Dead Space: 10 Years Ago I Screamed In Space

10 years ago on this day in North America, Dead Space was released. Do you feel old yet? I do. I remember playing this on the day it came out in the UK. I also remember playing this at night and then realising I’m too much of a coward to continue. The next day I returned however and continued my romp from the Ishimura.

With it being Halloween I thought it was only fitting to briefly talk about this fantastic and genuinely scary game. Dead Space was a 3rd person horror/action game by the studio now known as Visceral Games. Rather fitting name don’t you think? It originally released on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

The game closely resembles the Alien franchise specifically the 1st one. As a side note, Dead Space 2 continues this pattern as it was more action focused like Aliens. The gameplay is over the shoulder similar to Resident Evil 4. In the game, we played as Isaac Clarke, space engineer as he journeys through the Ishimura, a planet cracking vessel.

The story is very basic but works well with the atmosphere. This is a game that wants you to feel isolated. Isaac boards the ship as he had received a distress message from his partner, Nicole, who was aboard the vessel herself. When Isaac boards the ship all he finds is desolation, bodies and the Necromorphs.

Necromorphs

Necromorphs are a fantastic monster design. Throughout gaming we’ve been told to inflict pain on the head for big damage or aim for the biggest target, aka the body, usually. The Necromorphs are beings that you need to dismember to take out. Arms and legs are the first to go as these nightmares are dangerous but also agile.

Dead Space stands out because it did so many things different. It was horror in space which surprisingly was a barren zone for games. Isaac wasn’t a space marine, he was an engineer and the weapons he used were modified space tools. He didn’t board the Ishimura with intent to kill. He just thought the ship was malfunctioning and he’s the man to fix it. As I mentioned, there is little story or dialogue as the developers wanted the player to feel alone and vulnerable. But what they did put into their game, was oodles upon oodles of unease.

Mild spoilers for this game. I highly recommend you play it if you haven’t. Throughout the game Isaac catches glances of his partner Nicole. As you progress these sightings become more strange and unnerving. I won’t spoil it but the team did a great job with this aspect. And if you want an extra spoiler/tid bit have a look at this article from last year Trivia- Dead Space: Chapter Cryptology

Dead Space, for me, is a template for horror/action games. What it really hit on the head was the atmosphere and build up. You don’t go in guns blazing and the first hour of the game might be one of the scariest and most oppressive hours of my life. The creaks of the ventilation system (which the Necromorphs use to get around the ship), the mad scribbling’s on the walls and the lack of sound in the game just gives me that paranoid feeling where I’m inching around corners.

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Dead Space will forever be on the mantle of games that scared the hell out of me. It’s quite a crowded mantle but Dead Space is one of the best and its sequel is a fantastic follow up, building on the psychological aspect magnificently. I really do hope we see this series again some day. Thank you for reading and feel free to share your thoughts on Dead Space in the comments.

Trivia- Dead Space: Chapter Cryptology

Trivia

In Dead Space 1, our hero, Isaac Clark boards the Ishimura planet cracker spaceship in search of his wife. She was aboard the ship when a distress signal was sent out and Isaac saddles up his engineering suit and heads to her rescue. Upon arriving on the ship, Isaac sees that all is not right, as grotesque amalgamations of bodies called Necromorphs attack him. Throughout the game, Isaac sees his dear beloved who seems to be leading Isaac to something rather than leaping into his arms.

As the player reaches the back end of the game, they are met with a startling revelation. Spoilers inbound: Nicole was dead the entire time. Not only that but Isaac knew of this and was in denial the entire game. At the start of the game Isaac is seen playing a recorded message from his partner. She is clearly under duress and scared, as this is when the distress signal is being broadcast. Once the video message is over, Isaac arrives at the Ishimura and enters. At the end of the game, we are treated to that same video except it doesn’t cut off where it did previously. The footage then shows the poor Nicole using a needle on herself. She then closes her eyes and dies. It’s a grim scene and one that many wouldn’t have seen coming. Sure Nicole seemed off during the game but the realisation that this entire time, we have been playing as a character in denial and who has been risking his life for a truth that doesn’t exist. Her actions may have alluded to some strange goings on but there was a massive give away the developers put into the game to give us a clue. Dead Space is split up into 12 chapters. Each with a title of its own. Seeing these titles 1 as you’re playing the game, you would be hard pressed to see the clue in plain site. But string the chapter titles together and the puzzle is complete.

Chapter 1: New Arrivals
Chapter 2: Intensive Care
Chapter 3: Course Correction
Chapter 4: Obliteration Imminent
Chapter 5: Lethal Devotion
Chapter 6: Environmental Hazard
Chapter 7: Into the Void
Chapter 8: Search and Rescue
Chapter 9: Dead on Arrival
Chapter 10: End of Days
Chapter 11: Alternate Solutions
Chapter 12: Dead Space

Simply take the first letter of each title and Nicole’s fate is revealed. Nicole Is Dead.  I personally love attention to details like this or subtle hints that developers input into their games. They don’t need to do this. I imagine most people who played Dead Space never even knew of this detail. I didn’t until a year or so after completing the game. It plays in with the lore of the Dead Space universe too. In the game there is The Marker which is this alien doodad that reanimates the dead and tends to make people in its vicinity go a bit mad. Isaac has a wide variety of hallucinations during the Dead Space series due to The Marker. This manipulation of the brain theme plays into the Nicole revelation. It’s as if Isaac’s subconscious is trying to convince him of Nicole’s fate. In the end he accepts the truth but only after a gruelling journey through the Ishimura. Maybe that’s what it takes to accept the death of a loved one to space monsters. Stomping a few hundred into the ground doesn’t hurt either.

5 Protagonists That Changed In Their Games For Better Or Worse

Lately I’ve been playing Zelda: Breathe of the Wild and even though Link doesn’t talk in this game, he still expresses himself more than he has in other games. Many people clamour for Link to speak whilst others believe he should remain silent. There are both pros and cons to each outcome but I believe I’ll save that for another day.  Today I want to talk about other characters in gaming who underwent a significant change in behaviour.  Wearing new sunglasses or getting the latest trendy haircut doesn’t count. It needs to be a change that either impacts the gameplay or makes a stark contrast to previous iterations. So here are a few examples and if they worked or not.

Isaac Clark (Dead Space 2)

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The original Dead Space was a dark, tense and isolated game where you controlled ship engineer Isaac Clark, as he explores the derelict Ishimura spaceship. The Ishimra was a planet cracker on a mission, but something went horribly wrong and they released a distress signal. Isaac’s partner Nicole is aboard the Ishimura as part of the crew and so Isaac is eager to get aboard and rescue his beloved. Throughout this game Isaac doesn’t speak. He makes grunting noises when hit or when stomping corpses, as he loves to do. But there is no dialogue for him. Not only that but we barely see Isaac’s face at all. This is very reminiscent of Link in the Zelda games. Miyamoto wanted Link to be a connection to the player (Link, being wordplay on this idea) to the world of Hyrule.  He was made silent as a way for players to personify with him more with themselves. Similar to how Isaac if portrayed here.

In Dead Space 2, not only do we see Isaac without his helmet on. A lot, I might add. He also is a bit of a chatter box this time around. Full on conversations with other characters and in his visions too. Isaac goes from a silent protagonist to a regular engineer. The kind you get round your house to install a new phone line. They’re always up for a good gab so at least Isaac is more believable now. These changes I feel benefit Dead Space 2. (Spoilers for Dead Space 1 incoming) In the original Dead Space, Isaac is mostly alone, wandering through dark corridors of and unravelling the ill fate of its crew.  The only real dialogue is from his partner Nicole, when he finds her and helps her through the Ishimura. We later find out,  she has been dead this entire time.

So it makes sense for Isaac not to talk to her. He knows she’s dead, he’s in a state of denial but also deep down knows she can’t be. This combined with the fact that there is not really much character interactions with Isaac makes the mute decision a good one in my eyes. Sure the odd ‘What the hell?!’ as a necromorph lunges for him for the first time would be more realistic but for story purposes, a voice wasn’t needed. Dead Space 2 on the other hand starts with Isaac chatting with a psychologist. This theme that Isaac knows the danger, is trying to spread the word and stop the same fate the Ishimura had, works well. Nearly everyone Isaac meets, he informs of the dangers and horrors that are going to be unleashed unless he finds the Marker.  Dead Space 2 also doesn’t take place on an abandoned ship in space, it happens on The Sprawl which is basically like a complex in space. Full of apartments, shops and weird cults. Therefore, there are people to interact with. It would be frustrating for the player; as Isaac, to meet a new friend and poor, old Isaac to be silent and not warning the person to flee, get off The Sprawl. That is why I’m in favour of motormouth Isaac. It suits the context well.

Prince of Persia (Prince of Persia: Warrior Within)

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In Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Prince is a young descendant of royalty. He is cocky, brash and stubborn. His life has been handed to him on a platter. He and his father attack a local palace under the guidance of The Vizier of that palace. The Vizier tells of their pick of treasures housed within the palace. During this attack The Prince finds a dagger. Unbeknown to him at the beginning but this dagger holds the power to rewind time or to slow it down. Within the palace there lies an hourglass that stores the sands of time. It is then revealed that The Vizier is evil all along (surprise, surprise) and uses the sands to turn all inhabitants beside himself, The Prince and the Princess Farah to be turned into monsters. Shenanigans ensue and the Prince and Farah have to team up to take down The Vizier and fix the wrought they helped bring.

In this first game The Prince is arrogant. He believes he knows the world and what he says, goes.  This causes clashes between him and Farah who isn’t willing to follow orders just because he calls himself a prince. He doesn’t act like a representative for his people as royalty should. Throughout the game The Prince matures and understands more of the world around him. By the end of the game he has to make difficult decisions and does so in a respectable manner. He truly evolves as the game goes on and concludes. Then Warrior Within happens.

The Prince is now a bit older. About 7 years have passed since the last game. The Prince is now sporting a death metal look. Black flowing hair, dual wielding swords and has been to a belt sale and raided his wallet. The Prince is now a bitter, worn out man. Since the events of The Sands of Time, a great being has begun after our hero. The Dahaka is essentially a time guardian. It knows that The Prince cheated death and is here to amend that. And while I understand that The Prince has been getting less sleep and is fed up with his life and so that’s why he looks a bit moody. I don’t get the belts at all. If you’re having a nap and suddenly the Dahaka comes storming through your door, those belts aren’t quick to put on. Or does he just wear them constantly? Imagine the smell! Actually, don’t.

I don’t believe this change was needed. The game is gorier, has metal music playing during fights and is overall more mature. But not in a good way. It’s trying too hard to be edgy and the aesthetic of the game suffers. It’s hard to follow his characters arc since The Sands of Time to this. I just don’t buy it. Still a good game but I would have preferred a more mature Prince than this try hard. He’s the kid in school who turned up one day with black nails, eye-liner and wouldn’t shut up mentioning how he likes Linkin Park. But he only knows their top hits and nothing beyond that.

Jak (Jak 2)

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The Jak and Daxter series started as a fun romp of a game. An action/platformer that sees the player controlling Jak in a fictional, colour filled world, accompanied by his pal Daxter. At the start of the game Daxter falls into a pool of Dark Eco, Eco being a kind of energy resource and the dark variety being particularly hazardous. Daxter comes out of the pool unscathed but turned into an Ottsel. A weasel and otter combo for the ages. Together with Daxter, his motor mouth, and the silent Jak, our dynamic duo take off for hours of adventure exploring their world and trying to return Daxter to his former glory. Spoiler alert, he remains an ottsel for a lot of these games.

Jak 2 not only drops the ‘And Daxter’ line from its title. It also changes locale to a city structure world rather than the free range, natural world from the previous. The game takes place 500 years in the future in a city ruled by an evil Baron. When we first see Jak, he is tied to a table and being subjected to experiments with the dangerous dark eco. As a teenager when I played this game, the concept of the playable character being tortured wasn’t even a possibility to me. Especially not a sequel to a light-hearted, funny platformer. This combined with the new city hub, cars, guards with guns and Jak’s new ability to turn into Dark Jak: an enhanced, monster like version of himself, makes for a drastic tonal shift. One that works in my eyes.

Samus  (Metroid: Other M)

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Samus is a silent, bold, strong willed bounty hunter. She scours the universe taking down foes, rivals, monsters with tact and precision. Government organisations know of her talents and even recruit her in their time of need. She is a professional through and through and one of gamings greatest heroes. Then Other M was made.

In Other M, Samus becomes meek somehow. Not in gameplay.  In gameplay she’s stylish and ruthless. But in the confines of cutscenes and the story, she turns into a scared rookie. When aliens appear she is seen to cower or run from a fight. There are times where she will not enable a function of her suit because her commanding officer hasn’t given her permission. Even, if her life is in danger. She refers to an alien Metroid that helps her in the opening of the game as ‘The Baby’. The Metroid’s are as race of aliens that are as detriment to the universe. Besides this singular Metroid helping Samus, they have constantly been a danger to her. The fact that she gets maternal about a former enemy is baffling. Not only that but the fact that she won’t perform actions unless her superior says so is a confusing character trait. Samus is turned from stoic warrior to a reluctant fighter who needs to be told what to do. An embarrassing portrayal of a classic hero that hopefully will never be repeated.

Ethan Thomas (Condemned 2: Bloodshot)

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Sharp detective Ethan Thomas is on the case! Crazy homeless and serial killers watch out! With his trusty flash light and board with nail or rusty pipe, those dark alley ways and warehouses have something to fear. In the first Condemned Ethan was a run of the mill detective. After investigating the latest in a string gruesome murders, Ethan finds himself framed for the murder of his comrades and must track down Serial Killer X to prove his innocence. What follows is a harrowing journey through dingy locations and encounters that test Ethan’s sanity.

In Condemned 2: Bloodshot, Ethan is a drunken mess of a man. After the events of the first game and being cleared of murder charges, Ethan retires as a detective and slinks into a life or drinking, pills and loneliness. He goes from a clean, well kept gent, to a red cheeked and messy looking loser. Ethan’s sanity is also so in disrepair as he frequently experiences hallucinations and sleepless nights. His character is more unhinged this time around and more brute than calculated detective.  And while I don’t think his look is an improvement over the original, I like the fact that he has baggage to him now. The weight of his actions and the knowledge he gained from the previous game has embedded within him and driven to slum city. After all he went through, I can believe his downfall and that for me is what makes this character change a good decision. Maybe not aesthetically but story and motive wise, I support the vision.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it and let me know what you think of the choices and if you have any to recommend.