Dead Space Dead?

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I’ve always been a little late to the party when it comes to Dead Space. I missed the original game when it was first released, somehow (despite it being exactly up my street, what with all the space and scary monsters), and I’ve been scrabbling to play the games in sequence ever since.

But having recently finished the third game, it seems the developers and publishers have come to the same conclusion I have – Dead Space has lost its way. And of course, since Dead Space 3 raked in a smaller payday than Electronic Arts predicted, the shareholders are turning their back on the series.

So, is Dead Space dead? Possibly – but like one of the game’s villainous Necromorphs, there’s life in it yet.

Memories of Ishimura

So, what went wrong?

The first Dead Space was a cracking title, a truly scary, shocking, trendsetting experience which channeled Alien and Dawn of the Dead in equal measure. As starship engineer Isaac Clarke, wandering the deserted halls of the immense USG Ishimura was utterly terrifying – especially as the monsters stalking the halls don’t seem to notice being shot with bullets.

 

So then, the use of dismemberment becomes the key to survival – and your pitiful collection of mining tools are barely enough to do the job

Sure, the missions were rather boring at times – ‘Isaac go here’, ‘Isaac fix that’ – but you genuinely felt terror as you worked towards your goal. As for the plot, the clever, twisted mess of it started out as something manageable (relatively) – but as with many EA-produced titles, the next instalment was bigger, but not necessarily better.

The Sprawl

With the original Dead Space being a critical and sales success, Visceral Games quickly put out Dead Space 2 in 2011. The game answered some of the issues which dogged the first title – giving Isaac a voice – and dived much deeper into the bizarre religion of Unitology.

The combat was sharpened, the weapons improved, the enemies made more deadly, but something was nagging at reviewers – it’d all been done before.

The basic format of Dead Space was largely unchanged, other than to throw in a few set-piece, dramatic moments, and try to ramp up the gore.

It wasn’t that the game wasn’t scary anymore, simply that we knew what was coming – every air vent was a potential ingress point for a gribbly, and lo and behold, the game became predictable.

The tacked-on multiplayer didn’t help either. It was ‘okay’, but could have been so much more.

Meanwhile, like Assassin’s Creed before it, Dead Space was now being milked as a franchise. There were tie-in movies, badly-ported mobile games and awful on-rails shooters on the Wii – it was all weighing down the core survival-horror nature of the game. Something had to be done.

Marker Homeworld

Dead Space 3 was developer Visceral Games’ and EA’s answer to the game’s declining popularity at this point. Critics were slamming the lesser titles, and sales of the animated movies weren’t great (which is a shame, as they’re really rather good).

With the third ‘main’ game the dynamic changed completely, adding a co-op campaign, weapon crafting and an attempt to wrap up Dead Space’s now completely confusing storyline.

They forgot that Dead Space is a survival horror game, and made it a co-op shooter in line with Army of Two.

That’s not to say Dead Space 3 wasn’t a good game. Far from it. I loved blasting my way through legions of Necromorphs with my combination shotgun/line gun with an electrified exploding blast. I loved the experience of working with my co-op partner, facing off waves of enemies, yelling as we worked to bring down the bigger foes with combined fire.

It was genuinely good fun. There’s just one problem – it’s a Dead Space title, and it was no longer scary.

Sure, you could play through the campaign alone, and that recaptured a lot of the isolation and fear the series is known for, but even then, it’s same old-same old.

As for the plot… well… it got ludicrous. Even for Dead Space.

Sales dropped, and EA started to look elsewhere to make their huge piles of cash.

Reanimation

So what now for Dead Space? Having lost the core audience of survival-horror fans and changed the series into a buddy co-op shooter, how best to revive Isaac and friends?

Personally, I feel a back-to-basics approach would be best. Strip Dead Space back to the core action it’s known for. Change the main character completely, for a start – the galaxy is a vast place, there are other tales to tell – and have several storylines and playable characters all rolled into one.

On top of that, include a co-op campaign (because they are a lot of fun, despite the side-effect of making Dead Space no longer scary), and retain the weapon crafting for this mode only.

One of the delights of the first two Dead Space games was the feeling that the mining tools you’re forcing into combat simply aren’t up to the task – the game needs that. Being able to craft the ultimate killing weapon sucks the scrambling-to-kill-your-foes vibe from the game (much like giving all the characters a machine gun, Resident Evil 6…)

So that’s my two cents. What do you think needs to be done to help Dead Space recover? Comment below.