With a Dead Space remake on the horizon, players will get to experience the series’ cosmic horror, and before then they can try similar titles.
It’s not uncommon that players find themselves enraptured by a specific game for reasons that seem ineffable. This sort of fascination can at times be strong in the case of horror games, be it because they challenge the player to face their fears, because the setting is hauntingly compelling, or because there’s a certain allure to the fear of the unknown. As such, the fact that Dead Space includes plenty of cosmic horror elements (also known as Lovecraftian horror) will likely make it an incredible experience for new players and veterans alike when the remake comes out.
Dead Space at its core is a survival horror sci-fi game, and yet it transcends those labels because of its storytelling. The title doesn’t necessarily instill fear with its gameplay, but there are many times where players don’t feel safe, and other times when the enemy seems to be unknowable, eldritch, and too complex for the human mind to fully comprehend. Dead Space‘s Necromorphs are infamously vicious and terrifying, but once players get to learn they are mere vessels of an infection that seeks to create entities the size of a moon it gets even more chilling. There are plenty of grounds for the effectiveness of Dead Space‘s cosmic horror, but there are also other games out there – like Bloodborne – that can be equally disturbing.
Cosmic Horror in Dead Space
Cosmic horror is often defined as the profound dread that all things incomprehensible and devoid of sense to the human mind can elicit, including the uncanny and otherwordly phenomena described in Lovecraft’s work. As such, it’s easy to see how massive devices of alien manufacturing able to start a “Convergence” can be frightening, and this is what the Markers in Dead Space are. There are two types of Markers: the Black Markers and the Red Markers, with the former being objects traveling through space until they crash on a planet, and the latter being replica of the original that serve the purpose of spreading an infection.
In Dead Space, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs on Earth was the host for a Black Marker that started affecting people in 2214, driving humans with lower intelligence to madness and homicidal acts, and forming blueprints for a Red Marker in the minds of intelligent beings. The Markers’ origins remained unknown, and humanity had to deal with an alien artifact creating monstrous creatures by recombining dead tissues, hence how the Necromorphs are born. The ultimate goal is to create Brethren Moons and destroy civilizations to look for more places to spread and reproduce, making the Markers an endless force of destruction.
Because of how little is known about these alien devices and the Necromorphs, the terror that facing these threats instills can be overwhelming, and it poses several questions regarding what is currently known about the universe. Are aliens out there, what does life look like in foreign worlds; this is classic cosmic horror, and Dead Space nails it.
Cosmic Horror in Bloodborne
Bloodborne might not seem like a true horror experience from the start, but it is a game that makes an effort to build an incredible lore and setting. The sound and ambiance of Bloodborne are incredible, and they make the gothic city of Yharnam feel like an impossible place of decay and inescapability from the will of the cosmos. Then, the gameplay takes that to the next level by making players feel like they can fight and eventually kill every single creature in the game, while also having a constant feeling of danger and inevitable demise.
There is something macabre in the act of dying to a specific enemy and having to fight that same creature again to regain the lost Blood Echoes, and Bloodborne makes that even more dreadful with the otherwordly design of the beasts. However, the main thing that makes Bloodborne a cosmic horror game is its backstory. The city of Yharnam is renowned for its blood ministration, which seems to cure each and every illness or affliction one might have. That ironically becomes the downfall of the civilization.
The promises of the healing blood lie in the scholars of the city worshipping eldritch beings known as the Great Ones. Then, it is revealed that the city’s beasts and creatures were once people. Players have to kill and feed on their blood, never truly ending the cycle and the unstoppable wish of the cosmos.
Cosmic Horror in Moons of Madness
Some horror games tend to be great at spooking and startling players with the use of jump scares, a mechanic wherein players will sometimes run into sudden movements, shadows, monsters, and more. While an effective way to make players feel uncomfortable and on the edge at all times, jump scares are not considered cosmic horror on their own. Moons of Madness efficiently combines the two.
Moons of Madness is set on Mars, and it begins with a terrifying sequence only to quickly move to more basic and reassuring gameplay. This is a great move because it sets the tone for the game, and then things get a bit more laid back – but that doesn’t last for long. The cosmic horror kicks in when the thin line between reality and nightmare becomes unnoticeable, as there is something frightening in being stranded on another planet with weird things happening and no human contact to retain sanity.
Moons of Madness is a game of alienation that preys on common fears of dim lights and narrow spaces, with dead ends and an architecture that doesn’t feel right because it is too futuristic for players to fathom. Being scared of the dark is frequent because sight can’t help locating possible threats, but being in the dark in a space station on another planet, with no way to reach home, is harrowing.
Dead Space remake is in development for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.
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