While there’s no denying the glorious Resident Evil 4 redefined console fright fests, the limitations of early editions in Capcom’s survival horror series were a huge part of what made them so terrifying; from the clunky controls of the PSOne games which saw players battling with the gamepad to escape bloodthirsty ghouls, to the fixed perspectives that constantly hemmed you in as monsters moaned off-screen, these shortcomings brought a tangible sense of helplessness and frustration to the experience, in turn enhancing the tension to snapping point. Similarly, in contemporary space horror Dead Space, what could be criticised as drawbacks in other games actually help make for a more chilling and unnerving adventure.
From the fact the game doesn’t allow you to spin around during combat when nightmarish, multi-limbed aliens are screeching from the walls behind you, to how the action continues to unfold in real-time while you’re checking your inventory and gives creatures a chance to sneak up on you, a sharp sense of vulnerability and claustrophobia permeates every scene, helping to create an intimidating, beautifully atmospheric game world where death lurks around every corner.
But while certain elements of the game hark back to the golden age of terror gaming, Dead Space also brings the survival horror genre bang up to date with jaw-dropping graphics and some of the most haunting soundscapes in recent memory, the scuttle of hideous creatures stalking you through ventilation shafts and the distressed howls of fellow survivors making this an experience that lives with you long into the early hours of the morning.
So why only four stars? Well, it’s hard to say. Maybe it’s the game’s zero gravity challenges that feel clumsy compared to the rest of the adventure, or the fact that you’re forced to backtrack through areas you’ve already visited, meaning a nagging feeing of deja vu taints the interstellar butchery. But the loss of elusive fifth star is mainly because Dead Space is clearly the beginning of a sprawling franchise, and after seeing what the developers have done with the first instalment, any follow-ups are sure to be horror gold.