Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Dead Space

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There’s no time to catch your breath. Having been ambushed by a pack of necromorphs, seemingly raining down from vents, their viciously sharp claws scraping the side of your helmet as you struggle to find space, you’ve tumbled down a garbage chute. Somehow surviving the fall, you use your suit’s sensors to check for injuries when you’re forced to shield your ears as a deafening roar sounds off from down the corridor. The entire room shakes as a gigantic monster roams around the corner, filling up your view as it once more screams, saliva flying from its mouth and drowning your view. Back on your feet; time to run.

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EA’s Dead Space franchise is known more for providing an intensive, top tier action experience than it is setting trends and innovating. That said, the title has undoubtedly made some unique contributions to the both the third-person shooter and survival horror genres in the past six years since the first tile’s release. While that original title doesn’t invite comparisons to the Alien franchise so much as it does accusations of imitation, the sheer quality of the experience was enough to forgive it. The series’ future has been cast into doubt following the mixed reception to 2013’s Dead Space 3. Perhaps virtual reality (VR) could provide an opportunity to restore the series.

It’s no secret that survival horror is a popular genre with current VR developers. The enhanced immersion that the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display (HMD) and the Project Morpheus VR HMD provide go hand-in-hand with the atmosphere required of the best horror titles. Dead Space has always possessed a mastery of atmosphere from the dank, derelict halls of the USG Ishimura to the eerie silence of bright lights of the Sprawl. Combining the sense of dread and panic that these environments can cook up with a HMD is a terrifying thought but one that we wouldn’t be able to deny.

But if Dead Space were to stand out with its VR integration it would undoubtedly be in terms of the user interface (UI). The original title broke new ground with its ‘organic’ HUD, having health displayed on a meter on protagonist Isaac Clarke’s back, ammo counters projected from his weapon, and inventory supplies showing up on a screen projected in front of him. UI has been something of an issue for VR developers in these early stages, and Dead Space’s unique approach to displaying information certainly offers one compelling example. This would be the complete realisation of putting a player in the experience, without having to rely on any external components for information.

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Dismemberment has always been the franchise’s other big claim to fame. Being able to strategically remove limbs to manage Dead Space’s intense brand of combat gives the series an edge over many of its contemporaries. Imagine having these options available to you but with a controller such as the Trinity Magnum to guide your shots, bringing you ever closer to the experience, then being able to use those dismembered parts as weapons with the same control scheme. This kind of all-in-one approach invokes what The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword did for the Wii, just in a much gorier fashion.

Dead Space is an IP with the potential to become the ultimate immersive VR horror experience. In a sense it laid early foundations for other VR titles to follow with its unique user interface. If EA ever gets into VR development, let’s hope it paves the way for Isaac Clarke’s triumphant return.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets. 

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