Lets Revisit: The Dead Space series

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Dead Space was a franchise with an old-school take on the survival horror genre.  It was tense, atmospheric, and reminded fans of the early days of Resident Evil and Silent Hill before the horror genre shifted to a more action-oriented approach.  The downfall for the franchise was rather abrupt.  While the first two entries were critically acclaimed and lauded for their intensity and narratives.  Then Dead Space 3 released and was an utter disappointment.  EA and Visceral forced co-op and then made the game more action-horror than survival-horror which upset fans and critics alike.

Which is disappointing because the Dead Space franchise was refreshing.

The first Dead Space is set on the USS Ishimura, a mining vessel that has gone silent during its latest mission.  A rescue team is sent in to investigate and this is when the player is introduced to Engineer Isaac Clarke, the silent protagonist of the game.  Upon their arrival, they find the Ishimura has sustained critical damage and that the crew is nowhere to be found.  As Isaac makes his way through the ship, he encounters the necromorph outbreak, reanimated corpses that are grotesquely disfigured and are aggressively looking to attack the uninfected.  Isaac, who has no combat experience, is forced to take a plasma cutting mining tool and reconfigure it for combat.  It is then a race to discover the nature of the necromorphs and to find the whereabouts of Isaacs missing girlfriend Nicole.

Uh…Nope.

Needless to say, Dead Space was an intense experience due to its atmosphere and relentless enemies.  Severing the head of the necromorph only made them more aggressive.  They are the stuff of nightmares that are everywhere and can take various forms.  There is a brute necromorph that is especially nasty, when introduced it smashes a character who was fairly important into mush.  It was a real shock when it happened and left a lasting impression.  Dead Space makes you cautious of turning the corner, it makes you weary of vents and ladders and it makes you understand that its sometimes better to run than to waste resources trying to dismember the necromorphs.  It was a true survival horror experience and never allowed the player the luxury of getting comfortable.  You had to be creative with resources as they were sparse.  It introduced the stasis module, which could freeze items in place momentarily, including enemies.  You could use that in conjunction with the kinesis module, which was used to grab and manipulate items in the environment.  If you wanted to sever the limbs off necromorphs and impale them with those limbs, the player could do so.

The halls of the Ishimura felt alive because the game did an excellent job of making you feel like you were going insane.  Which technically you were, because during the game you found out that the Captain of the Ishimura wanted to bring aboard an alien artifact known as the “Marker”.  To his religion, known as Unitology, the Marker was a symbol of great reverence.  What the Captain was unaware of was that the Marker caused hallucinations and insanity due to the electromagnetic field that it was emitting, it reanimated corpses and created the necromorphs.  It was the root cause for the nightmare, it needed to be destroyed and upon discovery, became the player’s primary objective.  Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, Isaac did succeed in purging the “Marker” and discovering the fate of Nicole.  The ending was ambiguous because developer Visceral was unaware if a sequel would be greenlit.

Luckily, fans were given a sequel and it was fantastic.

Dead Space 2 is one of my all-time favorite games.  Everything that made the first Dead Space great returned.  This time around, the game is set on the Sprawl, a space station on the shard of Titan, Saturns moon, and it was discovered that the “Marker” was just one of many.  Isaac, who survived the events of the first games and has amnesia, is suffering from hallucinations and has been confined to the mental ward of the facility.  Things quickly get out of hand, as the necromorphs infiltrate and begin slaughtering everyone and Isaac is forced to escape while his hands are restricted.  It is one of the best opening sequences in any video game.   Events then start to unfold in which Isaac becomes the target of Unitologist and the Earth Government officials because of his interaction with the Marker.  The player must evade both, while also looking to cure his hallucinations and escape the Sprawl.

 

Hands not required

 

If Dead Space 1 was the first Resident Evil, then Dead Space 2 is a combination of Resident Evil 2 and 3.

New necromorphs are introduced, lookout for the infant ones, they are the stuff of nightmares you never knew you could have.  New and interesting characters are introduced to expand the lore.  Isaac meets Ellie, an engineer who has survived the outbreak on the Sprawl and forms what could be a considered a tumultuous companionship.  There is a character who the player meets that suffers from the same ailments as Isaac, be wary though, he likes to steal eyes.  We all have our flaws.  There is a necromorph that is similar to the regenerator of Resident Evil 4 and when it appears, high-tail it, as it is a waste of ammo trying to put it down.  Everything about Dead Space 2 was great.  There is a pivotal moment later in the game, that involves a very large needle, and without spoiling anything, I’ll just say you’ll need steady hands.  Dead Space 2 was a success, it stands as one of the best examples of a sequel being better than the original.  It was a throwback and a highly successful one. Things were definitely looking up for this franchise.

Then..Dead Space 3.

 

Isaac and Carver.  

 

By no means a bad game, but it deviated from the survival-horror formula found in the first two entries.  It was an action-horror game that featured co-op.  Now, If your franchise has been predominantly single-player and has found great success in doing so, changing the formula in the third game, is probably not the best idea.   It should be noted that there was multiplayer in Dead Space 2 and while it was a fun distraction, it had absolutely nothing to do with the single-player campaign.

Dead Space 3 had a lot of potential.  It’s introductory sequence was exciting and opened up the possibility that it was going to carry on the legacy of the franchise.  Isaac returns and is living on a colony on the Moon, but is expectedly broken and emotionally traumatized from the events of the first game.  He is also coming off a pretty heavy break-up with Ellie from Dead Space 2.  Surprise, surprise, someone else besides the protagonist lived!  Isaac is still hunted by the church of Unitology because of his connection to the Marker.  He is the one person who could bring down the entire church due to the information gained during the first two entries.   Isaac, however, wants nothing more than to sulk but is pulled back into the action upon discovering Ellie went missing alongside her team on an ice planet known as Tau Volantis.  He reluctantly joins Earth Government soldiers, but a Unitologist leader known as Jacob Danik, unleashes the necromorph infection by activating a Marker.

All of the information above sets the stage for what could’ve been a great continuation.  Dead Space 3 has a plethora of great moments, from escaping the Moon, to exploring a destroyed space ship for repair parts, crash landing on Tau Volantis, and discovering the true history of the Markers.   Even some of the co-op moments are great, as Isaac and new teammate Carver, who is affected by the Marker, can see events in the game differently.  When Carver hallucinates, Isaac is unaware of what’s unfolding, it brings palpable tension to the co-op.  Problem is, the game is really easy with co-op activated.  The tension is practically gone.  Human enemies are far too easy to kill and a boring addition altogether, and the necropmorphs are no longer a threat as long you stick together. It didn’t help that the antagonist Jacob Danik was one-dimensional and brought nothing interesting to the narrative.  Dead Space 3 really tried to be Resident Evil 4, but in its attempt it was actively killing its own identity in the process.

One of the biggest sins of this game was that it’s true ending could only be found in the DLC add-on Awakened.  Seriously, the first two entries featured their conclusions in the main game.  The DLC of Dead Space 2 was a spin-off story of a character on the Sprawl.  So why did anybody think it would’ve been a good idea to test the patience of its fans by including the ending in the DLC.

Dead Space 3, with of all the changes to its tried and true formula ending up being the worst reviewed and worst selling of the franchise.  It was an abrupt and sad end to a once great and promising series.  Developer Visceral has been since shut down and while EA owns the rights to Dead Space.  It doesn’t look like it will be receiving a continuation anytime soon.  There maybe a chance that the series gets revived and released out as a remaster.  I say this because Burnout Paradise was just given it’s re-release on March 16th.  But it should’ve never had to come down to such wishful thinking.  It should be viewed as an iconic survival-horror franchise standing toe-to-toe with Resident Evil

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