Dead Space teaches you many things.
Firstly, that large abandoned space ships are not the place to be if you have frayed nerves. They creak and make random clanks. Lights don’t work properly. Automated systems kick in and scare the bejesus out of you. When things are quiet, think Alien. I’ve heard that it gets less creepy and more combative later on, but I’m 4 hours in and it’s still very much in suspense mode, barring one ‘boss fight’ with a ‘Brute’.
Secondly, that System Shock 2 and Bioshock, great though they were, were only the first two rungs on the audio design ladder. Dead Space has, hands down, the best game audio my lugholes have ever been blessed to experience. Hell, it’s better than most films. Engine rooms are deafening, broken machinery squeals, noises echo down the metal hallways, being periodically cut off by a broken door as it opens and closes. Creatures utter disturbingly inhuman shrieks. Music is contextual and seamless, building vast amounts of tension (damn those off-key violins!) and then scaring the crap out of you as it highlights an event like a creature running past a doorway with a staccato burst. And perhaps worse is when you first realise that Dead Space respects the physics of a vaccuum, i.e. you can’t hear anything barring a dull concussive thump when things hit your own suit or you fire a gun. When you’ve been relying on sound to alert you to enemies - regardless of the effect on your nerves it’s still a warning - it’s a shock when one sneaks up on you completely silently with the only sound being your labouring respirator.
The downside of such great audio is that I discovered it creeps out everyone else in the house too. My wife doesn’t generally like being in the room when I play it, but even when elsewhere she finds it unnerving if she can hear all the sounds. One of our cats also seems to be totally freaked out by it, even when upstairs (and with it turned down lower than usual) - my wife said he kept sitting bolt upright every time one of the ‘scare’ noises happened (there was one particularly sudden blood-curdling scream while playing that put the willies up me too), and when I finished playing last night he kept running from one window in the house to the other looking into the darkness like he was sure there were monsters out there. If I’m not careful the RSPCA will have me on their books for feline mental trauma. Maybe I need to use headphones from now on!