Looking one part System Shock and another part Event Horizon, Electronic Arts' Dead Space is another of 2008's most eagerly anticipated experiments with freaking us right out. In development by a "renegade" team of devs at EA Redwood Shores, the game represents one of the few truly original offerings from a company that has rightfully earned a dubious reputation for recycling IP.
However, if our interest was piqued by the sci-fi survival horror romp through outer space, it completely pales to EA's own enthusiasm for the project, which has seen Dead Space cast in both comics as well as an upcoming animated prequel in the run up to the game's release this Halloween. But EA throwing money at a game to keep it in the news is hardly surprising, so we spoke with executive producer Glen Schofield about the project, asking him point blank why we should care about a game that, as he tells it, is about "a normal guy in a horrible situation."
Schofield, whose fave survival horror titles include the original Silent Hill ("it was so fresh and creepy") and Resident Evil 4 ("it really wasn't scary to me, but it was tense"), came right out when asked what makes Dead Space special, telling us that his team's project has "a very different look than most [survival horror games]."
"Silent Hill 1 was scary. The setting, the fog, the enemies and the static on the radio just creeped the hell out of me," he recalled. "I loved that experience. It's that creepy experience that we went for in Dead Space." He added: "In general I'm a huge sci-fi and horror fan. I'll play them all. I love this genre and Dead Space is the game I've always wanted to make."
"Silent Hill 1 was scary...It's that creepy experience that we went for in Dead Space."
While he may be a fan of sci-fi and horror, the same cannot be said for his feelings toward on-screen displays, as Dead Space forsakes any sort of HUD in favor of immersing the player in the story. Said Schofield: "No HUD, no cut scenes. Everything is designed to keep you in the moment and make you feel like you're really there." Here the game reminds us of another survival horror favorite around the office, Headfirst's Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, giving us yet another reason to remain excited for Dead Space.
Also helping feed Dead Space's immersive quality will be the game's audio, which Schofield called "world class," adding that it "will make everyone jump" in places. "We have spent so much time studying horror movies and games, what works, what doesn't and taken up the challenge to make a truly scary game," he said.
The exec also waxed poetic over his project's "new and different" mechanics, noting that they "feed into the mood perfectly." Of these, Schofield spoke most openly about the game's recently revealed concept of "strategic dismemberment," which promises to let players tear opponents literally limb from limb.
"We have spent so much time studying horror movies and games...and taken up the challenge to make a truly scary game."
"You're leaving a pile of limbs and pieces behind you wherever you go," he explained. "We've spent so much time on this-- the blood, the sound and just the plain horror of dismemberment."
But is Dead Space scary, or just gory? If Schofield is to be believed, it's both, thanks in no small part to an ensemble cast of "extremely unique and horrifying" monsters that inhabit the Ishimura, the derelict vessel which acts as the game's stage. Noted Schofield, "These creatures have some pretty wild behaviors that make for a number of scary and crazy encounters."
Summing up, he expressed belief that the company has "brought a new and unique experience to the survival horror genre." The exec's enthusiasm for the project is infectious, and it's difficult not to share his fervor, though with so much emphasis placed on the game's brutal hack-and-slash gameplay we hope that Dead Space won't disintegrate into an overplayed gimmick in its pursuit of cheap scares.
Tomorrow we'll continue our look at 2008's scare tactics, this time turning our gaze back down to earth and into the fog as we return home to Silent Hill.