Dead Space Solves a Major Problem of the Survival Horror Genre
Inverse score: 9/10
Exploring a monster-infested space station left me terrified, purely from aesthetics alone.
Motive Studio’s near-flawless implementation of accessibility and inclusive design practices allowed me to properly enjoy this top-down remake of 2008’s survival horror classic Dead Space — without fear of encountering insurmountable barriers.
I notoriously do not enjoy horror games. Jump scares, grotesque settings, and the grim fates of many of the genre’s protagonists leave me with a constant sense of anxiety and dread. Couple that with accessibility barriers like chase sequences that so often figure prominently in these games, and I would just rather avoid them altogether. But Dead Space’s seamless blend of action and approachable design choices emboldened me to push myself out of my comfort zone to keep playing.
About the reviewer: At 13 months old, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy type II. This physical disability progressively weakens my muscles over time, meaning that I primarily critique games based on their physical accessibility offerings and design practices.
Dead Space’s accessibility settings are relatively standard for current releases. The capability to toggle between tapping and holding for aiming and sprinting, adjustable difficulty, and a feature that transforms quick-time-events into a single button press are welcome additions. Yet, it’s the extensive control customization that afforded me the opportunity to fully explore the USG Ishimura.
The most common encounter when customizing my keys is the inability to use the same button for multiple actions. Dead Space solves this issue by separating its customization into different menus based on what Isaac Clarke is doing.
For example, when moving around the ship, I can press the ‘F’ key to heal myself when injured. When I’m aiming, ‘F’ activates my Kinesis ability, allowing me to move or throw objects. Even when I’m floating in zero gravity, the same keys that I use when moving or fighting operate differently. As someone with limited reach and strength, I did not need to create elaborate configurations just to perform basic functions. And since Dead Space includes more than 20 crucial moves, being able to place everything on keys and mouse buttons that are within reach lets me consistently and comfortably play for extended periods of time.
Beyond comprehensive control customization, Motive Studio makes the horror genre more accessible for some neurodivergent players or those with mental health conditions.
Dead Space offers a variety content warnings that censor potentially traumatic or triggering events and scenes. These include messages warning players that upcoming scenes depict suicide or self-harm, blackening the screen when Isaac dies in a gruesome manner, and even censoring specific keywords, phrases, or actions in the text logs and cutscenes that feature horrific events.
Implementing these options doesn’t detract from the core themes of the game – fear, helplessness, and a general sense of isolation. Motive has made a clear effort to welcome an often-underrepresented group into the Dead Space experience, and hopefully other development teams will follow suit.
Isaac Clarke’s journey throughout the USG Ishimura is one of immense loneliness. Despite keeping in contact with your crew throughout the story, Dead Space’s missions and combat must be completed on your own. To further reinforce the feeling of dread, much of the game takes place within narrow hallways, pathways, and cramped rooms.
This design decision makes the game more approachable for physically disabled players. Even though it’s relatively easy to become overwhelmed by enemies in tight spaces, it’s also more conducive to my needs to fight them. Part of the appeal of Dead Space is the need to be precise with your shots, and Necromorphs can be taken down more easily if you shoot their limbs. When you’re firing in an enclosed space, there’s less need to wrangle with the camera. Even during encounters where Isaac is in a larger room like an infirmary, I would simply run into a corner and wait for monsters to come to me, ensuring that I could accurately shoot their limbs.
Therein lies my biggest barrier with Dead Space. Even though most shootouts happen in tight areas, occasionally Isaac needs to venture into large, open spaces. While the game includes an option to increase the mouse sensitivity, it’s currently not high enough for my limited reach in these more expansive areas. Couple that with the use of zero gravity which often accompanies these settings, and I always find myself exerting too much energy to finish the objectives in these rooms.
Further, these rooms regularly include monsters that leap and crawl across vast spaces, forcing me to continuously spin my mouse to shoot them. If a large area lacks oxygen, I’m required to continuously move to ensure Isaac doesn’t suffocate. What should be an area designed to intimidate — making the player feel small in the vast emptiness of a massive spaceship — instead does nothing but create immense physical exhaustion.
Throughout my hours of me shrieking or screaming expletives at my computer, I thoroughly enjoyed my time as Isaac Clarke. Uncovering the USG Ishimura’s secrets and nightmares was really entertaining, especially when I was gunning down Necromorphs. This was entirely possible because of the exemplary attention to accessibility detail, both in terms of options and level design. Despite my fatigue in open areas, I wanted to keep playing because the physical accessibility almost perfectly suits my needs.
As someone who normally despises the horror genre, I regularly found myself continuing my campaign from sheer enjoyment. For physically disabled players searching for an entertaining shooter or thriller, Dead Space proves that horror can be accessible for more players than ever.
Dead Space is available on the Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC. Inverse reviewed the Steam version.
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