Remember the first time you walked around The Deku Tree in Ocarina of Time? It taught you the ropes: sights, sounds and all the monster slaying in between. “Cobweb in the way? I can burn it. Strange flora? Must be dangerous. A change of music? I’m ready for a fight. Jovial chime? The room is clear.” You’re comfortable. You know what to expect because you’ve been taught that certain sounds and certain visuals, indicate the presence of, certain obstacles – and that’s fine, this is a fantastical action-adventure game.
However in a survival horror, like Dead Space 3, these audial and visual cues can be a detriment to the very fear the game is trying to instil. Dead Space 3 actually employs these qualities so well, you know what to expect from each area. A good horror game needs that haunted house feel; invoking a fear in the player that immediately causes dread, and in the process, removes any comfortability. This should come naturally from the congruence of audio, visuals and the interaction the player assumes.
The visuals are gruesome enough, but where Dead Space 3 really loses its focus is the music, or more specifically, the very presence of music at all. The series has some of the best sound editing in the industry, but for whatever reason Visceral Games felt that a score was also needed. Music can add or subtract from fear, through a chilling soundtrack like that of Silent Hill 2, or unsettling irony, like in Bioshock. But Dead Space 3 instead adds a triumphant score to complement vistas or chapter endings, removing all sense of danger. Sounds familiar? Sounds comforting? Because that’s the same effect used to plot accomplishments in Ocarina of Time‘s dungeons. In Dead Space 3, music that accompanies combat tides in before the threat is even present, and only recedes when said threat is eliminated, removing all tension and essentially composing the fight’s cadence for the player. I am well aware that the music can be turned off from the settings menu, but I feel like the music wasn’t even necessary. A lot of money would have been saved while contributing to the game’s atmosphere.
This predictability is further accentuated by the blatant enemy spawn points. While walking around a seemingly empty room, you’ll notice conspicuous ducts on the walls and ceiling. Guess what? Yeah, you’re right: these holes are the only places enemies emerge from. Not only does this ready you for combat, it strips the room of any jump scares. In later parts of the game, you run about structures that aren’t even manmade — but hey, the enemies have to spawn somewhere right? That’s why there are duct-like apertures everywhere.
Visceral does take advantage of the game’s more frigid vistas, and delivers genuine surprises by lessening the player’s vision; an effect reminiscent of Silent Hill‘s fog. Enemies may spring up from snow, or sprint through a blizzard. Though I’m bemused by how little this was used. Instead of having enemies spawn from the obvious locations, why not have them tear through a door, a wall, or the floor? This would have removed the anticipation of an attack, and therefore, mitigate any visual cues that were previously applicable. Apparently necromorphs have the strength to tear people apart limb from limb, but when it comes to walls they’re impotent.
I understand that these issues were prevalent in previous games in the series, but they are definitely most pronounced in this third instalment. These may not have been issues for some, but I believe that removing audial and visual cues from the game could have strengthened the caliber of horror found in the Dead Space series as a whole, but most primarily, in Dead Space 3.