So good… and so dead
Roughly ten years ago, Dead Space, one of the best horror series of all time saw the light of day. Sadly, its lifespan wasn’t that great.
I still can’t believe how fast time went by. 2008 seems so far away now. Back then EA was still a beloved company with many great games and nobody could imagine what a so-called “surprise mechanics” is, or with how much fear it would fill the hearts of the gamers in a not so distant future.
Still, EA managed to teache many PS3 and Xbox360 players the meaning of fear in those days, but for all the right reasons.
Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey created a horror masterpiece for years to come. Dead Space was developed by Visceral Games and released by EA released in the October of 2008, as you can see, it was the best game you could buy for your long, cold Halloween nights. First intended to be an entirely different game, Dead Space has taken on a life of its own. It’s a less known fact that the game started its development as “System Shock 3”, which would have been a mighty fine game too if you ask me. But then Resident Evil 4 came along, and, legend has it, blew away the developers. So, all the System Shock influences had to go, but the Space-Horror setting was just too nice to throw it away. Horror and sci-fi, they just fit together very nicely, you know? (everybody knows that of course, just watch Event Horizon)
So the “view” switched from first- to third-person, the weapon mechanics changed drastically and an entirely new story was written, and, oh boy was it good! It introduced us to the insane world of Dead Space. In a distant future, where resources are scarce and huge spaceships called “planet crackers” rip out huge junks of planets just to scavenge them for minerals, the silent main protagonist Isaac Clarke and his crew unknowingly stumble into a deadly adventure not many are going to survive. Starting as a routine mission to repair such an “planet cracker” called the USG Ishimura, the player soon discovers that something isn’t quite right and things start to go south pretty quickly.
Scifi-Horror at its best
But what made Dead Space so scary?
Some may say it was the intense psychological horror, but especially the unique worldbuilding got many people hooked, too. For example take a look at the main antagonists of the game, the Necromorphs. Before Dead Space, a headshot was the most common way to deal with a videogame enemy. But not with these guys. Like an unholy mix of “Evil Deads” deadites and John Carpenters “The Thing” these suckers just won’t die until you rip them apart limb by limb. Which introduces us to the next quite unique feature of the game, the weapons. No pump gun, no swords, no machinegun, just old trusty tools you would expect on a mining spaceship. To be fair, they are sci-fi-tools but… ah, you know what I mean. And trust me, mining tools and undead aliens, its gonna get messy.
It was a huge joy to discover the rich lore of that insane Dead Space universe, with all its different factions like the cult-like church of Unitology or the different shady government agencies. All had their own hidden agendas centered around an old artifact called the marker. A millions of years old artifact, which could hold the secret of mankind’s next step in evolution or its total annihilation. Imagine it like the monolith from “2001 a space odyssey” just more twisted and evil (in a literal sense).
To enhance this universe, EA even expanded the Dead Space lore in other media like books, comics, and an anime movie. The latter, “Dead Space Downfall” though took quite some liberties (what the heck did they do to the plasma cutters?!?).
A spinoff that totally rocked the Wii
Dead Space Extraction, a forgotten gem!
Back in 2019, the Wii was still, what I would like to call “da shit”. People everywhere shook and jumped around the TV trying to play golf or bowling with motion controls. And it didn’t take EA long to realize that there was a lack of more mature games on the Wii. While the library of that console was still impressive it was still astounding that this niche of gamers was just ignored by most publishers. Moreover, the Wii was the only console missing a Dead Space title, with every other major gaming-machine like the PS3, Xbox360 or even the PC having one.
Two major factors that prevented a simple port were obvious, the inferior tech and the control scheme.
But still, Visceral managed to pull off the unthinkable. Dead Space Extraction was released in September 2009 and they created a spinoff that could compete with the original and holds up very well to this day! It’s still one of the best looking Wii-games of all time. In order to adapt the game to the special conditions of the Wii, Viceral hat to make some bold changes:
Extraction wasn’t a typical survival horror game, it was a rail shooter and a kind of prequel to the story of the main game. It introduced us to a new cast of likable characters and their struggle to survive the Necromorph outbreak on the planet Aegis 7 (and later even the USG Ishimura). Ah, good memories, you never forget your first time holding a plasma cutter in first-person!
Dead Space 2: The sequel everybody was waiting for.
Its nearly impossible to please everyone… but EA did it!
Well, what I’m trying to say is that EA got something really special here, but you should already have guessed that by yourself by now. So it did not take long before a propper sequel was announced. But not without some alterations to the formula. Because EA knows what the customers want, right? RIGHT? Joke aside, they really had an idea where the franchise should heading. A bit more action, the protagonist Isaac Clarke should get a little more personality and be able to speak and, as the developers claim, not so scary like the first game… whatever that means. But some it all came together quite nicely! It’s one of the rare occasions where the sequel beats the original! Dead Space 2 was immersive, it kinda sucked you in chewed on your sanity and spit you out craving for more. Great stuff, so to say. The story was a believable continuation of the first games and simply everything was cranked up a notch. And with the main game, there came a ton of other media and “satellite-games” releases. Yeah, you heard it right, satellite games. Like “Dead Space Ignition”, a kind of prequel to the sequel which played like a puzzle game. Or Dead Space for Android and IOS which was developed by IronMonkey Studios and played more like the original game. Funnily enough, the latter was a prequel to the prequel of the sequel. Well, that’s the kind of complexity you come to expect from a Final Fantasy 7 spinoff, I guess. Never mind, they all are very good games on their own terms and help to flesh out the whole narrative quite fine. Accompanied by a second anime movie, you could say 2011 was a pretty huge year for fans of this sci-fi-horror franchise.
Admittedly the anime called “Aftermath” pretty much sucked. It suffered from different directors, styles of animation and some really bad CG animation. The 4 main stories of the plot are all drawn in different art styles which makes it hard to follow the story, especially when the main characters look drastically different in every chapter.
The beginning of the end: Dead Space 3
Sadly the last game of the brilliant franchise.
We are getting closer to the modern-day as we reach the year 2013 (and closer to an EA as we know it today). And probably you might think “what an epic franchise, I guess we can enjoy this series forever”. Never underestimate Electronic Arts´ magical ability to “Fuck thinks up”.
For the third title in the series, they wanted to shake things up and change many of the core aspects of the prior games. Psychological horror begone! Ammunition shortage? Begone too! Overall they took a more action-oriented approach which wasn’t well-received by most fans. New features like weapon crafting sounded nice on the paper but ultimately sucked the whole survival horror feeling out of the game. Fast you could build the ultimate weapon that could blast through waves of Necromorphs. And because of the removal of different ammo types, there was no reason not to use your best weapon all the time. Given the fact that Issac is an engineer, this feature was planned to show his unique abilities, but its poor implementation broke the game.
The introduction of a multiplayer component with a new lackluster character called Carver just seemed out of place. Whole sections of the later game have been completely copied and pasted, the feeling of “been there, done that” is all over the place. And the last nail in the coffin was the introduction of micro-transaction. Now that’s what I call, a surprise mechanic. Dead Space 3 was the first of the Series to introduce real human enemies, some of the “marker heads” from the church of Unitology. Storywise this was a logical evolution because these religious nuts have been a looming thread through all of the previous games, but gameplaywise it just took you out of the scary horror game you’ve expected to play and threw you in a “call of duty”-ish third-person shooter. Don’t get me wrong, partly I enjoyed Deas Space 3 very much, but it´s obvious that EA tried to get the shooter crowd on board. Sadly this was the turning point of the whole dead space series.
The game just didn’t hit the right buttons with the core audience, but it was still too much “survival horror” to attract a larger player crowd.
While still selling like hot cake, Dead Space 3 failed to meet the company’s lofty sales expectations, which have been nearly unreachable in the first place, to begin with. So EA pretty much set up the franchise to die by expecting it so sell like a “call of duty” game.
The state of the series
Today the series is pretty much dead, but still, the legacy of Dead Space remains. The fond memories of a unique game and a ton of collectibles keep the fans afloat. Maybe some fine day EA will come to its sense and revive the series, a collection of the previous games on the Switch would be a nice start, don’t you think? Until then you can read the two excellent books Dead Space Martyr or Catalyst and enjoy the beautifully drawn comics of Dead Space like Salvage or Liberation.