In this week’s DLC, Anton Wegenast popped on his headphones and absorbed the audioscape of Dead Space. He hasn’t stopped sobbing since
Isaac gripped his plasma cutter and tried to keep his nerves together as he checked the power level again. His engineer’s suit was functioning as optimally as could be expected, but he still felt as though the rebreather was holding back some of his oxygen maliciously.
Eyes darting about for signs of movement, nothing but a distant air return fan kept him company as he slowly crept forward past something that died violently, and left a mess. Isaac was just about to compulsively fiddle with the plasma cutter yet again when he heard a scratching noise directly overhead.
A giant turbine started up to his left, behind a vast array of dials and viewing windows, some with partially closed blast shutters stuck in place. From where he was inside the Ishimura, Isaac figured the machinery was responsible for venting waste gasses out into the vacuum of space at regularly programmed intervals. Even though the viewpanes were supposed to dampen operating noise, they seemed to be like many things on the Ishimura, mysteriously deactivated or critically damaged.
His pondering over whether to check the seals on the windows was distracted yet again by a repetitive tapping or scratching in the ducts above the claustrophobic access hallway. He was about to glance back at his plasma cutter obsessively, but he daren’t break eye contact with the nearest access vent cover. As if sensing his gaze, the vent produced a slowly dripping viscous mucous. It dangled from some appendage just out of his sight, then detached and landed on the floor with what he could only imagine would have been a gut-wrenching plop. The noise was entirely covered up by the cacophonous din on the far side of the supposedly functioning safety glass.
As Isaac tried to bring his trusty sidearm to bear, he observed dozens of tiny tentacles flitting through the vent cover, seeming to grasp at the slats desperately. His attention was wrenched away from the thing in the vent and its horrible entry by a distinctly audible thump directly behind him. The engineer whirled around to find an impossibly mutilated creature had closed the gap behind him. No doubt, its approach had been muffled by the blasted turbine flooding the hallway with noise.
Panic gripped Isaac like a cold tentacle, coiling around his brain stem, numbing his thoughts and actions. He snapped to bring his pistol to bear; it was time to see how sturdy this safety glass was…
Anyone who has played Dead Space knows exactly what kind of scares the horror title is capable of. As the passage above demonstrated, a large part of the chills come from not just the visuals of the game, but the sounds.
Dead Space is filled with mysterious machinery that will occasionally spring to life, or endlessly churn away. These systems often oppressively fill the audio space of the Ishimura, and prevent other useful noises from coming through.
On top of the space ship’s native noises, the roster of necromorph monsters will also produce their own horrific soundtrack. As the player wanders the lonely corridors, they will often hear far off screams and howls from all directions, above, behind, and just around the corner.
The horror game’s use of positional audio is a great component that adds to the overall anxious atmosphere. The player truly feels as though they are the intruder in a living, breathing ship full of disgusting creatures that feel Isaac is the outsider, not them.
Like any great horror experience though, as much as the sound is important, the creators of Dead Space also discovered that sometimes complete silence is just as effective for raising the hairs on your neck.
… As Isaac tumbled through the safety glass, cursing the manufacturer’s claims at “unbreakable”, he noted a sudden rush of silence wash over everything. The exterior turbine vent was purging the chamber into the cold vacuum of space. As debris and glass shards whipped around him, he wondered if breaking the glass to escape the horrors of the hallway had been wise. The silence was almost deafening, the massive machinery was operating full-tilt, and the mutilated creatures were grasping at him, jowls opening like fish underwater, yet eerily mute.
The hush of the predicament was broken as Isaac gasped inside his helmet. It appeared as though his suspicions about his suit holding back oxygen were proving true.