in the game's mechanical workings. The designers, however, knew what they were doing and did more with what they had to work with than many games do. You don't need to be told the Ishimura has seen a lot of planet cracks in her time, you can tell by looking at the wear and tear on the bulkheads. You are never left wondering if something bad really happened in the place you now walk. Just when you think you're used to this, details start pointing to worse atrocities you're trailing behind by progressively smaller gaps of time.
The scares are no different. Very few of them are executed with anything less than perfect choreography. Lighting, layout and sound design are all used in combination, going as far as mis-timing scare chords just often enough that you can't train yourself to expect them. For those of you who can't be conditioned to face jump scares, nothing will scare you more than this series.
For those who are more affected by the atmospheric approach of Silent Hill, this is still a solid experience that irons out the gameplay quirks of Resident Evil 4 (you can aimand walk!) with a narrative that loves questionable morality and hates defining any of the forces at work as clear-cut villains. Beyond the gorn, the underlying nature of the Necromorphs is a dark, horifyingly ambiguous presence powerful enough to shape society for generations without an actual outbreak. If the slow realization that you're facing such a thing on a physical level isn't horror, I don't know what is. While direct psychological scares are few, the ones that exist are used to great effect. They rely on the player being Genre Savvy and able to spot when something isn't right, only to make you somehow reliant on that very thing for variable amounts of time. The player will always be correct when suspicious of something, but the payoff itself is usually subversive.
Respect the Jump Scare; it's not obsolete yet.
Let's get this out there first: I did not finish Dead Space. I told myself, "Self, you'd better get through this game if you want to justify sharing your opinion on it." Then my Self groaned, rolled its eyes, and went back to schlepping Isaac "Ooh Look At Us We Made a Literary Reference" Clarke through the dim corridors of the Ishimura while the composer masturbated with scare chords. No, I didn't finish Dead Space, but I got within spitting distance of the end before the umpteen-hundredth encounter with the game's not-quite-half-assed space zombies killed the last brain cell that had any motivation to continue (at which point I referred to TV Tropes for ending spoilers).
The developers made one critical error: they mistook Paranoia Fuel and Nausea Fuel for High Octane Nightmare Fuel. By the point I reached, you WILL be trained to expect a necromorph behind every vent and around every corner. And if you have a particularly weak stomach, you will have looked away from the screen quite a few times. However, I found that I was still waiting for the "scary part" to begin even halfway through the final chapter. Perhaps the scary part starts in the sequel. No, if you're seeking a scary game, try Amnesia or Silent Hill 2. Hell, try Arkham Asylum, whose Scarecrow encounters are beyond even what Dead Space wants to be when it grows up, with none of the tiresome gorn.
Actually, the developers made two critical errors: they also mistook "time-consuming" for "challenging." A challenging game presents the player with obstacles and a motivation to overcome them. Dead Space gives the player no motivation to continue, only two lackluster reveals better suited to a short film, and endless monster encounters which brilliantly succeed at irritating the player without ever challenging. You trudge through the hassle of one arbitrary setback punctuated with creatures that are impossible to take seriously (the jittery "stasis slashers" make me laugh every time), and are rewarded with news of yet another arbitrary setback. The game is a chore, and little else.
There were good points: the minimal HUD, the unique limb-lopping combat, the Space Is Noisy aversion. But these still do not redeem the game, or make it worth the $10 Steam sale price I paid for it.
Remember when you were little and you had all sorts of fears? The fear of the dark, the fear of being alone, the fear of something monstrous lurking under your bed and in your closet, for starters. When you got older, you grew out of them and realized how silly they were.
Dead Space ressurects every last one of those childhood fears and makes them worse.
Quite possibly the scariest game ever made, Dead Space pulls out all the stops and makes damn sure that you don't come out of this experience unscathed. If you thought that the Flood from the Halo Trilogy was bad, feast your eyes on the hideous and terrifying Necromorphs...and then proceed to gouge them out in horror.
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