I’ve been on a bit of a Dead Space kick recently and have been playing through all three of the main games. As it’s a sci-fi series, I can look past the existence of faster-than-light travel, localised gravity and time control, and the existence of all-power alien organisms made of dead tissue.
However, my suspension of disbelief can only go so far. Isaac Clarke, our reluctant hero, should’ve frozen to death in Dead Space 3. Even with the bulky engineering RIG suit designed to survive outer space, he shouldn’t have been able to last more than five minutes on the icy hellscape that is Tau Volantis.
There are segments of the game where Isaac (and Carver, if you’ve got a co-op partner who isn’t violently ill at the idea of playing as Captain Generic) must dash between fires in an attempt to stave off hypothermia on the barren planet. Most predominantly this features at the start of the second act of the game, where Isaac’s shuttle crashes into Tau Volantis, damaging his helmet and subjecting him to the wind and snow.
Thanks to the RIG’s holographic projector, the player is given up-to-date information on Isaac’s body temperature. Starting at 37 degrees Celsius, over time this number will drop down to zero, at which point Isaac drops down dead.
Right up until he collapses, Isaac can run and fight as always with zero impact on his abilities. All in all, it takes about three to five minutes for Isaac to succumb to the cold and for his body to hit freezing point and for him to keel over… which isn’t how hypothermia works. Even with a spacesuit, Isaac would’ve been dead much, much sooner.
Your body needs heat for it to work properly, and it normally does a good job of regulating your temperature. When external factors (like cold water, or being stranded on a frozen planet with a faulty spacesuit) cool you down quicker than your body can heat itself back up, things go very wrong, very fast.
Hypothermia sets in at around 35 Celsius. At this point, Isaac would be shivering, be incredibly tired, be hyperventilating and have very pale skin. At the moment it is only a mild case, so Isaac would still reasonably be able to carve up Necromorphs. He’d get tuckered out more easily, but it wouldn’t be life-threatening. If he could find a bunker and enjoy a nice Cup-a-Soup and a wooly hat he’d be fine.
After a while, Isaac’s temperature would drop to 32 Celsius. In the game, he’s still happily dismembering space zombies and falling off of things like normal, but in real life, he’d be having real troubles. Moderate hypothermia impairs your movement and coordination, which for fighting is a big problem. His speech would be slurred and his breathing would slow down. He’d be dazed and confused, be fighting to stay awake, and he wouldn’t be able to form any coherent thoughts.
On Tau Volantis, this is the point where Isaac would be screwed. Either he’d be killed by Necromorphs, or he’d not be able to find shelter and would progress through the other stages of hypothermia, which aren’t pretty. If he was on Earth, fluffy socks and some soup wouldn’t help, he’d need an ambulance immediately.
It’s around this point where some of the weirder, more uncommon symptoms of hypothermia begin to appear. Terminal burrowing is one of the final things a person does before being knocked out and dying of hypothermia. Humans are mammals, and many mammals hibernate in the winter. An instinctual response of people slowly freezing to death is to seek out small, enclosed shelters (even if they don’t actually help keep the cold out) and hide away in them.
Isaac could find a small crevasse, or burrow into the snow a bit, but people in real life have been found behind wardrobes and under park benches thanks to this effect. Gruesomely, it’s also known as “hide-and-die syndrome”, because at this point it’s severely likely the person is going to pass away due to hypothermia.
At the same time, there is a behaviour known as “paradoxical undressing”. Due to the confusion and inability to think, around 20-50% of hypothermia sufferers begin to undress, which only helps to speed up the process. Fortunately, Isaac’s RIG was put on via a machine, so getting out of it is probably very difficult indeed.
At 28 Celsius, Isaac would be unconscious. Severe hypothermia knocks you out, can completely stop you from breathing, and your heart would either beat irregularly or not at all. While you’re not technically dead at this point, it’s very, very difficult to come back from. It would be impossible to tell whether Isaac is dead or not until taken to the hospital, by which point it’d probably be too late.
Isaac would almost definitely be dead by the time the thermometer hit 20 Celsius. The lowest temperature anybody has survived on record is when a seven-year-old girl was resuscitated from 13 degrees Celsius after falling into the ocean in December 2015. She had no vital signs when she was rescued from the water, and it is believed her age helped save her life, as children’s brains are more able to survive and recover from brain injuries.
Isaac, being 49 years old at the time of Dead Space 3, and having just survived a literal spaceship crash, probably has the odds stacked against him somewhat.
Isaac should’ve passed out and be more or less dead way before the timer hits zero in-game. He may have survived two previous Necromorph outbreaks and all they entail, but not even he can have all the water in his body literally freeze and still walk away.